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How to Negotiate for Your First PA Job with Confidence

As you near the end of your PA school training, exploring opportunities to work in your first PA job is an exciting prospect.

But negotiating for it? Not so much.

Even if you've worked professionally in another career before PA school, the possibility of having to negotiate the terms of your first PA role may leave you feeling out of your depth.

 

Without any experience working as a PA, it can seem as if your only choice is to hope you magically receive a great offer.

 

And, if you're willing to accept a less favorable offer or are prepared to walk away from a job you want in exchange for not having to put yourself out there, you'll need to hang onto that hope.

However, if you're willing to enter territory that might be a bit unfamiliar and occasionally uncomfortable to ask for what you want, you're likely to come out ahead.

So, if you're up for it, let's start with getting into a headspace that will help you with the next steps.

 

Convince yourself that you can (& should) negotiate

Negotiating the terms of a job offer is not an adversarial practice; it's a conversation. It can be done respectfully and with honesty.

You are not a pushy money grubber for asking for what you want. A job offer is the start of a, hopefully, long and fruitful working relationship. And, like all relationships, communication is vital.

If you end up accepting an offer, the role you take will involve difficult conversations with patients, navigating a new PA-physician dynamic, and speaking up when you need input or support from your colleagues.

 

So, being honest about what you want and need from the start is just the beginning of open communication that will, ideally, be at the center of your first PA position.

 

You likely already know this. But, for you to believe that negotiation is reasonable in your unique situation, these are the truths you should remember:

You might be new, but you'll be a powerhouse soon.

Remember what a lump of clay you were at the beginning of PA school? How much have you grown in just a couple of short years? All of the skills and knowledge you've gained during your PA school training are a testament to how quickly you can adapt.

For the first couple of years of practice, you will continue to grow your abilities exponentially. That’s incredibly valuable.

You have standards.

Yes, you're new, but that doesn't mean you have to take whatever you can get. Would you work for half of the market price for new PAs? Or a grueling schedule that you don't want? You don't have to!

 

You can say no. You can decline a job offer and walk away. You're not powerless, even in the face of a lousy job offer. So, don't get trapped in a victim mindset believing that your only option is to take a subpar proposal.

 

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They want you.

You might be new and unproven, but a potential employer was so convinced that you'd be an asset to the practice that they made you an offer. It's flattering to get your first job offer, and you may even feel obligated to repay the compliment by taking whatever is initially proposed.

 

But, the simple fact is that they want you. Even without experience. Even though you're brand new.

 

A job offer isn't a favor, and you don't owe them anything because they were willing to "take a chance" on you. You know that you can bring incredible value to their practice, and it's okay to ask for an equal exchange through negotiation.

 

Start at the interview

It may seem as if negotiation would start after a job offer, but, if you aspire to do it well, deal-making should be on your mind as you interview.  

 

Aside from being excellent in your interview to positively impact your eventual offer, you can also be tapping into the goals and vision of the practice for future use.

 

When preparing for a PA job interview, think beyond how you'd respond to questions and begin considering how to learn more about the objectives of the practice.

 

In your interview, ask about what kind of attributes your prospective employer hopes to see in their providers. Learn about how they envision the practice or team evolving over the long term. Inquire about the goals of the practice and how your position as a PA could contribute to meeting these.

 

Having this information will not only help you to know if the role is a good match for you, but it will also give you valuable information to rely on during the negotiation process.  

Get your bearings

Most near or new PA grads go into a job search with a rough idea of the salary they hope to achieve but, often, don't know what else to consider until they receive their first offer.

 

Everything beyond salary — like a continuing medical education (CME) stipend or a retirement fund match — can seem like icing on the cake. But without a basic "wants" list to work from, you won't know how to assess an offer properly when it comes your way.

 

So, you have to gather some essential information in advance. To start, you can use the AAPA Salary Report (available through your AAPA membership) to learn the average salary or hourly rate of PAs with 0-1 year of experience by both state and specialty. The report also includes information on whether bonuses are standard (or not) in your chosen area and the average amounts of these bonuses.

 

Use the information you find to come up with a compensation range. Let's say that with the information you glean from the AAPA report, you find that a reasonable range for a position in the state and specialty you're exploring is $89,500-$104,000.

