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Early Career Psychologists

The final installment of the series goes beyond the clinical aspects of a psychological career to cover the vital art of salary negotiation

By Kelly Dunn, PhD, and Sarah Tragesser

This article represents the sixth and final installment in our series targeting issues faced by early career psychologists (ECPs). In this article, we will focus on negotiating a salary.

As we have emphasized in previous columns, ECPs are provided with substantial training and guidance in clinical and scientific areas, yet have little formal training or instruction in the practical aspects of our job. One of the most critical areas for new ECPs entering the workforce is salary negotiation. Many ECPs feel unprepared to enter into negotiations and worry they may alienate a potential employer by negotiating for a higher salary.

Yet, salary negotiations are an expected part of most hiring processes, therefore ECPs should feel confident in their ability to do this. Often, employers have an ideal salary range in mind, and the negotiations dictate where you will fall within that range.

Negotiations become complicated if employers are mandated to provide a salary based upon your degree, which means they genuinely may not have any flexibility for negotiations. In these circumstances, you may be able to make up some of the difference by negotiating additional start-up benefits (e.g., money to start a lab, support for travel to conferences, etc.). Below are some of the most common suggestions for how to conduct these negotiations:

1. Plan To Negotiate. Know that your salary is negotiable and do your research before you begin negotiations. Ask your ECP colleagues about their starting wages, and consult salary websites like the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) to learn what is competitive for the position you’re seeking. Research has shown that people who plan to negotiate from the beginning achieve higher starting salaries (Gerhart & Rynes, 1991). Put some time into this preparation process because your starting wage will be the basis of all your future pay raises.

2. Open the Bidding and Start High. Plan to begin the negotiating process by providing your initial offer, and begin with a high salary figure. Since this will be the basis from which you will negotiate your final wage, it’s important that the first value favors your goal salary. A study of simulated salary negotiations reported that higher starting values resulted in higher starting salaries (Thorsteinson, 2011).

3. Make it Clear That You Are Willing to Negotiate. Many ECPs refrain from opening negotiations with a high value because they are worried they will alienate their perspective employer. This fear can ultimately result in achieving a lower salary than what you expected. So to make this process more comfortable for you, provide your opening value and then make it clear that you are open to discussing options. This strategy will make it easier for you to open with a high value, because it provides a mechanism for you to reduce any potential tension you perceive between you and your employer while still setting the bar for negotiations.

4. Try to Find a Win-Win Solution Without Being Overly Accommodating. You will undermine your negotiations by opening with a high bid and then dramatically lowering it at your employer’s first request. Work to find a solution that both parties agree to but that doesn’t compromise your value. Remember that you are worth a high salary- you are bringing to your potential position several years of critical training and the promise of advancing your field of expertise. It is appropriate for you to fight for a salary commiserate with your experience. Research shows that people who find the win-win solution achieved higher salaries (Marks & Harold, 2011).

Special Considerations for Women: Several studies have suggested that women and men negotiate their starting salary very differently. Since your starting salary is the basis from which all promotions will be made, differences in starting salaries are believed to contribute to the gender-based pay wage gap. For example, a recent study reported that within 1 year of graduating college women already made 82 cents for every $1 their male classmates made (American Association of University Women, 2012), and gender is a significant predictor of lower salary among medical school faculty members (Cropsey et al., 2008). Women in these studies also reported they had fewer opportunities for promotion and advancement than the men. However, a large-scale study conducted by consulting firm ISR suggested that differences in the ways that men and women perceive their workplace may contribute to the pay wage gap. In a large scale survey, women were more driven by the communal aspects of their position (e.g., what is good for the company), whereas men were more driven by personal-reward factors (e.g., career development, promotion). Ultimately the ISR firm concluded that one reason women may be promoted more slowly than men is because they are less likely than men to promote their achievements, which can slow their promotion cycle (McAleavy, 2004). Ultimately, these data suggest women may benefit from better self-promotion, such as nominating themselves for awards or informing their departments about their achievements, which makes them a more active participant in their promotion process. Begin this process now by promoting your strengths and negotiating for a high starting salary.


American Association of University Women. (2012). Graduating to a pay gap: The earnings of women and men one year after graduation. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.aauw.org/GraduatetoaPayGap/upload/AAUWGraduatingtoaPayGapReport.pdf (PDF, KB)

Cropsey, K. L., Masho, S.W., Shiang, R., Sikka, V., Kornstein, S. G., Hampton, C. L., et al. (2008). Why do faculty leave? Reasons for attrition of women and minority faculty from a medical school: Four-year results. Journal of Women’s Health, 17(7), 1111-1118.

Gerhart, B., & Rynes, S. (1991). Determinants and consequences of salary negotiations by male and female MBA graduates. Journal of Applied Psychology, 76, 256-262.

Marks, M., & Harold, C. (2011). Who asks and who receives in salary negotiations. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32, 371-394.

McAleavy, T. M. (2004, December 19). Study finds women flunk at self-promotion. The Seattle Times. Retrieved from http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20041219&slug=gender19

Thorsteinson, T. J. (2011). Initiating salary discussions with an extreme request: Anchoring effects on initial salary offers. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41, 1774-1792.

With this column, we conclude our role as the Division 28 ECP representatives. We thank you for your interest in our columns and the Scientist Spotlight, and hope you will show the same level of enthusiasm to our successor(s). We graciously thank Division 28 for working with us and send our warmest wishes and hopes for many full and exciting careers to all of you.