Friday, June 02, 2006

Physician Compensation and the Interview

One of the great things about physicians is that you/they are bright and very talented at many things. As self reliant, sophisticated professionals it is easy to assume that taking about compensation details in an interview should not be complicated. WRONG. I’d like to suggest a more effective strategy that will produce a better outcome.

Time and again it is shown that when the “principals” are involved in negotiations (in this case the principals are the physician and the hiring authority directly) the risk for miscommunication and harm for rapport development are high. You may be wondering why that would be the case when the key players to the agreement are the ones who are part of the discussion.

Simply, the personal gets in the way of the factual. Approaching the compensation negotiation without an “agent” or intermediary can result in a less than win-win outcome. As a search executive with years of experience, I’ve seen where the discussions get sensitive because of expectations not being met or because of subtle details not being heard and/or understood.

Communication is imperfect as we all know. When an employer says the salary range is between $250,000 and $300,000 they usually mean that the starting salary is $250,000. The candidate consumes that info often as, “wow I could get an offer for as much as $300,000.” It might be that the candidate believes that s/he should be starting at $300,000 and so assumes that number should be what is offered. I don’t know a hiring authority on the planet that will negotiate an offer from the highest point first. It is simply contrary to good business strategy. Hence the two parties may already be set up for disappointment – the candidate who had hoped to hear a “higher number” and the employer who is surprised that the candidate isn’t delighted by what they feel is a very generous offer.

Other things happen too. There may be more details to explain. Perhaps the base is light, but the productivity bonus is rich. If the candidate involuntarily groans at the low base before the hiring authority completes discussion of the productivity bonus formula, the hiring authority might get the impression that the candidate is reactive, doesn’t listen well, is greedy or may make any number of other assumptions. Usually the assumptions aren’t to the benefit of the candidate.

Simply put, the communication process can fail to achieve the most desirable outcome. When the issue is negotiating compensation, it is always best to have someone in the middle. If you are working with a recruiter or with a placement agent you can expect them to level the playing field. A hiring authority is not going to negotiate in the candidates’ best interest; they are going to strike the best deal for them.

Let me give you an example. In anticipation of the negotiation, the recruiter/agent will check with the physician candidate about her/his expectations of compensation. Thus it is known that the expectation is $300,000 on the candidate side. When the recruiter/agent is later working with the hiring authority on the offer proposal and the offer target discussed is $250,000 the agent can indicate that the candidate already has a different number in mind. Then if there is room for advance negotiation it can happen in the background rather than the foreground.

Assume the hiring authority can’t budge on the base, then the agent can work with the hiring authority to secure other options such as a higher sign on or commencement bonus; a richer productivity bonus plan or shorter track to partnership. Again all of this negotiation can be taking place in the background refining and reforming the offer until it seems most palatable for each party. Then when the offer is presented, there are NO surprises. Each side is prepared for possible reactions to offer details.

My best advice is that if you have the opportunity to have a recruiter or agent as a buffer and catalyst for the negotiation process – take advantage of it. It does product the most win-win outcomes.

Happy and Healthy Getting Hired.