(We're using the 50th percentile from the report as the low end of the range because you're gonna get paid AT LEAST as much as most other new PAs in the same specialty and state, right?)

 

You can also look at the report to see how many PAs in a given category also receive a bonus, and if it's common, add a rough average estimated bonus to the total.


So, let's say that at least half of PAs in the same category report getting a bonus and that 5K seems to be about the average amount. Let's add that to the range: $94,500-109,000. Now, you have some data-supported information to work with. Keep this range to yourself for now.

 

One thing to note before we move to other aspects of a potential offer: there's usually more opportunity to negotiate your pay in a private practice role compared to an institutional or academic one (think: University of X Medical Center).


And, you can more often get creative with negotiating bonuses or profit sharing in private practice to boost your overall compensation or offset a lower base salary.

 

I've always worked for academic institutions, so I'm not advocating for you to opt for private practice opportunities over hospital-based positions, but you'll be better positioned to ask for what you want if you go into negotiations knowing what aspects of the offer might be more flexible than others.

 

Other elements of an offer might not seem as directly tied to your pay, but they can be quite valuable and, potentially, more negotiable. You might prefer to work four 10-hour days to five 8-hour days and build this into your ask. Or you can ask for a modification for how often you'd be on-call from once a month to once every six weeks, or not at all.

 

There are also necessary-to-do-my-job components, like the cost of state and federal licensing, exam and professional association fees, and the time and cost required to obtain CME, that can be prime targets to build into a deal. (Malpractice should always be included, it protects you as well as the practice. It's standard, so if it's not part of the bargain, you should make it one.)

 

Other aspects that will be rolled into an offer are the standard employee benefits. These can include health insurance, retirement benefits, life insurance, disability insurance, parental leave, parking or commuting subsidies, and tuition reimbursement.

 

While you definitely want to know what’s included in your employee benefits, they are less frequently negotiable as they are benefits that all employees, providers or otherwise, have.

 

On occasion, you'll receive a "total value" offer that gives you a specific salary amount as well as a separate dollar amount that accounts for the monetary value of the additional benefits, like health insurance.

 

Don't be distracted by this total value number. It's an HR move designed to make you feel better about the salary amount, and the "total value" is not the same as the salary data you'll find in the AAPA Salary Report.

 

You can make a wise decision by considering an offer for all of its components, so don't allow the more flattering higher "total value" number throw you off course.

 

Receive & respond to an offer

When you receive a job offer, it will most often come in the form of a call from a hiring manager or an HR rep. If the first contact you have is an offer by email, ask for a phone call.

 

I know — email feels safer. Writing rather than talking allows you to take time to craft the perfect response, edit the heck out of it, and then run it by someone you trust before replying.


But emailing your response to an initial offer is a mistake, a big one.


Not having a conversation in real time means that you lose the ability to steer the discussion to where you want it to go.

 

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You'll essentially lay all of your cards on the table and allow the other person to take the time to craft the perfect response, edit the heck out of it, and then run it by the rest of the team before replying to you.


The real-time interaction is important. It allows you to communicate your interest in the position better and to convey and receive the tone of the conversation.

And, having a dialogue with someone will enable you to pick up on subtleties, trickle information, and adapt to what you learn over the course of a discussion.


Plus, you don't have to say much on this first call. You'll be receiving the offer and hearing what they have to say, and then intermittently responding.

 

So, go in with notes. Make sure that you have your researched salary range written out as well as a list of the maybe-negotiables for that particular position. And then hear them out.


If salary is mentioned first, be sure you've received the full offer before providing feedback.


"Can we put salary to the side for a moment and talk about the other aspects of the offer?" is a great way to keep things moving if they seem to want a response on the salary figure.

 

If not stated, be sure to ask about paid time off, CME days and funds, licensing fees, work schedule, start date, and anything else that might be part of the deal.


Once you have the full offer, then you can respond to the salary figure. This part of the interaction is where having a range can seriously help with any anxiety you have around the task of asking for more.

 

Here's where you can use some of the information you gathered in the interview to help you with the transition and communicate your interest in the position. If the offer is much lower than your range, you can provide the range you expected.


