Matters to a Degree

How much money should you earn as an entry-level psychologist? How do you negotiate a salary fresh out of graduate school, or with limited work experience? Not knowing the answers to these questions will place you at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding your worth, managing salary discussions and ultimately getting paid competitively and fairly.

Knowing the data in psychology and keeping on top of market trends will help you develop a stronger hand for negotiating a salary that matches your ambitions and your ability to produce. There are three steps to successful negotiations.

STEP 1: RESEARCH YOUR WORTH

Know the going rate. The sources of this information vary in reliability, so know where to look, whom to ask and how to ask about money. Because psychology jobs are so diverse, look both in and beyond psychology resources, including:

  • Online resources. Web sites offer free salary reports for a wide range of job titles. Salary.com collects pay data from employers and aggregates the numbers by industry. Salaryexpert.com relies almost entirely on government sources, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and also reports by industry. By contrast, Vault.com publishes anonymous employee postings, organized by company. For about $25 to $50, Salary.com and Salaryexpert.com offer personalized reports that consider your situation.

  • Salary surveys. Professional or trade magazine surveys provide a level of analysis roughly equal to the free salary reports available online. They cover a narrower field and can include more job titles in a specific area. In psychology, for example, the APA Research Office conducts and publishes regular salary surveys accessible via its Research Web site. GradPSYCH and Monitor articles are also good references.

  • Peers. Talk to people who actually hold the jobs you're interested in. Contact colleagues of colleagues who have jobs like those you'd like. Do not ask people about their own salary, since research suggests that people tend to exaggerate their salaries by as much as 20 percent. Instead, ask for the range of pay for the position at your level of experience.

  • Headhunters. Recruiters know the going rate for their industry. Call or visit human resources departments to review jobs and ask about salaries before you are in the market. It's OK to ask the employer directly about a job's salary range and how flexible it is.


STEP 2: PREPARE

  • Figure out how to improve your value. Be a top performer in your area and at your developmental level. Attend to the details like having a polished CV and a cover letter tailored to each employer. Understand the job description, review Web sites and learn about the work environment and culture.


STEP 3: BARGAIN FOR MORE

You can often get more money than what is offered. But, you must be appropriately assertive and willing to talk about money without anxiety. Here's how:

  • Be honest. Don't fudge your past compensation. Employers check former salaries.

  • Prove your value. Give concrete, quantifiable examples of how you've produced, made previous bosses look good and saved them effort. Explain how you're going to be able to help them; demonstrate that you're loyal, responsible and trustworthy.

  • Let them name a figure first. If pressed, suggest a salary range. Have a figure in mind before entering negotiations. Decide in advance on the minimum you'd accept.

  • Don't nickel-and-dime. Once an acceptable offer is made, don't nitpick: It's not worth it. You may end up with a withdrawn offer. This economic environment is not ideal for asking for expensive perks such as first-class travel, a company car or a fancy office.

  • Seek incentives and practical perks instead. Request benefits that are inexpensive for the employer, important to you and contingent on performance, such as a bigger title, time off for meeting goals, a flexible schedule, the ability to work from home or more vacation time.

Many nonmonetary factors can make a job offer more attractive. Consider the nature of the work, organizational culture and stability, autonomy, travel, mentoring, quality of higher management, continuing-education opportunities and level of responsibility. Other factors to consider include location, work hours, benefits, variety of work, advancement opportunities, chance to learn and grow in the job, transferability of skills, and the prestige of the job or organization.