When you’re scrolling through job postings, you probably scan for several pertinent facts:
  • What organization posted the position
  • What unit the opening’s on
  • Geographic location of the opportunity
  • Education and certifications required
  • Salary

Most of these items lie beyond your ability to change them: You can’t pick up a facility and move it to a different geographic location, for example. You can’t wish away the posting organization with thoughts like, “Darn, that sounds like the perfect job! If only it was with X healthcare system instead of Y.”

But salary? That’s a different story.

With a little negotiating, you might be able to change a “good” job into your “dream” job.

If you quail at the idea of negotiation with a prospective employer, take heart. The following truths about negotiation will help you feel more empowered about negotiating your next salary.

1. Salary Negotiation is Possible for Any Nurse

You don’t have to be looking for a CNO position to anticipate the ability to negotiate your salary. Even a newly minted RN can try to negotiate for the maximum starting wage. Negotiation isn’t solely about how much nursing experience you have; you might bring other valuable skills to the table that make you more attractive to an employer than a different graduate nurse.

Any time a salary is listed as a “range,” consider that your invitation to negotiate. You have nothing to lose and potentially plenty to gain.

2. You can Get Comfortable with the Idea of Negotiating by Recognizing How Much You Already Do It

Many people – and women, in particular – feel shy about the very idea of engaging in a salary negotiation. If you fall into that camp, perhaps it would help to realize how much you negotiate on a daily basis already. Think of it this way: As a nurse, you negotiate every day with patients, professional colleagues and staff members to achieve your care goals. Did you realize that? Perhaps you don’t think of these interactions as “negotiation” but as “collaboration” or “teamwork.” That’s great! Use whatever term makes you feel the most comfortable as you approach a salary negotiation.

3. Confident Negotiating Skills Come from Knowledge and Planning

Now that we’ve established you can negotiate because you already do negotiate on a daily basis, let’s look at strategies that will empower you to negotiate with confidence.

a. Understanding Market Value

This term refers to the “going rate” for a service in your local area. You can do some research at places like salary.com or simply by reviewing similar job listings in your location to figure out approximately how much employers are paying for the type of nursing jobs you’re interested in. Knowing the market value allows you to negotiate from a position of power because you know what your skill set is really worth.

b. Understanding Total Compensation

Your compensation extends beyond salary. Your employer may offer fully paid health insurance, a 401(k) plan with matching contributions and other benefits that essentially put money in your pocket. Whenever you’re negotiating a job offer, you should think in terms of total compensation so you can work out a deal that best meets your needs. For example, for one nurse salary may be everything, but for another that retirement plan holds more value. Look beyond salary alone to negotiate fruitfully.

c. Knowing Your Negotiating Style

If you picture a negotiation as a hostile event, with adversaries seated on opposite sides of a table, you’ll be happy to know that most negotiations don’t actually unfold like that. In fact, psychologists have identified four basic negotiating styles, and the secret to feeling confident and securing a good outcome may lie in knowing your style:

  • Individualists, who seek to maximize their own gain with little regard for anyone else
  • Cooperators, who work toward a solution that feels like a “win” for each side
  • Competitives, who negotiate with a goal to win a better outcome than any of their peers
  • Altruists, who want the other side’s outcome to be better than their own

Cooperators make up the largest single percentage of negotiators, which proves you don’t need to engage in adversarial behavior to conduct a successful negotiation. You can do what you always do as a nurse: seek an outcome that benefits both sides.

d. Planning Ahead and Making Your Case

You should go into any salary negotiation with a specific outcome in mind. For example, you might think to yourself, “I’ll consider this negotiation successful if we can agree to a salary in the top 25% of the range and an added week of paid vacation.” Defining your goal helps you navigate the process because you’ve established your own “bottom line.”

At the same time, you also must be prepared to make your case for why you deserve what you’re asking for. If you feel you belong at the top end of the salary range, you can point to your education, experience and other factors that help the organization justify your salary.

4. Your Role in a Salary Negotiation is to Help Them Help You

A key concept to remember about negotiation is this: Your goal is not to make demands but to help the organization give you what you’re asking for. By planning ahead and making your case, you make it easy for an organization to say yes to your salary requests.

You don’t have to be Barbara Corcoran from Shark Tank to negotiate a better salary and benefits for yourself. A successful negotiation only requires that you start the conversation by saying, “I’d like to discuss compensation before I accept this job offer.” Then use the strategies we’ve outlined here to help you turn that “good” job into a “great” one!


How to Negotiate Salary: 3 Winning Strategies. Harvard.

How to Negotiate Salary After You Get a Job Offer. Robert Half.

Why Women Don’t Negotiate Their Job Offers. Harvard Business Review.

Identify Your Negotiating Style. Harvard Law School.


About the Author

Elizabeth_Hanes_RNElizabeth Hanes, RN is ‘the nurse who knows' content. She is a freelance writer who combines her knowledge of nursing with over 20 years in journalism. Her unique background brings credibility and authenticity to her writing.