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Thursday, April 28, 2011

This question is about the hiring process and the discussion around salary. The answer is quite involved so it would be easiest to post it separately so we can discuss the topic and also, as always, I welcome others to share their experiences.

Just wondering if you might be able to comment on the hiring process.

Specifically in my case, I'm just wondering how salary negotations occurs in a company.  Who at the company has the power to say "you will be paid x" or "we agree to your proposal of making x".

Or do you (the person hiring) get a salary range that you're "allowed" to offer/accept?   I'm almost wondering if it's like buying a car where the dealer needs to talk to managment... :)

Nervously awaiting to have the negotiating talk... :)

In the case when I was hiring (and I am at a small privately owned company), I had a range that I could offer but I fully expected to pay at the top end of the range. Having worked at the large biotechs, I know what a scientist with a PhD should be making and I firmly believe that you get what you pay for so I wasn't going to low ball the right candidate.

So for those of you wondering what that range is, on the west coast, for a Ph.D. with no prior job experience (so fresh from a postdoc), going to a life sciences company, it would be somewhere between $55-70K. With previous experience working in an industrial lab, I wouldn't hesitate to ask for $75K and the range is probably between $70-85K. If you have a skill that is unique and highly desired, ask for $85K.

A large public company will be on the higher end and a small private company will generally pay lower.

Location is important too, so the state/area you live in will determine pay.

Some companies can offer more in terms of stock plans and matching 401K dollars and also help pay relocation costs. I would be prepared to accept a little less on the salary if you can get a relocation package. Also, the big companies have excellent bonus plans where you can get 10% of your salary as a bonus if the company meets it's financial goals (managers and directors get more). So that extra $7000 (ok, $3400 after taxes), is a nice plus and when negotiating your salary at the next company, I would add that in to my salary as part of the complete package.

A company that has venture capital and tons of start up money may offer much higher salaries to start. The downside is that these companies often either get sold (and there is a good chance of losing your job if it sells) or the company may not make it.

In my case, when I was hiring, I had a range to stay in. As the hiring manager and the person reviewing resumes and setting up interviews, I had the power to tell the person what the pay would be.

I had two candidates who I almost considered but they asked for way above the pay range. Neither person asked me what the range was first. Once I had decided they were a candidate I would make an offer to, I asked what pay were they hoping for. Both gave me an amount that was much higher than the current average pay for a fresh out of postdoc scientist.

One person, when I told her the range, she said she wouldn't except any less than what she asked for, so I turned her down. The other candidate asked for $90K. Honestly, for someone with no work experience at all, that is asking a lot. He was willing to take less when we continued negotiating, but, I was too concerned that the pay would become an issue for him later and he would just use us to bide his time until a better offer came along. I was concerned there would be a lack of loyalty.

Apparently a start up company with venture capital money to develop products for cancer diagnosis was offering $85K. I told him that was a great deal and he should take it. I don't know any place that would pay that much for someone with no work experience, except a company with money to burn.

OK- so how does it go in the big companies? When I was interviewing for a marketing job at a large biotech, at the end of the interview I met with the HR/talent acquisition person. She asked me: "How much money would it take to make you really happy?"  I gave her my number, and the next day, she said it was approved.

There is always a range for the position. In a big company, where a specific HR/talent acquisition manager is acting as your host, they will ask for your pay requirement at some point in the day. Then, the team that interviewed you gets together to discuss you (and other candidates they interviewed that week). Everyone discusses your strengths and weaknesses, and basically whether or not they like you and how you compared to the other candidates. If the team liked you, then the will tell the HR manager to make you an offer. In this case, the HR person needs to discuss with management your pay request and then let you know.

In a separate example for another big company I worked at, and this was my first time negotiating salary for a biotech, when asked the salary I wanted, I wasn't sure exactly what to ask for. So I picked an amount I felt was fair pay for living in California and for my experience. I asked for $60K. I ended up getting $57K and $3000 to help finance my move across the country.

