Addressing compensation with prospective employers can be intimidating for many job-seeking physicians. Given that the person sitting across the table likely has significantly more experience in these types of discussions and that your approach could negatively affect your candidacy, feeling intimidated is certainly understandable.
The good news is that a better understanding of the process and knowing how to best approach these conversations can help level the playing field and prepare you to confidently navigate them.
The general rule of thumb is to let the employer be the first to bring up the conversation surrounding compensation. If you begin talking about money too early in the process, you run the risk of looking too money-motivated - a trait that may be looked upon unfavorably by the prospective employer.
Though exact numbers may not be discussed until during or following an on-site interview, it is not entirely uncommon for employers to initiate the conversation during the initial phone interview. In this case, it is typically used as a screening mechanism to filter out any candidates with unrealistic expectations before extending an offer for an on-site interview. Regardless of how early the discussion occurs, be prepared to respond accordingly.
The best strategy for compensation discussions is to have the employer disclose the first number or range. This is not always easy to do, especially when they have the same motive. Many times, the initial question may be as simple as, "Do you have any salary requirements or expectations?"
The problem is that any number you disclose at that point may be too high or too low. As such, your goal is to attempt to turn the question back to them.
If you are coming out of training, it is easier to play naïve and say something similar to, "This is my first position out of training. I’m not sure exactly what I should be expecting, and was hoping you could help educate me in that regard." If you are post-training but new to the region, you can say something along the lines of, "I know that market value can vary greatly based on location, and I was hoping you could help educate me on what I should be expecting in this area."
Once initial numbers are disclosed, don’t feel the need to commit to anything at that point. Thank the employer for sharing and state that is helpful to know as you evaluate all aspects of the position. This will allow you the opportunity to then research your market value and/or create a plan for negotiations, if necessary.
There are two primary ways to research and determine the market value for your specialty: compensation survey data and competing offer data. Compensation surveys available through the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), the American Medical Group Association (AMGA) and SullivanCotter are commonly used by employers to determine market value for their providers and are thus great resources for your own market evaluation.
It is also highly advantageous to know other offers within your specialty within that given area. This includes using relevant data from other offers you’ve received or interviews you’ve completed. You can also use data from your colleagues’ offers or interviews as part of your market valuation.
In short, the more data you can obtain, the more equipped you will be once negotiations commence. Employers will be far more receptive to potential negotiations when you are able to bring forth data to help support your request instead of simply throwing out a random number. They most often have a compensation range budgeted for this position. Taking the time to do your research can help maximize your position within this range.
Conversations surround compensation do not have to be feared. Take the time to understand the process and key strategies for approaching these conversations. You’ll be more prepared than most to not only win your dream job, but also to maximize your worth.
Jeff Hinds, MHA, is president at Premier Physician Agency, LLC , a national consulting firm specializing in personalized physician job search and contract assistance.