Congratulations! You got the call, and you just found out that you landed the job! You’re floating on air and feeling like a million bucks—that is, of course, until you start talking about pay. Unfortunately, this is a common scenario in the physical therapy world. With COVID furloughs and declining reimbursements setting the backdrop for this “new normal,” many PTs and PTAs are finding that their new job offers aren’t coming with the compensation rates they expected.
Luckily, we’ve tapped an industry expert to help you get the best possible compensation package. Ben Fung, PT, DPT, MBA, runs UpDoc Media. UpDoc gathers live trended data for its semi-annual Job Market Pulse and New Year Report, both of which inform the hiring and negotiating process by empowering employers and job seekers alike with plenty of data. We were lucky enough to pick Dr. Fung’s brain regarding the art and science behind effective PT and PTA job offer negotiations.
Before we dive in, keep in mind that most employers expect you to negotiate pay. Chances are, that initial offer isn’t quite as much as they would be willing to pay, so read this guide to make the negotiation process more enjoyable.
Understand the process.
First and foremost, take a deep breath and look at the big picture. You’re a candidate trying to get the best possible salary. The hiring manager also wants the best deal possible. It’s a dance. “Remember that it’s called a ‘job market’ for a reason,” says Fung. He emphasizes that the main goal for any negotiation is to find a middle point between two parties that creates the most mutual value for each. “The point is to make the working environment collaborative by nature, rather than competitive or filled with strife,” he explains. Part of keeping this process collaborative and congenial is ensuring that both parties are comfortable with the entire process. “That means you should both feel comfortable negotiating, accepting, rejecting, counter-offering, and, at times, walking away quietly,” he explains.
Pro Tip: Remember that it’s much costlier to lose and replace an employee than it is to pay a new hire a slightly higher salary from the get-go. You’re doing your employer a disservice by taking a low-ball offer as a stop-gap until you can find a more lucrative role. Negotiation helps you both in the end!
Know your numbers.
Anytime you ask for more money—whether it’s negotiating an initial job offer or requesting a raise—you’ll need some solid stats to back up your argument. That means knowing the average pay for your region, specialty, and experience level. With telehealth physical therapy on the rise—not to mention COVID-19 shaking up the market—you’d be wise to do a lot of research on which skills are most valued at any clinical job. Fung reminds us that the Job Market Pulse and New Year Report contain tons of helpful data for various regions, specialties, and experience levels. WebPT’s PT Salary Guide is also a great resource for job seekers as well as employers. “Knowing your norms can give you a sense of foundation when gauging offers and negotiating,” he explains.
Pro Tip: When you do negotiate a number, it’s always wise to ask for a specific salary. If you want $83,750, ask for $83,750—not $83,000 or $84,000. It shows you’ve done extensive research to find specific numbers, and you didn’t just magically pull a number out of the air.
Know your values.
We all have different values. Some of us value money over time. Some of us value time over career growth. There is absolutely no shame in negotiating for a higher salary, but there is also no shame in negotiating to get more of something else you value. Maybe it’s more paid time off (PTO). Perhaps it’s a more desirable schedule. It could even be more frequent performance reviews—or a clear path toward a career as Director of Rehabilitation. As Fung noted, it’s a market. It’s a dance. You and the employer are trying to come to an agreement that will reduce the chances of you leaving—and instead keep you growing and invested in the company in the long run. Negotiate for what matters to you, not what matters to other people. Communication is key, and communicating your values effectively will set you and your employer up for a successful partnership for years to come.
Pro Tip: Be honest and open about your career goals, while respecting the clinic’s needs. If you’d like to work your way into leadership or another non-clinical role in the company, you can certainly say so, as long as you explain that your top priority in the near term is your performance as a clinician. If you can tie your long-term career goals to the increased revenue and growth of the facility, the hiring manager will be more inclined to invest in you as an employee.
Know your employer’s values.
Fung urges you to understand your employer’s intentions during the negotiation process. While some employers value experience and certifications, others recognize that revenue is still largely driven by patient volume and payer reimbursement. That said, if you love the challenge of working in a fast-paced clinic, you might thrive in environments that would cause others to burn out. It’s your job to do your homework about any potential employer. Find out what the organization values most. If you’re able to speak to that value during the negotiation process, you might be able to command a higher salary.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget about how your soft skills support certain clinic cultures and values. If you’re energetic and bubbly, you can build camaraderie and enthusiasm on a stagnant team. If you’re an excellent writer, marketer, or social media user, you can help revamp clinic marketing efforts. This brings us to our next point, which is...
Sell yourself, not your experience.
As noted above, some employers care a lot about how much clinical experience you have. Others see you as a warm body with a license. There’s a whole spectrum of mentalities between those two extremes. Fung notes that clinicians with 8–12 years of experience seem to command the best salaries in the industry, regardless of setting. That said, he does caution against new grads and experienced clinicians viewing themselves as “cheap labor” or “too expensive,” respectively. Instead, he recommends highlighting your overall potential for each specific opportunity. As a new grad, look to the future to show your value. “If you’re able to pilot and launch a new market segment for a practice, that’s a lot of value you can provide not just for the clinic and yourself, but also for others you might train under you,” says Fung. He notes that future hires under that line would capture revenue the practice might not otherwise see. If you’re a seasoned clinician, you also have options. “If you have strong ties to the healthcare community at a regional or state level, you can help your company’s leadership team network and connect in high-level ways that might open up stronger revenue activities,” says Fung.
Pro Tip: Before you start negotiating—or even applying to jobs, for that matter—write a brag sheet focusing on what makes your unique set of soft and hard skills, experience, and personality traits ideal for different roles. You can return to this brag sheet when it’s time to negotiate your salary or ask for a raise.
Know when to walk.
Sometimes, a job just isn’t the right fit. Maybe the pay is too low. Maybe the employer can’t guarantee the hours you need. Perhaps the company wants someone to buy the clinic in five years and you’d prefer to move into a marketing or copywriting career down the road. Employers lose out when their clinicians move on to greener pastures—but so do the clinicians themselves. While job-hopping is much more acceptable these days than it was 30 years ago, it does make future employers question your staying power when you’ve moved around a lot. If you’re having doubts about a role before you even start, it could mean that it’s not the right fit for you. You can always thank the hiring manager for their time and move on.
Pro Tip: If you choose to decline the offer, you can extend an olive branch by offering to share the opportunity with others you know. This shows you’re not bitter or resentful, and that you won’t turn around and smear the company. The PT community is small, and you always want to leave things on a good note.
We appreciate Dr. Fung’s insight in this article, and we know that there are many paths toward a successful negotiation process. What are some of your top negotiation tips? Please let us know in the comment section below!