A very good deal in my mind, since my salary was doubling and this was a cool job with a great company.

When I moved from this company to the next, I was moving to marketing, and these are probably the highest salaried people in a company (that are not executive level). And a general rule (although not as much in today's economy) is to ask for $15-$20K more than the last job. At this previous company, I was at around $65K. In the negotiation for the next job, I asked for $85K, and got it without even a blink of an eye. So probably the range was higher and I could have asked for more, but I was pretty happy with this new salary. (Of course, after experiencing the level of stress and work load of the job, I felt underpaid since I worked 70-80 hrs a week.)

Most companies have a budget for salary so they do need to stay in a range. Depending on the position and how bad the company wants you, you could try and push for more. Or there are other ways to sweeten the deal, such as with stock options, bonuses (contingent on performance), and relocation packages.

My advice is to get an understanding of the salary range for similar positions in your state or area of the country and then ask for something on the high end of the range. Because they can always counter-offer a little lower but if you come in too low, that's what you'll get.

If you already have a job, you are at an advantage, because the company needs to persuade you to leave. If you are out of a job, a plus point could be that you are prepared to start immediately. You don't need to give two weeks notice.  Either way, do not settle for less.

If the people on the team interviewing you like you, they feel like you will be a good fit, and your technical skills are what they need, they will not want to underpay you. All companies want their employees to be happy and feel well compensated for their work. It is so expensive to go through the hiring process so to do all that to have you leave a year later for more money, is a big waste. Better to find the best person, show them the love, and get them excited to work. Getting a good salary is part of that.

Here is another way of putting it. If I want to hire you it is because I think you are the best.  And the best deserves to be well paid.

Those two people I didn't hire, were they the best? I thought they were an excellent fit but untested in company science. I wasn't willing to give them a higher salary than budgeted for when they were so green. The person I did hire had everything I wanted and needed and my max salary was even a raise for her over her last job. She was a perfect fit for us personality wise and in every other way.

So, have a number in mind and then be ready to have some flexibility.

If you want to tell me more about the company and the position, we can discuss it offline in greater detail.

I welcome anyone to share their experience with salary negotiation or any do's and don't's for the negotiation process. Thanks!

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Dub C Med School
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I love this post. In the back of my mind, I know that packages and compensation negotiation doesn't change much from my old field (finance) to the sciences, but I've been so used to knowing competitor salary ranges. I've already started researching salary and compensation packages for Residencies and Internships around my area. Can't hurt.

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Thanks Jade!! :)

In my case, it's a bit of a weird situation because I am applying for a 2nd postdoc funded in part by a government fellowship. The gov gives a certain amount and the company is supposed to give a minimum amount.  However, at the end I'm supposed to paid the same as regular employee with similar experience.  So I'm trying to figure out how much  my last 3 years of a postdoc are worth- it's still a major bit of experience after all but might not be considered "real work experience".  I don't think I should be given the average that a person gets with this fellowship because it would not recognize my extra experience from the 1st postdoc.

When you talk about experience, what do you consider as experience exactly- truely "work" experience as in from a so called "real job" or does my work as a technician after my MSc, my PhD and postdoc years, count towards that experience?   Sometimes it's hard to figure out when the "clock" starts when people talk about experience in a "real" job. 

Will definitely think about that relocation package though- this position would require me to move to the other side of the country after all. 

Would it sound bad to you if as a potential employee, I would try to negotiate a lower salary (not sure yet what number to put here- will give it some thought) for more holidays?  I get 3 weeks right now, and I know that for my mental well being that's an important thing for me to have.  I'm willing to work hard and do work hard but I need to know that I have that option of taking time off.  Especially here where I'll need time to go visit family out of province..  Obviously this would not be something I bring up in my 1st comment but I may approach it as giving them my number and if they don't agree, mentioning that I'd be willing to go for x if I can be guaranteed at least 3 weeks vacation time.  Having written that- I need to figure what to do if they say yes to my 1st offer- how to bring up vacation.. :)

Thanks again for all your help- glad I've found your blog when I did. You obviously love what you do, and it really reaffirms my wish to see what industry is all about. :)

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Hi Green,

So in this current job, are you working at a company and working on a commercial product? I agree this sounds different because it is a postdoc and so not having previous company experience should not count against you.

