When getting a job, many believe that the details of your contract are standardized and identical between every employee who signs one. Where we're used to these one-size-fits-all policies for car rentals and internet companies, job contracts should be set-up to reflect the individual signing them. In this resource, Vet Locum List will guide you through some of the essentials of contract negotiation.
When most of us think of contract negotiation, we think of salary. It's important to remember that salary negotiations are simply a conversation between two parties attempting to advocate the best scenario for themselves. From the clinic's perspective, paying an employee less results in greater profit for the clinic (although they are unlikely to keep an underpaid employee for long), where it's also in the best interest of the veterinarian or nurse to achieve a salary that is fair compensation for the services they provide to the clinic. Keep in mind during this process that no values are set in stone. There are minimum values set by the government to help protect you from being paid even less, and the sky's the limit for where max values can take you. It's up to you and your negotiating power to determine where you'll settle in.
There are many good reasons to take the effort to negotiate your salary, but the most important is that the process itself has been shown to increase your starting wage. Where the amount gained obviously varies, studies have shown salary increases of 2.7% (females) - 4.7% (males)1 or of $1,500 - $5,0002-3 that result from the negotiation process. Interestingly, several studies have even shown that negotiation actually enhances the satisfaction of the interaction for both parties5-6. Where the new employee is content that they acquired the highest possible wage for the present circumstances, the employer is also satisfied they were able to negotiate their employee down for lower than requested.
Keep in mind that many employers are also expecting you to negotiate, and will therefore offer a lower initial value so they have room to be negotiated up to a salary they are still comfortable with. Failing to negotiate (or accidentally negotiating yourself down) will mean you are missing out on potential earnings that the clinic may have allocated for your employment10.
If you're planning to stay with one clinic, your future salary year to year will depend on your starting salary, and can be the biggest factor regarding increased salary for the next 10 years. A higher initial salary is both a higher starting point for raises at your current location, and can also be bargaining power at different locations if you decide to move jobs. Statistically, in a competitive job market, staying in one job vs. jumping from job to job has been shown to increase your life-time earnings9, however this is with the caveat that you don't find a different job that offers significantly more. Therefore, the higher you can get this initial salary, the higher your potential life-long earnings.
Knowing how much to ask for isn't always intuitive. This value will depend on your experience, location, your negotiation power, the market (currently in your favour), and the 'going rate'. Here are a few things to consider:
1) Cost of living - Calculate the amount of money that you need to make in order to live, including paying down debt, mortgage payments, rent, food, etc. Determining the bare minimum you require to live will give you your lowest acceptable salary that will keep you alive. For brief examples, the government of australia has published estimated livings costs for students that range between ~$30,000 - $72,000 (includes housing, food, utilities, transport... but not debt or health care), which you can view by clicking here. For an example of city-specific requirements, the University of Melbourne has published an estimated range of $40,000 - $55,000 for student living expenses, found here.
2) Market Research - Do your research into the market to determine what salary other professionals of your experience, degree, location, etc. are earning to create a benchmark10-11. Minimum wage / Modern Award for veterinarians will often be quoted by clinics as standard, however we would suggest you critically evaluate if the ‘Modern Award’ is a fair, livable, or an accurate representation of veterinarian worth or salaries. If you would like assistance, check out our other resources (posted for both locums & clinics) for quoted references on award rates.
3) Dream - What is the salary you would be estatic about receiving? Now bring that down slightly so it is at least realistic and fair to the clinic. Finding this value is a balance between advocating for yourself without crossing into what would be considered greedy. ‘Demanding’ too high of a starting salary has been shown to have negative effects in negotiations, as well as dissatisfaction to both employer and employee6. However, higher initial negotiation ‘demands’ have been linked to higher initial starting salaries, so go high, but not too high5. If you want some general guidance, see our resources on “Evaluating Your Worth” to try to work out these numbers in a bit more concrete detail.
4) Determine Your Range - From the above you will have acquired three figures: your lowest possible salary for living, the range of the market, and your dream value. Ideally, your proposed range should lie between the last two11, with the lowest possible salary for living only becoming acceptable if you can't find work (which your market research should have shown you is currently unlikely). Some experts suggest that a single value shows that a potential employee has ‘done their research’ and comes with higher success, but others suggest that a range (i.e. $55000-$60000) is a more successful tactic12 and perhaps easier to justify when asked where that number came from.
Determine your ‘Reservation Price’ - This is the lowest value that you will accept and still be happy going into work each day with. Below this value you will either be unable to live, or you will be unhappy at work, at which point this is not a good fit. Keep this number in mind when negotiating.
The ‘Anchor’ - The ‘Anchor’ refers to the first value that is put on the table in terms of negotiations. The value of this ‘anchor’ plays a large role in negotiating salaries, and is the biggest indicator of where the final value will end up6,13. If you are able to state your salary ‘demand’ first, you may be able to ‘anchor’ the salary at a higher set-point.
