The ABC’s of Negotiating

June 29, 2010

dollar signsCongratulations! You made it through several interviews successfully and just received a call with an offer. Now what? Do people still negotiate in this tough job market? Should you negotiate with your new employer? And if so, how do you begin the negotiation process?

To be sure, people are still negotiating in this market, some quite successfully. Some trainees have expressed to me that they fear negotiating will drive the employer to rescind the offer. I would contend that being made an offer puts you in a position of power, but there are still some missteps you can take if you’re not adequately prepared. For example, you can turn the employer off completely and possibly change her mind about your candidacy if you request something outrageous in your salary or package. Generally speaking, you will need to do some homework before engaging in a negotiation.

Here are some pointers I can offer as you begin to think through this process.

A = Assess the value of the job in the marketplace.

To get a sense of the value of the job you have been offered, do some research and find out what the baseline salary is for similar positions in the same geographic location. While there are many websites out there that generate salary data, I still prefer to use one of the oldest on the web, I like using because you can search for salary data by zip code AND by job title. You can get very close to the specifics of the job you have been offered by clicking on job titles and viewing job descriptions in pop-up windows. These will include educational and experiential levels to help you determine the closest match to the job you were offered. The other reason I like this site is that it will give you a range of salaries, including the mean and median, for the position and geographic region you specify.

B = Bargain.

Once you have a sense of the salary level you can shoot for, it’s time for you to bargain! It is difficult to negotiate as soon as you get the offer, so I often counsel trainees to take the call, be gracious and excited, and then ask to call back at a later time that day or the next time. This way, you can collect your thoughts and get your ducks in a row.

In addition to knowing the salary level of the position you were offered, it is also important to be armed with details of why YOU are the best person for the job before you call the employer to negotiate. What is it about your background and/or experience that makes you uniquely qualified for this job? That is the information you will want to present when you are negotiating for a higher salary.

Language you could potentially use to negotiate is as follows:

“Hello, Dr. X! Thank you for getting back in touch with me yesterday. I was so pleased to hear the news of the offer, but there are a few details I would like to discuss with you. Given the fact that I bring X, Y, and Z to this position, I am looking for a salary in the X range.”

At this point, just stop talking. You don’t need to hem and haw about whether you’d still take the job if the offer didn’t change, etc. Just give the employer a chance to respond. Chances are great that she will not be able to give you an answer without checking with others first. If the salary is hard and fast for that particular position, she might share that with you immediately. Either way, you will be given the opportunity to respond once the employer gets an answer re: the higher salary you requested, or when the employer tells you that the salary will not change.

C = Close the deal.

Once the negotiation has ended and you and the employer have come to an agreement on the specifics of your offer, get the details IN WRITING as soon as possible. I have worked with a few trainees who neglected to get their negotiated package in writing and subsequently lost some of the perks they had successfully negotiated for.

If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail, consider meeting with a career counselor in OITE. Practicing this discussion will strengthen your negotiation skills—and may even increase the likelihood that you will get what you negotiate for.


REAL WORLD: Interviewing Tips

June 24, 2010

Read through our first REAL WORLD chat with a current NIH trainee! This trainee joined us for a live, online chat to discuss a position at the intersection of science policy, science communication, and grants administration for which she is interviewing.

The text of our conversation can be found at:


CHOPPED – Blog Review of CVs, Résumés, and Letters

June 23, 2010


As with last week’s post, I will continue every Wednesday to invite you to send me your CV, résumé, or cover letter via email to I will choose one document each Wednesday to put up on the chopping block–that is, to review on this blog. I will remove identifying information, and will offer not only critiques, but also praise when warranted.

Send me your document soon, and I will post the first I receive–with my comments–on this site.

Job Searching on the Sly…

June 22, 2010

Working with trainees on job searches over the years, I have often heard the same anxiety-ridden question: How can I possibly look for a job while working full-time?Woman with glasses sitting on a floor with laptop

This can be done, and has been done successfully by hundreds of trainees. However, it’s important to exercise professionalism and discretion on the job while conducting your search. If you cannot find time outside of work to conduct your search, try coming in early, staying late, or working on your search during your lunch break. Being in a lab and having access to a computer all day can be hard to resist, but you are at work to do your job – not to look for a new one.

There are certainly ways to search effectively while working in a full-time position. Today’s Careers section of the Wall Street Journal offers an article Exit Disclaimer on this very topic. Author Elizabeth Garrone suggests the following tactics when conducting a search on the sly:

1) Link in, link in, link in.