Normally when someone goes to a company right from a postdoc, there is a difficult adjustment (sometimes) to the company culture. Things like being watched more closely, having your schedule on outlook so everyone knows exactly where you are at any time, and not being able to have total freedom with the project can be an issue. Understanding that you do not own any idea you come up with at the company- that can be difficult.

However, running the lab budget, mentoring or supervising students, those skills most definitely apply.

I think you should be aggressive and you should ask for more than average. You'll have a chance to explain your position if needed. Have all your accomplishments and reasons ready.

You are at an advantage because they've taken a lot of time to assess you. They've called your references, they took time out of a lot of people's day to interview you. So when you get to the point of salary, it is because they want you. They won't walk away now unless you are unflexible and totally off the mark in pay.

If they are paying relocation, that's a great bonus. It should be relocation + salary- I mean still ask for the salary you want plus relocation. Find out what they usually do for relocation.

You could try to negotiate more vacation. US companies suck at vacation time. I would first try to get the salary I want plus the vacation I want and see how that goes over. It may be given as "floating holidays" or "Flex days" instead of vacation.  It never hurts to ask.

So, if the pay is $40 an hour (~83K salary/year), them a week of time off is $1600. So if you are asking for a salary of 85K, then be willing to go to $83K and get the 5 days of vacation. Don't cut yourself too short.  I would not think anything negative about you bringing it up.

It might be that the company would rather you take the exra week off without pay and then just pay you an extra $1600 or whatever it is. So maybe ask for $86,500.

I think - I don't know if you sit down with HR or the hiring manager, but at some point they are going to tell you the entire package of benefits: the vacation, sick, 401K, stock, etc. and so that would be the time I would bring it up. I would ask if maybe there was any flexibility in negotiating additional vacation days or personal days.  Then if they ask, what do you have in mind, you can begin there.

On the other hand, you could not even discuss it during the salary part with HR but if you feel comfortable with the person you are reporting to, you could tell him/her that because of the distance you need to travel to see family, you would prefer to have an additional week of vacation as part of your package and you are willing to take a slightly reduced salary equal in pay for the week. See what they say.

If someone gave me a good reason for needing an extra week, I would understand. Like my parents are sick and I usually take a week just to take care of them every year, etc. People understand that.

Are you coming to the west coast? It sounds you are going to a big company with a lot of resources so I would be ready to negotiate anything you want. Some people get signing bonuses, so why not extra vacation?

When I got the marketing job, not only did I get relocation with professional movers, but I also got a check for "incidentals" that was the equivalent to two weeks pay.  Pretty sweet!!


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The work will be R&D to eventually become a product but it's also still at the very very beginning so part of why we're applying for funding from the gov and not using just the "for profit" budget.

I'm in Canada, btw- I understand we're usually better at vacation than you Americans. Wink  The company is on the east coast (so not going away from winter- albeit these days, although the west is gorgeous and always somewhere I'd like to be one day, I'm a bit worried that about that BIG one that's coming anytime. the world seems bit trembly these days.. hehe..) with ~300 employees.

They have invested time in me- we've been working on this project proposal for 4-5 months by now.  Interestingly enough they haven't actually called my references which I thought was odd but I think part of that is the fact 1) we had an interview together last year and most importantly 2) since I'm writing the proposal with them they've gotten to see first hand how I work with people and what I can deliver.

I think it's going to be a really cool opportunity to learn the culture with both myself and the compnay knowing that this is a learning stage (i.e. meeting those challenges that go from moving from academia to industry).  And the carrot has been waved that they have hired the postdocs that have recieved this funding before.  Either way the experience will be worth it, I'm sure.

