Career Development | Negotiating the Next Step

This article was authored by Anu Bhatt, MD, a Fellow in Training at Columbia University Medical Center.

Although our daily lives are filled with negotiations, we receive very little formal training in this integral skill. In September 2015, we launched a Women in Cardiology (WIC) group at ­Columbia University Medical Center and invited two post-doctoral candidates from Columbia Business School who have written theses on negotiation to speak to us about the approaches to take, building the necessary skills and achieving success in communication. Our group then had an opportunity to role play a negotiation with a colleague. Below is a summary of their key takeaways for successful negotiations:

The first habit of a successful negotiator is to do preliminary research. Speak to others who have recently been through a similar process. As a fellow in training, my negotiations practice was structured at how to search for jobs. The lessons I learned were to apply to several positions to understand what is available; how other programs and practices are structured; and to understand the tenure process if on a research track. Be aware of what job aspects are negotiable. While salary is most obvious, other factors to consider include protected time, clinical time, office and clinic space, vacation time, committees to serve on, and resources available. It is crucial to understand the goals, priorities and interests of all parties involved.

Once you have done your research, arrange your meeting(s). Initial meetings should be focused on data gathering, listening and asking questions to ascertain what your potential employer is looking for. Through formal and informal conversations, determine what gap they're trying to fill in order to determine if it fits with what you envision your career to be.

Most of the skills I learned and practiced are applicable to a variety of situations. Like any skill, practice is the only way to build confidence in your bargaining abilities. The goal is to build positive, relationships with all parties at the table and to offer your value to produce win-win outcomes. By being aware of how women are often paid less, ask for what you think is fair. Although you may be dealing with irrational, emotionally charged situations or cultural biases, keep in mind that it's not personal, and this is all strictly business. For practice, imagine you're negotiating on behalf of a friend or colleague and have a firm grasp of what you will negotiate on and what you cannot make concessions for.

It helps to have another offer in hand so that you can negotiate against it. Know your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (read Getting to Yes if you haven’t already). Don’t hesitate to either negotiate each item on your list one by one, or in clusters. An example would be trading more protected time for a pay-cut, or negotiating down a health insurance package in exchange for vacation time. Most importantly, know your worth, and recognize when to walk away from the table.