Earlier this year, WebPT surveyed nearly 6,000 respondents for our annual State of Rehab Therapy report. Unsurprisingly, the data once again highlighted that higher salaries are the primary consideration of employees looking for a career change. In addition, salary negotiation and understanding ranked number one (42.1% of student respondents) as the most prominent concern students had when entering the workforce. In short, employees are looking for higher pay, students don’t have a clear grasp on salary negotiation, and a tight labor market already straps employers.
With headwinds like these, the art of salary negotiation becomes ever more critical to sustaining a healthy workforce. However, we know that salary negotiation can evoke anxiety, so we’ve put together these salary negotiation tips for rehab therapists at any stage in their careers.
1. Be professional in your rehab therapist salary negotiation.
As you prepare for the dialogue, the first thing to remember is that you will be speaking with another medical professional. As such, you should maintain the level of decorum expected of a rehabilitation expert. Displaying a positive and respectful attitude, even when facing difficult situations, can create a good impression on the hiring manager.
2. Research the market.
As with any professional position, a little research goes a long way. To get key salary data like average pay and employment number, start by using resources like:
(We should note that the report data does not differentiate for years of experience. Newer graduates tend to make a little less, while seasoned veterans—regardless of education—will make more.)
Understand regional and rehab setting differences.
Unfortunately, your research does not stop at a simple dollar amount average. Rehab therapist wages vary significantly by region and setting, so brush up on the specifics of each before your conversation.
For example, while outpatient practice settings remain a popular choice among new graduates, it’s worth noting that this setting may not offer the highest salaries. Instead, hospitals, home care, and skilled nursing facilities tend to be more lucrative. However, you shouldn’t let that discourage you. At the end of the day, your earning potential will ultimately be determined by the value you can bring to your employer and patients, which is a perfect segue to my next point.
3. Know your worth.
When it comes to negotiating your salary with a current or potential employer, it’s important to showcase your worth. Whether you have years of experience or you’re just starting out, highlighting your skills and specializations can make a big difference. Even if you are new to the field, emphasizing your soft skills (or, as we like to call them, power skills)—like your willingness to learn, passion for the field, emotional intelligence, and ability to communicate—are equally essential to the job and the practice’s success. After all, rehab therapy is a profession of lifelong learning, and having that drive to evolve is as important as anything you may have learned in school. And always remember, investing in you means investing in the future of the company.
4. Be enthusiastic and confident.
You’ve obviously decided that the company you’re talking to is interesting enough to discuss salary and long-term career options—so let that enthusiasm show! You don’t want to come across flat and detached in the negotiation; instead, show the person across the table that you are excited to be there and want to be a part of the company.
You’ve worked hard to develop the skills you need to become a rehab therapist in order to help people, so be confident in your ability to become an integral member of that team.
5. Consider diversified compensation packages.
If you're negotiating your salary in the rehab therapy field, it's important to keep in mind the challenge of declining reimbursements from insurance payers. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for payment cuts to occur on a yearly basis, and many clinics rely heavily on insurance payments for their revenue. This means that employers may struggle to offer top-tier salaries.
However, there are ways to work around this issue. One potential approach is to explore alternative payment models, such as revenue sharing or performance-based frameworks. While these models may require you to take on some additional risk and responsibility, they can also be highly rewarding in terms of compensation. By working collaboratively with your employer, you may be able to find a payment structure that works well for everyone.
6. Contemplate the entire compensation package.
Salary remains an important factor in a compensation package, but it’s not the only one. Consider the fringe benefits your employer is offer, like:
- intrapreneurship opportunities;
- career growth opportunities; or
- work-life balance.
These elements can make a big difference in the overall value of your compensation package.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that new hires often come at a cost to employers—beyond the salaries. Credentialing and insurance fees are a couple of the not-so-inexpensive costs employers will incur when hiring a new therapist, so keeping these factors in mind will help you negotiate a fair and comprehensive compensation package.
7. Choose the right time to start negotiations.
Whether you are a new graduate entering the workforce or a current employee looking for additional compensation, timing is an important consideration. Some companies have a set schedule for salary reviews (e.g., annual performance reviews), while others may be more open to discussing salaries an any time. If you have another offer on the table or are preparing for a performance review, choose a time when your manager is available and can take your request seriously.
8. Don’t feel like you have to accept the first offer.
Even if the salary number is within the ballpark you are hoping for, don’t be afraid to respond to any initial offers with a counter-offer—it’s part of the negotiation and not something you should be afraid of doing. As this Forbes article points out, “Negotiating all aspects of the job offer can take several rounds of going back and forth.” Beyond just the dollars and cents of the counteroffer, you should also consider your title, start date, specific job duties, and more.
All these considerations sound nice in conversation, but if the final offer—and the details within—is not in writing, it doesn’t exist. So read your final contract thoroughly to ensure all the agreed-upon terms are accurately reflected in the writing.
9. Have a plan and rehearse it.
Lastly, keep in mind that it’s normal to be nervous about salary negotiations—particularly if you haven’t been through them before. One way to ease your anxieties is to practice ahead of time. You should also bring notes and questions with you to the meeting to guide your discussion. Some of these discussion points may include:
- type of employment (full-time or part-time);
- paid time off;
- productivity expectations;
- competing offers; or
- five- and 10-year plans.
By preparing ahead of time, you can increase your chances of having a successful salary negotiation.
Negotiating a salary is never an easy task, and not everyone gets it right at first. My wife—a fellow physical therapist—is a master negotiator and she was a pro at it even with her first physical therapy job. I, on the other hand, had to practice negotiating through a couple of years’ worth of travel therapy contracts before feeling comfortable with the process.
Remember, the undertaking is not just about the financial outcome—it’s also about setting the tone for your career and your future relationship with the company. So, go forth armed with these salary negotiation tips for rehab therapists and obtain the deal best suited for you.