successfully negotiate your ot job offer

Successfully Negotiate Your OT Job Offer

Many occupational therapists find that, among their excitement and anxiety over starting a new job, the details sort of blur together. Employers present new hires with a ton of paperwork in a short time, which all needs signatures and your immediate attention. Contracts, disclosures, addendums, and more, can get very overwhelming very quickly.

Therapists, especially new graduates, may not know how to navigate all these hurdles. Oftentimes, negotiating your OT job offer is swept under the rug, either because therapists don’t know that they even can negotiate their pay rate or they are at a loss of how to go about it. As a result, therapists may be underpaid for their job before they even go through orientation.

Negotiating your OT pay rate is not only helpful to get you the money you deserve, but it’s also a valuable skill to have in today’s world. Occupational therapists need to be good at negotiating in order to get through to difficult patients, explain their stance to insurance companies who want to issue denial letters for services, and convey why (and how) occupational therapy can help in certain situations and practice settings.

The healthcare industry can have a lot of red tape with policies and procedures that make our job duties more difficult, so negotiating at the start of the hiring process goes alongside other foundational skills such as advocacy, occupational justice, and beneficence.

Thankfully, this is an easy fix with just a little bit of practice and research. All therapists and therapy assistants should understand how to best go about negotiating. It’s not a one-time event, nor is it something you want to jump right into without having all the facts.

Negotiating starts from the moment you get your first interview with a potential job and extends all the way until you ask for your first (or second or third) raise. Follow these steps to put yourself in the know and give yourself an advantage before salary is even mentioned.

If you’re still in the pre-interview stage, be sure to check out our article, The Complete Guide To Ace Your OT Job Interview as well.

Do Your Homework

Preparation is key. While you may be anxious to leave essays and research behind you, those fact-finding skills should remain a part of your job as an OT practitioner for years to come. Research can benefit your patients by finding new, evidence-based treatment methods, but it can also benefit you as a provider. Take a look online to see what other therapists are making, and be sure to check out our comprehensive OT salary guide here.

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The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also outlines the median salary for all OTs across the nation (with yearly updates) and also breaks it down state-by-state. As you will see, these figures can vary quite a bit across states and even different geographic locations within the same region. Salaries are also often dependent on your level of experience and practice setting.

For example, skilled nursing facilities and home health agencies are typically the highest-paying settings while school-based settings and mental health clinics or hospitals are usually on the lower end of the spectrum. But it’s generally understood that an OT living and working in New York City or Los Angeles will have a sizably different salary than someone in a very rural or underserved area.

You can also get some of this information by asking other therapists working in your area in person or in OT social media groups. While this may not be as reliable as the statistics from a national organization, they may be able to shed some light about the salary or rate they started off with and what type of upward mobility they’ve experienced since then.

Don’t Jump the Gun

A common mistake that people make in interviews is discussing salary or hourly rate too soon. While it’s a good idea to get a sense of what a job will pay before getting too far in the interview process, it’s generally frowned upon. You shouldn’t be bringing up salary (and negotiations) until the hiring manager discusses it, which usually happens when they extend an offer.

The good news is that you’re able to negotiate when salary is verbally mentioned or when you get an official offer letter. You can consider the job a “sealed deal” once both parties have signed that letter, since the salary will be finalized at that point.

If you’re curious (and want to double down on the research from our first tip), you can always take a closer look at the job description to see if they mention a specific salary or even a range. Sometimes, people have more luck finding a figure when the posting is directly on the company’s website, but it might also be there if the job is listed on a third-party job board such as Indeed.

Don’t be caught off guard if they ask you for a number first. If you’ve done your research, you should know what an acceptable salary or hourly rate is for that job and you can feel comfortable asking for pay that’s either at or just below the median salary for an OT in the United States. If they make a counter offer, you’re able to make another offer back.

Keep in mind that the negotiations can’t go on forever, though. It’s usually acceptable to make one counteroffer before either accepting or declining the job altogether.

Negotiating OT job offer

Look at the Bigger Picture

While making a livable wage is important, it’s not all there is to a job. There are many other factors to consider, such as benefits. If a job has a salary that’s a bit below what you were expecting or hoping for, take a look at what else they have to offer.

Do they supply you with good health insurance? What about ample paid time off (PTO)? A positive work environment? Mentorship from other OTs? Tuition reimbursement? Relocation assistance? If you answer yes to all (or most) of these factors, you might be saving upwards of $4,000 or $5,000 (sometimes even more) per year with the added benefits.

Gather All Your Requests

Employers like to see that you’re prepared, but they also like to know who they’re going to be working with. This means you will need to put all your cards on the table, so to speak. Be prepared to tell them your stipulations as well. 

This includes any working accommodations you may need, preference for shifts or scheduling, a trip that you’ll need time off for (it’s usually acceptable to do this for several days, if it’s for one trip that you planned far in advance), and experience in certain areas that might inform your work on a certain unit or with a particular population.

Lastly, Don’t Hesitate To Ask for Help

If after reading this you still feel anxious or overwhelmed about the actual negotiating aspect, we get it! We’ve been there and know that negotiating job offers and salaries can take you out of your comfort zone since it’s not something you do every day.

If this is you, be sure to seek the guidance of other occupational therapists (or others) who have experience with negotiating job offers. You can also consider reaching out to a career coach, a mentor, or even old supervisors to get helpful advice from. They can provide you with additional tips, support and even practice with you before you go through the negotiation process.

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With all of this being said, now that you have all of the details of negotiating your occupational therapy job offer like this, it hopefully doesn’t seem so intimidating.

This should prepare you with the basics you need to know to get started with negotiating for yourself. Negotiating may help you get a salary you deserve (who doesn’t love that?), but it’s also a good tool that can help you become a better occupational therapist by using your voice in the right way for the right reasons.

Just remember to tactfully approach people during negotiations. While you might not always get the salary you ask for, you will be sure to gain the respect of the person on the other side of the table and will often get more when making the extra effort. This adds up and is absolutely worth giving it a try with any offer!

What do you find most difficult about negotiating OT job offers? What other tips would you share to new OT graduates? Let us know in the comments!

This post was originally published on August 31, 2022 and last updated on April 23, 2024.

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