Recently, I worked with a Linguist PhD named Nancy who had received an offer for a data analyst position in Comcast’s corporate office. Nancy had been surviving off of a $25,000 grad student fellowship, and the hiring manager had just offered her $80,000. As Nancy sat with the offer, she said to me: “Well, I’ve been surviving off $25,000, surely $80,000 is more than enough to make my life work, right?”

At the root of the question was the real issue. Nancy was afraid to negotiate. This confident, competent woman had some doubt about her value. Surprisingly, in my job as a career coach, this is actually quite common. Too often, my PhD jobseeker clients compare a current job offer against their graduate student stipends or postdoc salaries, and they lack the confidence to negotiate.

Additionally, some of my clients are so exhausted with the job search that by the time the offer comes, they want to take the first thing going. Notice, I said they want to take the first offer going; I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I didn’t ensure that you have the resources and confidence not to make that mistake. And I am very good at my job.

Here’s the thing: I’m not suggesting that you be arrogant and demanding in your counter offer. This negotiation exchange sets the tone for your future working relationship with your hiring manager and supervisor, so it must be done with professionalism and confidence.

What I’m suggesting is this: be bold. I’m inviting you to be bold and negotiate the offer.

Why should you negotiate the offer?

You want to signal to your hiring manager and supervisor that you understand the value of the role in the industry, you understand your value to the team and organization, and that you are savvy in the ways of business. When you take the first offer, it’s like saying that what they give you is sufficient, just as they determine it. It allows an organization to define your needs for you.

You’re probably saying, “But, what are my needs? $80k a year with benefits sounds great to me.” Wait a minute! You sound just like Nancy!

Using Nancy’s example, I’ve detailed a few tips for you to be bold and have a confident negotiation. Keep in mind that I’m using Nancy’s particular situation as a model, and that negotiations are very individual. My job as her career coach was to help Nancy understand the difference between the academic and corporate world and then make confident and informed counters that were grounded in current hiring standards and the needs of a new professional.

Base your negotiation on research and information, not on what you think you deserve.

  • What is the cost of living in the city and state where your new job is located? Cost of living includes the cost of housing, insurances, vehicles, utilities, food and extras like entertainment. Check out a cost of living calculator like this one offered by Bank Rate.
  • What is the salary range for this particular position in the industry and region where the company is based? Industry matters. A data analyst working for state government would expect to earn a little less than a data analyst working for a Fortune 500 company. Location also has a bearing on salary. A data analyst in New York City will most likely earn more than a data analyst in Chapel Hill, NC.

If you’re not sure about the salary range, you can find this out on, and through informational interviews. That’s right! Informational interviews are a great source of up-to-date salary information. Before you get to the negotiation stage, you’ve done a bunch of informational interviews with professionals in your desired field. One of your questions to them can be, “What salary range would someone in this position earn?” Asking for the salary range, not the salary, is key. You don’t want to insult the person who is taking time to meet you and to provide you with insights on their field.

Similarly, during your negotiation, always request in ranges, not absolute dollar amounts.

Remember Nancy, the amazing Linguist PhD turned data analyst? She just needed a bit of career coaching. After I spoke with Nancy and asked her some important questions about the things she valued in her personal life – not just her work life – she was able to successfully negotiate her salary.

Nancy’s salary negotiations included her top three priorities for the next phase of her life after graduate school. Nancy had to think about what her life and lifestyle would be when she was no longer a student. A graduate student has different needs than a professional, just as graduate school and postdoctoral training are different work environments than a professional office.

So, when Nancy wanted to take the $80k and get to work, I asked her to consider the following questions, which may be helpful for any PhD transitioning to work:

How does your grown up, professional self want to live? The you who likes healthy food, nice experiences for your spouses and children, and vacations with family and friends. Eventually, you’ll get tired of Ikea furniture and numerous roommates. Fast forward to six months in your new job and life to think about how your lifestyle will change. Look around at recent graduates and new professionals around you for an indication of the rhythm of professional work and life.

What is one of your favorite pastimes or recreational activities? Nancy loves Pilates Reformer classes, which can cost upwards to $40 each class. If she takes this class once a week for a year, she’d spend a whopping $2000+ annually. Negotiating for even an extra couple thousand dollars became that much more important when she saw that a simple recreational activity like Pilates class has such a significant cumulative cost. Certainly, it’s not your employer’s burden that you like these classes, but my question helped Nancy think through the value of her earnings on her everyday life and the impact of financial decisions like accepting or not accepting the first offer.

Do you need to modify your workday in some way to better accommodate the cycle of your office’s workflow or significant personal needs? For example, Nancy’s significant other lives in a town about two hours from her new job. She regularly takes the bus on weekends to visit him. While this issue is totally insignificant to her potential new employer, it is important to Nancy’s quality of life. It would be nice to either have the option to work remotely on Fridays or an early in/early out day on Fridays. This request is not a priority. It came way down on the bottom of the list of three major points we negotiated. When the hiring manager couldn’t come up much on the salary, he was able to offer a select number of Fridays each quarter when she could work from home. It’s okay that she didn’t get every Friday from home, those select Fridays allowed her to work on the train while she commuted to her significant other’s town a couple hours away, getting a jump start to the weekend.

In the end, Nancy countered the $80k offer with, “I was anticipating that this role would garner a salary of $83,000-88,000” along with a few other points about start date and a flexible Friday schedule.

She provided a range, not an absolute dollar amount. That Nancy sure is a savvy negotiator! By providing a range, you avoid making ultimatums to your new employer. The salary range allows them a little wiggle room and gives you the chance to get closer to a higher amount than what was initially offered.

The bottom line is that your negotiation needs are unique and should be discussed with an experienced career coach. You do not want to ruin an offer that you really want with negotiations that aren’t savvy and informed. I’ve had PhDs frantically contact me for consultation mid-negotiation to help them fix a faux pas. Faux pas can lead to a rescinded offer or a poor start to your relationships with your new colleagues.

My hope for you is that you understand the value of your work, the value of each dollar you earn, and that you are bold in speaking up and asking for what you need.

How will you be bold, and negotiate with savvy and confidence?

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