We have featured articles on this blog about the utility of LinkedIn Exit Disclaimer for establishing networks, but keeping your profile updated and using it as your personal job search tool is what Garrone explores in her piece. “‘Eighty-five percent of recruiters use LinkedIn to find talent,’ says Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, a career services expert with Exit Disclaimer and a former Fortune 500 recruiter. ‘It’s a completely passive job search tool.’ To give yourself the best edge over the competition, make sure that any online profiles you have are up-to-date and complete.”

2) …And then link in some more.

Join the NIH Intramural Science LinkedIn Exit Disclaimer group to connect with 708 NIH scientists and trainees (as well as its “Job Archive” subgroup, which contains all jobs posted to the NIH Intramural Science job board.) Create a new LinkedIn group with a view to expanding your science network – but consider using it as a source of potential contacts for your job search. Consider bringing an in-person networking group you are involved with to the web using LinkedIn. You may then have the potential to invite (or be introduced to) members’ connections once the LinkedIn group has been established.

3) Make phone calls/schedule meetings at odd times.

“But don’t be too restrictive,” says Garrone. Be sure to give any employer you speak with lots of options/times when you can be available. And once you schedule a discussion of any kind – be it an informational interview, a first-round interview, a negotiation discussion around salary, etc. – be sure you have a quiet space to use where you won’t be interrupted. And be sure your cell phone battery is charged. (I recently lost a call when reviewing an important project with my boss. OOPS!)

Respect your fellow trainees and PI, your current position, and don’t neglect your work duties as you seek a new job. Doing so will only burn bridges you have already constructed; keep those strong while building new ones.

REAL WORLD NIH: Thursday, June 24, 10:00 AM

June 21, 2010

Join us LIVE this Thursday for our first REAL WORLD chat with a current NIH trainee! The trainee joining us for this live, online chat on Thursday has been invited to interview for a position at the intersection of science policy, science communication, and grants administration.

To give you a better sense of the position, read through the following phrases from the job description:

  • Design and conduct evaluations that will examine many qualitative and quantitative endpoints that measure scientific productivity, scientific and public health impact, and economic return on investment
  • Write, review, and edit materials, at various levels of technical difficulty, for use in communicating information effectively and serve as the agency representative at meetings related to the areas of responsibility
  • Synthesize and simplify scientific information from all available sources into capsule narratives, determine appropriate presentation style and format, and graphically enhance scientific documents to more clearly demonstrate scientific concepts
  • Determine and implement the best approach for quantitative and qualitative assessment
  • Evaluate and communicate important scientific advances made by grantees to a diverse audience comprised of scientific professionals, congressional staff and committees, other federal, state, or local agencies and specifically-interested segments of the lay public
  • Develop and maintain contacts in scientific evaluation
  • Provide an assessment of a scientific field
  • Develop a needs analysis in which the current state of the science is evaluated and future needs are assessed

The trainee interviewing for this job has a few questions she’d like to ask before her interview takes place. Join our conversation this Thursday and have your questions answered…whether you ask them yourself or not.


LIVE – Thursday, June 24, 2010

10:00am – 10:30am

Before Thursday, visit the link above to set an event reminder for yourself. After the chat, the text of the conversation will be available at the same site.

Join us for the discussion, send in your questions, or just sit back, read, and learn!

CHOPPED – First Résumé on the Chopping Block

June 17, 2010

Below you will find the first résumé in our “CHOPPED” series. I have inserted my comments in red. Please do consider sending your document along for next week’s episode!

Ima Champion, Ph.D.

12345 Fakeplace Ave., NW #550

Washington, DC 20008

(xxx) xxx-xxxx


Policy, Communication, Curriculum Development

While I encourage trainees to come up with descriptive category headings for their résumés, I would say this heading tries to cover too much. I would advise this trainee to change this heading to the type of work he would most like to do; e.g. “Science Policy Experience,” or “Experience in Science Policy and Education,” or something similar.

Fellow ∙ American Society of Human Genetics ∙ Bethesda, MD ∙ Apr 2010 – Present

Interesting style–the trainee chose here to highlight the organization in bold, rather than his title. This is completely appropriate, and will work whenever you think the organizational name carries more weight than your title.

  • Wrote NSF grant proposal to expand access to genomic data visualization tools in classroom settings
  • Providing analysis and briefing on legislative, judicial, policy action of interest to the genomics community
  • Representing ASHG in Hill outreach for FASEB, of which ASHG is a member, to communicate the importance of continued federal funding of basic scientific research

(Note of inspiration: this trainee created the science education fellowship above himself. Don’t be afraid to blaze a new trail in an area of interest for you!)