Thanks- I'll keep all this advice in mind. :)

27 and a PhD
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@Green .... I'm still looking for jobs, both in and out of academia, and the question about salary and how much were my 2 yrs of postdoc worth in a non-academic setting was really bothering me. In my case, a ballpark figure for me would be anything that pays over 42k. In Canada I'm making 37k, which is similar to what a 1st or 2nd yr postdoc would be paid in the States if he/she was being paid by the NIH. I don't know if CIHR or NSERC have similar "tables", but the NIH has tables showing the payscale for each postdoc year, and for a 2yr postdoc in the US a bit over 42k should be the norm (which in CADs is a probably a bit more). Hope that helps and that you get your dream job.

27 and a PhD
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@Jade ... the following statement reminded me of my PhD mentor:

"Normally when someone goes to a company right from a postdoc, there is a difficult adjustment (sometimes) to the company culture. Things like being watched more closely, having your schedule on outlook so everyone knows exactly where you are at any time, and not being able to have total freedom with the project can be an issue."

So, in a way, certain aspects of my PhD had an industry-like component, judging by that comments. Thanks for answering these questions, they were super helpful.

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@27 and a PhD The way I see this fellowship however, is because of the explicit statement that the company needs to treat/and pay you as an employee with similar experience, I shouldn't be paid as an academic postdoc.  Also admittingly in this current postdoc I'm being paid pretty well- more than 47K- so considering this new postdoc will be in industry, I shouldn't have to accept a lower income than that. that.  They say the average of this type of fellowship is 55k so to recognize my extra years of training I'm aiming for higher than that.  But it's true to that the fact that the company is out east, where they tend to pay a bit lower, will have to play a role..  We'll see though- at this point I've also invested a lot of time in this and do see the potential of this position so I guess we'll just have to play ball and see what they agree to bring ot the table. :)

the schedule on outlook thing might definitely take some time to get used to...but in the time I've gotten to interact with these people they seem really approachable so I hope it all works out. :)

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Hi Green-

I think in your case you definitely have the upper hand. Because you are the project leader and the grant will be in your name or you will be on it, right? So they basically cannot chose another applicant over you? Or, the reason they are getting the grant is because of you directly?

Having worked with the company people is a great bonus- yes, them knowing that you and how you work is great. Maybe the reason they haven't called references because they already know they like you.

Depending where on the east coast, the cost of living can be quite high. Maryland and D.C. area and around the NIH is very expensive. NY/NJ where all the big pharma is located is also expensive.

If the average is 55K then I would ask for $65K plus relocation expenses and an extra week of days off (either vacation days or personal days). The relocation usually requires that you stay one year. If you leave before one year, you have to pay it back.

They are making an investment in you and you are making an investment in them (moving across the country after all). That's a big deal. It shows that you are committed that you are willing to pick up and start all over in a new city just to be a part of their team.

Make sure they know that you really want to work for them and do this project with their company and that you are really excited to be part of their particular company. It makes a difference.

27andaPhD: I think those types of enviroments will help you. During an interview, you could try to spin it in a positive way. Maybe say something like "My mentor ran our lab similar to an industrial lab by examples". I think that would give you an edge.



Guest Comment

Thanks Jade,

Fascinating post and just the ticket. I am sure it will help many like me, so thanks for helping all of us out.

Quick question though... I am about to start negotiating with a company through a recruiting agent. They seem to like what I bring to the table and have already paid over $1500 to fly me over from France to the US for a formal interview.

My question is, what do I read into when the recruiter had initially said "they are looking to pay between X and Y but I think we can push them up to Z, if required". What level do you think I start at? Should I be greedy and start at Z, cause it is a possibility or lower. I think bwteen X and Y is fair. Don't think I'll say NO if they said X (lower end) as I like the job itself, but would definately be much happier with Y (upper end)... Z will be fantastic.

