MSL Salary Negotiation

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According to the 2017 MSL Society Salary Survey, only 31% of Medical Science Liaisons offered a new job or an annual salary increase at their existing company negotiated for a larger base. When they put forth the effort to negotiate their increase was an average of 9%. With MSL salaries averaging $150,000, that 9% raise represents a $13,500 increase in base pay. Short-term bonus targets, that average 20% for MSLs, are usually keyed off an employee’s base salary. So that negotiated increase in base salary of 9% has a bonus multiplier effect of about $2,700 per year. Some companies also have long-term incentives such as stock options or RSUs that are calculated off base salary – another positive financial impact from negotiating a larger base salary.

So why do the other 69% of MSLs, who do not negotiate their salary offer, choose to leave $16,200 per year on the table?

  1. They did not read this blog or think to ask. Now they know better!
  2. They felt lucky to get any offer at all and did not want to jeopardize the offer and have it withdrawn by having an awkward salary negotiation discussion.
  3. HR or the hiring manager presented the offer as a take it or leave it amount. While this is rare, it could happen and IS an instance when you should not negotiate. This blog discusses when it is probably best NOT to negotiate.

How does one negotiate a salary offer?

Be professional. I am not suggesting that you demand a higher salary, stomp your feet or hold your breath. Maintain a polite, professional manner. Be prepared with salary survey data from a recognized credible source and say something like, “Thank you for the offer, this is a great opportunity for my career and I’m excited about the possibility of joining your team and making a contribution. Before I accept, I was wondering if you had any flexibility in increasing the base pay because I read in the 2017 MSL Society Salary Survey that an MSL in the transplantation therapeutic area made a mean base salary of $152,200 and your offer was about $10,000 less. Compensation is just one consideration for me in accepting this role, would it be okay if I thought it over tonight, and if so, is this the highest base salary that you can offer?”

Be prepared. You need to know in advance what the target salary range is for the role, and communicate a target salary range that you think makes sense for you that relates to the role’s range. By demonstrating that you have done your homework and are knowledgeable about the MSL marketplace compensation ranges, your target organization will probably be even more convinced that you are the right person for the job, whether they choose to increase your offer or not.

MSL salary negotiation can be more of an art than a science. The science or the numbers and cents above show you how valuable this art of negotiation can be. The MSL is a great role that is a perennial top 10 compensated position nationwide.

Interested in pursuing a career as an MSL? Contact Smith Hanley Associates‘ Medical Science Liaison Recruiter, Ken Kupersmith, at [email protected].


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