"It seems like you're looking for someone to join the team who'll be dedicated to helping expand the practice to a new office, and I think I'm that person. Based on my research, I was expecting compensation for this position to be between $97,500-109,000. Do you think that's within your budget?"


Perfectly pleasant, non-aggressive negotiating, right? (Did you notice that we went up a bit on the low end of the range too? You can set this wherever you like, but put the figure somewhere within reason and not below the salary you actually want.) 


Providing a salary range helps for two reasons. First, if you're new to negotiating, it feels less aggressive to give a window rather than a hard figure and, therefore, will be more comfortable. Second, it gives your potential employer a place to land. They can work to meet your expectations (on the low end of the range) without feeling as if you're unreasonable.


Now, that doesn't mean that if the offer is within your (yet to be revealed) expected range that you couldn't ask for more.


There's a pay disparity between male and female PAs, with the latest numbers showing about a 6% lower pay for females compared to males even when experience level, specialty, and practice location are controlled for.

 

While this cannot be explained away by either the presence or lack of negotiation, it should serve as an inspiration, regardless of gender, to ask for more.


Do you want to work for a year or two before earning a 5% pay raise, or just get one up front because you asked for it? I'll assume it's the latter.


So, in the case that you're offered what you expect or more, you can opt to adjust your range to push your potential offer a bit higher. If $105,000 is the proposed salary, you might change your "ask" range to $111,000-117,000.

 

Whatever the initial conversation, thank your contact for the offer and, as long as you're still interested in the role, ask for a few days to consider it.


You'll need the downtime to regroup and dig into the details. And, it will give your potential employer a chance to evaluate your salary requirement and any other requests and provide you with the offer in writing.


Circle back to close

After taking a few days to consider a job offer (and potentially receiving offer updates), ask to reconnect with your contact person — again, by phone. You're a pro by now, and you've already gotten over the biggest hurdle, so this call should be easier.

 

Open by thanking them again for the offer and then ask if there are any updates on the terms you discussed previously. Try to start with the non-salary items.

Asking for flexibility on the things that it takes to do your job, like CME days and funding and having your licensing and certification fees paid, is a great way to wade in. You're not asking for anything extravagant, just the tools you need to do your job. But having those things paid for can be the equivalent of having several thousand dollars rolled into your offer.

 

Here's the thing too: even with roles where compensation is highly controlled at the institutional level, there's often department-level flexibility in other areas. A department can choose to cover your cost of licensing, even if the institution doesn't provide this as standard for all PAs. A department may be receptive to an alternative work schedule or have a way to grant you extra CME days beyond what the institution provides.

So, your salary might not budge much from an initial offer for some employers, but you may get concessions in other areas. And, your potential future department may be glad for the opportunity to grant you these smaller requests if they can't bump your salary offer due to institutional restrictions.

Once you've covered the non-salary items, you can get into the topic of your pay. "When we last spoke, I shared that my target salary range was $111,000-117,000. Is that a request that you're able to meet?" Then stop talking.

 

Allow the other person to fill in the silence, and also to give you a complete answer. They might not be able to meet your request but may quickly follow with what they can add to the offer to make it more enticing.

If the position is with a private practice, your employer might be open to a more creative compensation model.

You can suggest a guaranteed salary reassessment in six months with a built-in pay raise if you meet a productivity benchmark. Or you could ask for productivity bonuses based on the number of patients you see or revenue you bring in.

 

These possibilities are great incentives from an employer's perspective because it shows that you believe you'll make a significant contribution to the practice, and the increase you're asking for is directly tied to the extra value that you expect to bring.

 

Once all of the details are known and you've received a final offer, decide whether or not you'll take it.

 

This sounds obvious, I know, but it's a perfect point in time to remember that you're not obligated to take an offer you don't want. If you feel that it's not a fit for you, you can take it or leave it.

 

What you should never do is begrudgingly take an offer and then hold it against an employer either immediately or in the future.

 

Don't be disgruntled over what you perceive to be your paltry salary or lack of vacation days six months or a year from now after you knowingly accepted an offer that was not what you wanted.

You're under no responsibility to agree to a proposal. If a job package is not what you want, find one that is or go negotiate for another to make it what you want.

After your first go-around, you'll be much more comfortable that you have what it takes to craft a position and offer into one you'll embrace.