Strathclyde Student Community for Optics, Physics & Engineering

#SCOPEReads : How to negotiate your salary?

Hello everyone! It is Emma here ? We hope everyone is keeping safe and healthy.

For today’s #SCOPEreads article, I would like to talk about how to negotiate your salary. This is an important part of a job interview and, personally, I never had a course on how to run a good negotiation. I have always found job interviews scary and stressful. Before applying for my PhD, I had one interview for an engineer position in a company in France that developed night vision glasses. As a first job interview, I was not really picky on the salary, although I’ve made some research beforehand on the amount I could ask for. During the interview, I asked about the salary and they told me to give a number, which I did, and it seemed to be fine with them so we did not negotiate more. When I think about it now, I could have probably asked for more. Anyway, I was not prepared enough to negotiate my salary as I thought that without any experience it would be foolish of me to ask for more money.

Last September, during the Student Leadership workshop in Washington, I attended a talk on “How to negotiate your salary” from Isaiah Hankel who is part of the Cheeky Scientist Association. This talk opened my eyes on how important it is to negotiate your salary as it not only allows you to obtain a better salary, but also shows the manager that you have the skill to go through a negotiation process and that you can demonstrate how worth you can be to the industry.

For this article, I have done some research on different articles about methods to negotiate your salary. You can find references at the end of the article. Here, I will sum up some bullet points of a good salary negotiation and explain why it is necessary to negotiate your salary. If you want more information, you should download for free the ebook from the Cheeky Scientist and also like their Facebook page as they cover really interesting topic for PhD student with interest in non-academic careers.

  • Why should you negotiate your salary?

If you don’t negotiate, you will lose money! On average, studies show that a salary can be increased by 13.3% after a negotiation. When you apply this percentage to let say 40 years that is quite a big amount of money. Moreover, you first salary determines the starting amount you can claim when you look for another job in industry. For example, in France, most of the time hiring managers base the salary offer on your previous salary. Hence, if you start your career in industry by being underpaid, there is a risk of being underpaid for all your career.

Beside the money, as PhDs, a recruiter expects us to have transferable skills. Therefore, during an interview, it is important to show that we can run a salary negotiation, that we prepared the interview and know about the industry, know the value we can bring to them and ask to be paid accordingly. Industry is different to academia though so any salary negotiation must be carefully thought regarding the job and the situation.

  • Walk-away number

Every article I read recommends having a walk-away number. Before the interview, it is good to set a number you would be happy with, this number will be the minimum salary that you will settle for. Any offer under it, then you should reject it. You can determine a walk-away number by checking the living cost in the area, the money you need to live properly, information on the industry, salary range in the target area. This walk-away number is a guide for you and should not be shared with the manager. It will help you to not get too excited by the job offer and to stick to that number in your salary negotiation process. This walk-away number might differ from others. Just remember that, with a job in industry, the salary is likely to be higher than in academia. While it certainly is difficult to make an estimate of adequate salary, reports such as the annual SPIE Salary survey (this one is focused on optics and photonics) can be incredibly helpful.

  • Never give your desired salary as first number!

This is a key point: do not give your desired salary as the first number! Do not do the same mistake as me! If you tell the recruiter the salary you are hopping for then you give him total control on the negotiation. This is hard though as the interviewer will try to make you say a number. In some situation, it will not be possible to avoid it. In this case, you need to show them that you have prepared and know the salary range. In my engineering school in France, they advised us to give a salary range instead of a fixed number so that you can negotiate a number at the top of the range.

Here are some examples of sentences to use to avoid the question “What would it take to have you here?”

  • “I’m very happy this opportunity; I’ll consider all reasonable offers”.
  • “I’m open to a wide range of salaries”
  • “Salary is not my top priority; I’m interested in the all package so let’s discuss this first …”

Stay positive and use this kind of sentence to let them give the first number. If you give a number, you can always come back on it during a second interview and say, “After getting more information on the position and the industry, I think we should revise the salary”. More examples are available in the ebook and in [1].

For the case where you have to give a single number, there is a known cognitive heuristic known as anchoring where people compare offers and make decisions based on the first value being mentioned, even if the value is arbitrary. Imagine two situations: a certain product costing £100, and the same product being discounted from £150 to £100 – when these two cases are judged independently, the second one seems much more appealing even though the amount paid is the same. This is one of the mechanism used unconsciously by our brains during decision making, and if you take it into account, you can use it to your advantage.

  • Mindset and body language during a salary negotiation

From the workshop in Washington, I learned that we have to keep a positive mindset at all time. The best way to succeed a negotiation is by staying calm, confident and positive. If the offer is more than you were expecting then stay neutral, do not show your excitement, always consider the offer and take the time to think about it. In [1], they give a good detailed example of how to use your body language while thinking about the offer.

Negotiating your salary should not be a fight against the recruiter. You are potentially talking to your future team manager and you will have to work together in the future. Hence, instead of saying something like “I disagree with you, I deserve more”, it would be more appropriate to say “I’ll consider your offer, however I was hoping for more, maybe we can discuss it”. Keep assertive and show that you can communicate well.

  • What to say to an initial salary offer?

If the offer is below your walk-away number, then you should do a counteroffer and back it up with arguments you would have already prepared. What will you bring to the company? What will you do that justify a higher salary? What skills do you have that they absolutely need for the job?

In the Cheeky Scientist ebook, they have an estimation method to determine a number for a counter-offer:

  • Subtract the number that the recruiter gave with your walk-away number
  • Multiply this number by two
  • Add the number to your walk-away number

For example, your walk-away number is £25,000 and the recruiter is offering a salary of £23,000 then your counter-offer should be £27,000 so that you can anchor the expectations high and then reach a “compromise” close to your desired wage.

To conclude, this article is only a brief summary and you can find much more information in the references and on internet as well as in the books [4]. Also, the articles that I found are from America and I suppose that salary negotiation can be different in Europe. Keep in mind that this is a guidance and that each job interview can be different. It might happen that it is not possible to apply those steps. Nonetheless, we should all be confident that we are worth the job which means that discussing the salary is important to reflect it. As PhD student, we will bring values to industries and for that reason we should not settle for an underpaid job.

I hope you find this article useful. If you want to share your thoughts don’t hesitate to put a comment on the Facebook page!


Isaiah Hankel, Cheeky Scientist Ebook “How to negotiate your salary?”: ebook

[1] Dr Lynne M. Webb, “How to Negotiate an Academic Job Contract: Your salary”, Women in Higher Education, November 2002

[2] Erin Urban, “Negotiation Know-How”, Advice to advance your career, QP December 2018

[3] Chronicle Intelligence, “How and Why to Negotiate Salary”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 7 2019

[4] Chris Voss: Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It





Scroll to top