Negotiating Salary for Nurses

May 29

You’ve put in the hard work searching for a job, submitted your applications, successfully interviewed, and you’ve received an offer for the perfect position.

The catch? The offer includes a salary, and it’s lower than you expected.

In addition to company culture and nurse to patient ratios, salary is the factor that has a largest effect on a nurse’s overall happiness in a job, so it’s important to accept a salary you’ll be happy with when starting a new position.

However, in a lot of cases, this may mean being willing to negotiate a higher salary during the offer stage. Negotiating salary can be one of the most nerve wracking parts of taking a new position, and in fact, according a recent Glassdoor survey, only about 3 in 5 job seekers in the U.S. actually negotiate salary. The survey also revealed that women were less likely to negotiate salary than men, and that workers aged 45-55 negotiated even less than their younger counterparts.

For nurses, negotiating salary can be uncomfortable, tricky, and even intimidating, especially if it’s your first job.

It doesn’t have to be.

We sat down with Julie, who has been working in the healthcare staffing industry for years, to talk about the best ways to negotiate salary for nurses.

Should you negotiate salary?

Depending on who you ask, the answer to this can vary wildly. Some nurses will tell you to never accept the first offer, while others will say to always accept the first offer you receive. Both can be dangerous. While the first option can cause you to lose out on what could be a great offer, the other can leave you short-changed for not communicating what you want. Julie adds, “I think it’s always fair to negotiate for the things you want in an offer, as long as those requests are reasonable and consistent with the current market. If you’re working with a third party [like Relode], be really honest and clear with them about what’s important to you in c a compensation package.”

Watch this short video to hear Account Executive Kelsey’s take on salary negotiations:

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How do you negotiate well?

Consistency is key in salary negotiations. Do research beforehand (which may mean talking to coworkers or others in your specific field) so you aren’t changing your expectations in the middle of the process. It’s also important to be gracious. “Acknowledge the generosity of the offer,” Julie says, “and express appreciation for an organization’s desire to have you join their team.”

When you’re actually heading into the negotiations, don’t be vague. While it’s important to be flexible and to have a good grasp on what is negotiable and what isn’t, refusing to be specific just turns the process into a guessing game.

For example, you could use the following script: “Given the scope of this role, I’m looking for a base salary of $75,000 but I have some flexibility in that number depending on what makes up the entire compensation package. How does that compare with the budget you are working with for this role?” The negotiating process is a give and take conversation, so keep that in mind.

Is there a difference between negotiating at a hospital versus another facility?

Most hospitals will calculate salaries based on years of experience, and what is also called “internal equity.” Internal equity means that a hospital likely won’t bring a new nurse in at a higher salary than the nurses already working make.

What if you interview for a facility that doesn’t allow for negotiation?

In many cases, facilities have a fixed salary that is dependent on experience. In this case, you may be tempted to let go of any negotiating power. However, there are always areas where you can negotiate. “A sign-on bonus is something that isn’t driven by a formula and is a great way for a hospital to incentivize a nurse to join their team without change the hourly rate,” Julie says. “If you need to bridge a financial gap and you know there isn’t room in the wage to negotiate, asking for a one-time sign-on bonus may be a great option for you.”

There is sometimes specialty pay for nurses who have specific certificates, and often hospitals with fixed wages will offer shift differentials for working evenings, nights, or weekends. Before you head into negotiations, make sure you’re clear on what is negotiable, and what isn’t.

I already started my job, is it too late to negotiate?

Unfortunately, once you’ve started a job, it is too late to negotiate. That’s why it’s important to take some time to gather your thoughts and understand what you’re looking for before these conversations begin. Once you accept an offer and start, you’ve lost your negotiating power. However, there’s still room for a raise or promotion later down the road. Read how to ask for a raise here.

Bonus tips

We mentioned this above, but be well-informed going into negotiating. Do some research using something like Glassdoor’s salary calculating tool, or by googling average salaries for your area, experience, and specialty. Knowing what the market is like will give you a better idea of what kind of salary is fair.

Never discuss your debts or expenses during a salary negotiation. Julie adds, “It isn’t anyone’s responsibility to accommodate your lifestyle, it has zero bearing on what is determined as a fair and competitive offer.” When starting negotiations, you can point to experience or accomplishments to bolster the number you provide.

Julie recommends having difficult conversations over the phone or in person. “If you’re not experienced in negotiating, or you get really nervous on the phone, a written response gives you the opportunity to write your thoughts clearly and concisely,” she says.

Want more information about negotiating salary for nurses? Here's a few facts about negotiating salary.

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If you’re still nervous about salary negotiations, we’d love to help. Apply for a job through Relode and we’ll partner with you every step of the way to make sure the position is the best fit for you.

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Molly Powers