Benefits/Perks - Salary is only one component of a contract. Other ways of increasing the value of your contract is to negotiate benefits. This can be in the form of membership fees paid (Ex. AVA, VIN, etc), increased vacation time, moving bonuses, CE, courses, signing bonuses, vehicle use (especially for large animal), cell phone, car allowance, different rates for extra shifts, etc. Just make sure to get it in writing and check the stipulations to make sure they don't have hidden conditions (i.e. must be an employee for 2 years prior, etc).
E-mail Negotiations - Negotiations through e-mail are arguably the worst way for you to negotiate for the same reasons its easier for people to say whatever they want on the internet. However, if you are stuck in this scenario, increased success of negotiations has been seen when the employee ‘shares’ information with the employer, such as hobbies, hometown, or ‘needs’ such as “I need to pay down student debt” (don't go too personal). One source showed a success rate of 59% for increased salaries via email if individuals shared personal information vs. 40% for those that didn’t share personal information12.
Money Isn’t Everything - Although salary is linked to job satisfaction, so is a good working environment, education possibilities, health (a good work-life balance)7, mentorship, location, potential for long-term employment or partnership, etc. Although much of this resource focuses on salary, remember money doesn’t buy happiness. Taking a lower salary job to begin with isn't necessarily a bad thing, and neither is taking a job in a less desirable location. If the position will allow you to gain experience and acquire tools that will significantly advance your career in the long run (ex. an internship), it is sometimes much more important for your happiness, career success, and future earning potential than achieving a higher salary THIS year11. Don't forget to consider about where you want to be in the long run (i.e 5 years or so) and consider the best path to get you there.
Valuing Your Services As A New Grad - One of the biggest problems that employers have with new graduates is their reduced ability to discuss money with clients, create estimates, and charge appropriately for their services14. Showing that you value both yourself and the services you provide the clinic translates to your ability to charge clients for them appropriately, and voicing this to your potential employer will increase your bargaining power. Discussing this in the interview displays confidence, an interest in the clinic’s financial situation, and can create a dialog to have clear set expectations and monitoring strategies.
It is in your best interest to ask for a review and renegotiate your contract every year, or every six-months if you are a new graduate. This is also a good opportunity to request a raise. Treat these reviews similarly to your initial interview. Have a prepared justification of why you are of value to the clinic, what you have brought to the clinic, and what your future plans are to continue to improve the value of the clinic. Highlight any extra training, certifications, or roles you have taken on that could result in a higher salary4. Salary increases can either be requested as a percentage, or as a numerical value. In the first few years, 10-20% has been reported to be acceptable to ask for in terms of a percentage increase10. If the clinic you are working for is non-responsive to an increase in salary, you can always push to up your benefits (i.e. vacation, CE, etc). If all fails, you may not be of value to the clinic (but you might be to another one), or you're not advocating for yourself properly.
An important point to consider is what you are worth to a clinic financially. General rule of thumb is that your salary should be 1/5, or 20%, of what you bring into a clinic15-16. This will vary based on how the ‘profits’ are calculated, however if you know you are making the clinic money, you can bring this up during renegotiations and use it as justification for a higher salary15. Ensure you start your position with a clear-cut understanding of how the “KPI” (Key Performance Indicators) works, and how the billing is tracked (we know many who have had the method of calculations 'swayed' against their favour at renegotiations). Ensure this is a fair calculation method and then you can focus on how to increase this value. This may mean charging appropriately, determining if your clinic is busy enough, if prices are set too low to generate the income you desire, if you need to improve your client communication so that more animals receive the tests and procedures they need (dentals, desexing, allergy testing, etc.), or if you need to improve your efficiency and case turnover, etc. 15.
Veterinary medicine, despite being a female dominated profession, is not exempt from the gender salary gap. Females are paid less, even when hours, experience, and other measurable factors are taken into account17. Females also have been shown to be less likely to initiate negotiations, as well as less likely to be as successful in their negotiation attempts1,18-20. This means that it is even more important for women to pursue negotiations in terms of salary increase, and to be more demanding when it comes to salary increases in order to receive fair compensation for work. In the current market, many practice owners are male while new associates are females, and in this dynamic females are even less likely to ask for a raise. Females are also more inclined to feel they don’t ‘deserve’ a raise, and don’t feel as justified asking for one, as they don’t tend to value themselves as males do18,20. Women need to take an active step in closing this gender gap, and need to value themselves and demand equal pay. The start of this is to negotiate salaries and raises, as their male counterparts would.
In the end, remember that you are the best, and often only, advocate for yourself. Trusting that others are going to put themselves out to ensure the best possible situation for you is delusional. If you find the clinic is unsure about you, or you are unsure about the clinic, you can always request a working interview. For keen or experienced staff, this is often beneficial, however this can also work against you if you're still new or lack confidence in general. Overall, if you do your research and know your value (particularly in a market where there's not enough staff for the available positions), you will have the materials at hand to negotiate a benefical situation for yourself. If in doubt, you can always sleep on a clinic's offer and return with a counter offer at a later date, the offer is unlikely to disappear quickly.