Updated: Nov 17, 2020
SALARY…the taboo word in the interview process. But let’s be real…it’s the question we are all eager to know. This year has been a brutal one for the occupational therapy job market. I can attest for this in the Orange County/San Diego area in southern California. It’s a time where positions are limited, budgets are small, and the demand is lower than it’s ever been. These are some scary words for new graduates coming out of school with lots of student loans, or seasoned clinicians with families to provide for. But as we start to go against the current, it is important to be well educated, do our research and know your worth in the field so that you are prepared to accept or decline positions, where salary is a pertinent deciding factor. First, start by looking at the cities you are looking to apply for and finding out the average hourly rate for that demographic. This can be found on websites such as:
Make sure to try to add filters that may apply to you such as years of experience, entry-level, setting, and what type of position (full-time/part time) if at all possible. These factors definitely matter and impact your pay scale. So, in order to get an accurate rate, ensure to add those filters into your search. I also recommend ensuring that the information that you are finding is current. Pay rates from 2016 are going to be much different than 2020, based on situational factors (COVID-19) and inflation.
Walk into your interview knowing what your market value is. As a new grad with little professional experience, pay rates tend to be significantly lower. Expect that. It’s important to have realistic expectations, hence why researching is important to understand what the true market is offering.
Next word of advice, is based on your research, establish a floor hourly rate/salary in which you will go. This is your absolute lowest number. This is the number that, unfortunately you would need to walk away from the position if the employer was unable to offer you this specific dollar amount. Everyone’s financial situations are different and it’s totally okay to walk away If it isn’t a good fit. Although it may seem like they are interviewing you, you are also interviewing them! You need to be appropriately compensated for your time based and what you are providing for them. Take a mental note of this, but do not disclose this number to your future employer unless it is absolutely contingent on the offer being made. This is an important step of being prepared for your interview, as an opportunity to discuss salary may come up.
Your future potential employer may or may not provide information on pay during the first interview. It’s always best to refrain from bringing up pay, unless the employer welcomes the topic first. If it is a multi-step interview, it is common that pay will not be discussed during the first interview but will be discussed during the second or third.
If the conversation does come up and the employer asks what your desired rate is, aim higher than your floor rate, but not too high. Market value is a good place to start. You don’t to undersell yourself, but you also want to be reasonable and avoid jeopardizing your potential offer due to an outrageous expectation. Typically, a good response would be, “based on my research of the market for my level of experience and skills, market value is __/ hour or __k.”
Keep in mind that for positions that offer benefits, the hourly rate isn’t everything. You need to take into account the benefits, 401k plan, PTO, CEUS, and other incentives they may offer. Those translate into money. It is a good idea to try to calculate how much money it ends up being and comparing the two to get a comprehensive idea of what your salary will be. This is also important if employers provide you with the option to choose to be an exempt or non-exempt employee. Rates may be higher for PRN or contracted employees since benefits are not provided. This may be a good option for someone who has a spouse who has benefits and can provide for you with those same benefits.
Negotiating…now this is where your floor rate may come into play. Consider that your last card to throw in the deck. You can try to negotiate wages and see where the employer will budge. If they are unwilling to compromise and they are lower than your floor rate, it’s best to part ways. You want to feel validated in your work and feel that it is worth the compensation. You also may be unable to support yourself and/or others on that salary, so don’t settle. Be patient and the right position will come around, but let me tell you…it may take some time. From experience, it’s better to be happy with a good work environment and feel that your time is being compensated appropriately rather than settling for a job where you do not feel appropriately reciprocated.
If all goes well and you get an offer that you are content with, ensure they give you an offer letter! Get it in writing… OT 101. If you haven’t heard it yet, CYA. Learn it, live it and love it. CYA…cover you’re a**. This is a pertinent concept in documentation, but it’s also important to protect us and ensure that we are being provided the services or promises that we were told. Some places may not generate offer letters, but is it 100% okay to ask for it in writing.
I will be the first to tell you that money isn’t everything in a job. Some high paying jobs have close to unattainable productivity levels, with high expectations and long days. It’s important to have a good work-life-balance and enjoy your work environment and culture. But money is something we all rely on to live and no reason to be afraid of standing firm in your beliefs in your worth. Stand firm but have examples and reasons to why your worth is validated at the rate it is. What can you offer them?
Below is a pdf download for a pay rate scale so you can see what the hourly rate translates to in a salary form for part-time and full-time positions.
Be FIRM, be CONFIDENT and know your WORTH!