Anh help will be highly appriciated.



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Hi Techie,

I would definitely trust the recruiter in this case because they've probably placed people with this company before and know how they negotiate, which is great for you.

And the fact they are flying you from France means that their interest is very high and you will get an offer for sure (unless something goes drastically wrong in the interview).

I think, depending on the value of Z, and how well the interview goes, I would decide at the time.  If the recruiter thinks that Z is possible, I would probably try for something above Y to start. Even if you still get Y, they will likely throw in some other extra on top- maybe some stock or maybe a signing bonus.

If Z is way over Y, like greater than $7500, I might be a little nervous to ask for that much over their range. I think people can usually go as much as $5000 over their budget for a salary but not much more than that.  If Z was $1000-$2000 over the top of the range, I would ask for it.

It would depend on the moving package too. A company that flies people from Europe for an interview probably has generous relocation packages also, so this in combination with Y might be just right.

Congrats on the exciting opportunity and I hope you can come back and share more with us later, on how the transition went from Europe to the US.


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Jade, this was a super helpful post. Thanks for posting. You can have everything like your 2 candidates but if handling money wrong could go down the hole. Very great advice.


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This is a very nice post but for those people reading I will point at that the salaries mentioned for the west coast are actually a good deal higher than stated indicated here for someone coming out of a postdoc.  55,000 would be shockingly low even in today's economic environment   

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Depends on the company and your skills.


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Hi Its a superb post. BUT Salaries you have talked about are very low. My friend after 7 years of postdoc is hired by a major pharma for 120K last year.

I have one short postdoc of 2 years and then next one for 6 years. I have been waiting for work permit (as most of biotech industry does not want to sponsor for visa). for the last four years I have been working on high throughput project that is very relevant to industry. I have one first author paper from short postdoc and i am writing 2 first author papers now from my 6 years postdoc work for very good journals. I have 3 other papers (not first author) in good journals.

I have been thinking of asking for principal scientist (istead of senior scientist) position and 120k or more in salary. BUT after reading your blog it seems I was wrong. Was I ? Can you guide me a little bit for postion and salary.


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I researched bit more. average salary for a pfizer senior scientist is 97K (range is 81K to 120K) acording to glassdoor. .... Senior scientist at Biogen gets average 125K and range is 114-140K.....


Senior scientist is PhD with 2-3 years of postdoc in academia.


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Salaries are much higher if you are coming with a background in biochemistry neuroscience and 4-5 years postdoc experience. You should ask for 100K plus.....


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I guess differences in salary scale may be due to type of research you are doing. Finding out a right buffer composition for EcoR1 enzyme is also research and searching for target for schizophrenia is also research.

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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You should check for salary ranges classified by location.  However, average salary out of your postdoc in biotech should be around 100K depending on location.  If you're going into acedemia, expect it to be around 70K.


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Boston University starting salary is around 100K for asst prof in neuroscience.

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What Brian said. And the city is important. A postdoc in San Francisco will pay more, but the rent on a 400 square foot studio apartment (the size of my living room + kitchen, basically) is $2000.  It's all relative. In San Diego, you can have 1000 square feet for about the same price.

And the economy is so bad right now that you really don't have bargaining power. There are many people with your number of postdoc years and skills looking for jobs.  This is no time to be greedy. 



Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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Boston University starting salary is around 100K for asst prof in neuroscience.

Location, location, location.  Wage differences between Gainesville, FL (where I am) and San Diego/San Francisco/Boston is about $30K.

As jade said, you need to consider the cost of living in the equation. Rent here is about $1 per square foot, so that extra $30K you're going to make in Boston is going to go straight to your landlord (or mortgage)


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Jade is probably recruiting in San Diego SF area. Genentech / Amgen in that area hire PhD scientists in 120K plus range. Small biotech may give you 90K plus partnership or a GOOD (with a potential to turn into 100s of thousands $$$$) size of share for future growth.

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