Early Career Professionals Corner: Navigating the Question, “What am I worth?”

Vaneeta Sandhu, PsyD

It is rare that graduate students learn the business of a psychology practice, including how to bill, work with insurance companies, and assess their market value. Salary and benefits negotiation is one of the more intimidating processes to engage in, particularly if the job candidate is not well informed. While in training, students generally do not negotiate compensation and benefits for practicum or internship placements, so there is very little opportunity to practice these skills until entering the job market.

While there are helpful websites that post salary information, psychologists’ salaries vary depending on setting, geographical area, type of professional work, and additional credentials (for example, additional degrees such as a Master of Public Health [MPH] or board certification through the American Board of Professional Psychology [ABPP]). Although salary surveys can provide useful information, connecting with past supervisors, faculty members, and early career colleagues may be more effective for developing salary and benefits expectations.

Connecting with past clinical supervisors (practicum, internship, postdoc) and faculty members who know you well (for example, your dissertation chair or academic advisor) can be incredibly helpful when assessing your potential. These individuals know your professional interests and are familiar with your clinical and/or research skills. They also likely hold knowledge of what graduates of the training program have proceeded to achieve. Past supervisors and faculty members may also be willing to share information regarding their own salaries and salary trajectories.

Fellow early career professional colleagues can be a great support system as they will be the ones who understand best what you are experiencing. Colleagues may share helpful tips for negotiation, give you feedback on your communication of strengths and assets, and ultimately, provide support through a stressful process. Outside of your own peer group, you can connect with early career professionals from Division 38.

By connecting with previous supervisors and current peers, you can learn personal stories of negotiating salary and benefits, including what worked and what did not work. You can also practice your conversation skills with these individuals as you learn to effectively communicate your strengths, skills, and needs to a future employer.

Although many employers may offer little flexibility regarding starting salaries, other areas of compensation are worth negotiating:

  1. Professional development funds. These are funds to support the costs of licensure attainment or renewal, continuing education coursework, professional travel, and other professional development activities. If your potential employer is unable to offer the salary you want, negotiate for an increase in this fund.
  2. Vacation days. Again, when employers are unable to offer a higher salary amount that you are satisfied with, it is worth inquiring about flexibility in vacation days.
  3. Role-specific benefits. If you are a researcher, you can negotiate start-up funding including salary support for a graduate student assistant or research support staff. If you are a faculty member, you may want to discuss teaching course load and number of credits taught.

Early career professionals have a tendency to downplay their existing skills and ability to acquire new skills. Reflect on what you have to offer and why you think you are suited best for this role. Remember that it is fair to be assertive in communicating your needs and asking for time to consider the offer. Good luck!