Fellow ∙ National Human Genome Research Institute ∙ NIH ∙ Bethesda, MD ∙ June 2009 – Present

  • Partnering with the ASTAR program at the Department of Justice to develop educational symposium for 50 federal and state high court judges to enhance understanding of the intersection of genomics and the law in areas such as forensics, genetic discrimination, privacy, and gene patenting
  • Recruited to participate with HHS Secretary’s Advisory Committee to analyze public perceptions and awareness of the role of genetics and genetic testing in personalized medicine and public health
  • Developed NHGRI documents on various topics, including family health history, pharmacogenomics, genetic testing, and disorders like Down Syndrome and Huntington Disease

Job descriptions for both positions are strong, using action verbs and details to describe work accomplishments.


PhD ∙ Biochemistry & Molecular Genetics, George Washington University, Washington, DC ∙ Sept 2004 – May 2009

  • Fully funded research at the National Institutes of Health via the GWU – NIH Graduate Partnership Program
  • George Washington University Representative to the NIH Graduate Student Council (2007 – 2009)

BA ∙ Chemistry – Biochemistry, Colby College, Waterville, ME ∙ Sept 1998 – May 2003

  • Assisted in teaching multiple laboratory sections and provided departmental tutoring support


Biomedical Research

Would add the word “Experience” to the end of this category heading.

Sickle Cell Disease & Hemoglobin Disorders ∙ 2003 – Present

  • As a post-doctoral fellow, studying global changes in DNA structure and gene expression underlying red blood cell development, severe anemias, and hemoglobin disorders affecting global populations
  • As a PhD candidate, studied red cell development, biology, and gene expression, describing primary defects contributing to severe anemia syndromes

Stem Cells & Gene Therapy ∙ 2001 – 2002

  • During an undergraduate fellowship at NIH, examined expression of retroviral receptors on bone marrow stem cells to develop improved gene therapy strategies for the treatment of blood disorders

Forensics & Environmental Toxins ∙ 2001 – 2003

  • As an undergraduate, examined the DNA damage to liver cells exposed to common industrial chemicals, to describe the underlying mechanisms leading to cancers in factory workers
  • Also conducted forensic DNA identification to develop a teaching exercise for use in multiple Colby College laboratory courses

Listing major research areas is a unique way of describing research experience, and one I have not seen before. I think it works well here, given this trainee’s interests, particularly since a few of these areas of research are hot topics in the media right now.

Presentations and Publications, Abbreviated

  • Presented research at various conferences, including: American Society of Hematology annual meetings (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009); Red Cells Gordon Conference (2007); Hemoglobin Switching Meeting (2006); American Chemical Society annual meeting (2003)
  • Published research in multiple journals, including: Molecular & Cellular Biology; Blood; Journal of Chemical Education

I have a few comments about handling this category this way. While an abbreviated list of publications and presentations is fine, I would argue that Publications may deserve more space on this résumé, if the trainee is truly interested in communication (as indicated in his first category heading, above), or if the trainee is targeting jobs for which writing is a major component. He might consider a category entitled “Writing Experience” and list all of his publications.

On the topic of space…this résumé is currently one page in Word, but the trainee has enough experience and education to warrant a second page.

Finally, one more way to handle a long list of publications and/or presentations is to create a separate document with the same header as your résumé, but listing only publications and presentations. On your résumé then, you might offer as a closing line “Complete list of publications and presentations available upon request.” I have seen some trainees use this technique effectively.


Nicely done, Jacques! Now where’s my dinner?

CHOPPED – Blog Review of CVs, Résumés, and Letters

June 16, 2010

choppedMy favorite new reality TV show is “Chopped,” which airs on the Food Network. The show isn’t new, but I am new to it, and I can’t get enough of it. Chefs are given baskets containing secret ingredients and must create an appetizer, entrée, or dessert using everything they find in the basket. I love to cook, but I am more a recipe-follower than an improviser in the kitchen, so the chefs who compete on this show completely impress me.

What I would like to propose now is an online version of CHOPPED–well, with a slightly different premise. I would like to invite you to send me your CV, résumé, or cover letter via email (to I will choose one document each Wednesday to put up on the chopping block–that is, to review on this blog. I promise to remove identifying information, and will offer not only critiques, but also praise when warranted. Who knows…your document may even serve as a template for trainees just starting the job search process.

Send me your document soon, and I will post the first I receive–with my comments–on this site.

Bon Appétit!