How to negotiate ot salary with a strategy

How to negotiate OT salary with a strategy

Have you ever talked yourself out of a negotiation before starting one? 

Negotiating OT salary takes time and practice. Most of us aren’t hard wired to negotiate.  As toddlers we were great at negotiating, but as adults we sometimes do everything we can to avoid being offensive. 

Negotiating salary is about facing our fears, planning, strategizing, using the right words, and collaborating.  

Here are some tips on successful negotiation.

Face your fears

When interviewing for a job, most people avoid pushing or being pushed. They’ll do anything to avoid the stress of negotiation. 

These avoiders are not competitive or cooperative.  Instead they become trapped by fear. This may include 

  • Fear of appearing greedy
  • Fear of being socially awkward
  • Fear that salary is not negotiable 
  • Fear that the company will rescind the offer
  • Fear of not knowing what to say
  • Fear of being unprepared for the salary question

What are your most common fears about negotiation?  Write them down.

Stanford professor Maragaret Neal said:

People typically see negotiation as an adversarial process and are uncomfortable because they’re concerned that others will think of them as too demanding, too greedy, not nice, or socially awkward.

Change the frame of how you think about negotiation.  Move it from adversarial problem-solving, which is collaborative.”

Read Margaret Neal’s 5 steps to better negotiation here

Work Collaboratively 

Problem solving is all about building relationships.  Put yourself in your employers shoes and ask the right questions to really understand their needs, wants, and challenges.  

You’re not just an OT to fill a position.  You’re solving a problem.  

Also, stay positive throughout the negotiation process.  I know negotiation can bring out the negative side of us, so don’t respond to your fears.  Instead, show them that you can work out a problem without getting defensive.

Use assertive communication by being open, understanding, and willing to give and take.  Also share your passion and excitement to work for them. 

Last but not least, be willing to walk away.  If they don’t know your worth and value, be willing to speak up about it.  If they still aren’t willing to collaborate, it’s time to thank them for their time.

Be prepared

Preparation is key to negotiation. 

Before the interview, know your needs and the needs of your employer. Start by creating a salary negotiation worksheet. 

Discover your needs by knowing your bottom dollar figure.  Next, decide on your ideal salary based on your needs.

Research what other employees in your setting are making. Identify your ideal salary based on years of experience, previous salary, and certifications.

Now you should know your needs and have a good estimate of the market range.  If you receive an offer less than your needs and the market value, you now have a reason to walk away.

Self evaluation

Start a self evaluation by discovering your employer’s needs and what you can bring to the table. 

Do you have skills, knowledge, or certifications that stand out?  Does your employer have a shortage or have difficulty filling a position because of the location?

Answering these questions will help you know where you meet or exceed your employers expectations.  If you’re able to exceed your employers expectations, you have room to leverage your salary. 

Have a strategy

Before the interview, it’s important to have a strategy.  The following tips can help you be better prepared.  

  1. Deflect the question

If you aren’t prepared to talk about salary, deflect the question.  One way to do this is by answering their question with a question. For example, respond by saying what salary range are you considering for this position?

You can also deflect by saying that you want to see if you’re a good fit before discussing salary.

Deflecting salary can also be to your advantage.  If you give them an offer that’s too high, they may dismiss your offer and extend it to another OT.

  1. Know your bottom line salary

Don’t put yourself in a position to accept an offer that’s lower than your needs.  You may consider telling your employer that you’re flexible, as you learn more about your roles and duties.  

Next ask if you will be required to supervise an OTA, provide training, cover for employees, or any other roles that might give you leverage for negotiation. 

  1. Give yourself a raise

If there is not a lot of competition for your job in your area, think about your current salary and consider giving yourself a 15-20% raise.  

  1. Answer with confidence

Know your value and sell your value.  Remind them why you’re offering them a good deal and highlight why you stand out. 

  1. Expect pushback

There are plenty of reasons for any employer to offer you a lower rate, so when you ask for a specific rate, expect them to talk you down. They might say, “Our reimbursement for OT services has dropped”, or “OTs here don’t get paid that much.”  

Whatever they say, keep the conversation going.  Their strategy is to talk you down to your bottom dollar. 

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Use the right phrase

Here are a few phrases that can improve your strategy to negotiate. 

  1. When they’re giving pushback
  • How can we work this out together? 
  • Will you please advocate for me?
  1. When they ask you to share your salary expectations
  • I’d appreciate it if you could make an offer based on what you have budgeted for this position, and we can go from there.
  • Based on my experience, what do you feel is a competitive wage?
  1. Important counter offer Phrases
  • What flexibility do you have on that salary number
  • Thank you for the offer.  Based on my experience, I was thinking in the range of…
  • What flexibility do you have with (paid time off, travel reimbursement, sign on bonus, etc)
  • A few seconds of silence

It’s important to note that when negotiating a counter offer include everything in one package. 

For example, after asking them what they feel is a competitive wage, make a counteroffer with the desired salary number and benefits included as one package.

Ask the right questions

Ask questions to help know the needs of the company and offer solutions to help. 

You might ask, “what are the problems/priorities you’re facing right now in the therapy department?” Or “what gaps are you seeing in your scheduling?”

If you can ask a big ticket question and offer a solution, that person may go to bat for you when negotiating salary. 

Do your research

If you don’t know the going rate for OT positions check out my other OT guide on maximizing OT salary.  

You can also check out the OT salary from the  bureau of labor statistics. 

When does OT salary come up in the interview?

Most facilities will have the HR department contact you to negotiate salary. If you interview at a smaller facility, (outpatient, home health care) you’re more likely to negotiate salary with the hiring manager. 

Regardless, the strategies for negotiation are the same.


Negotiation can be positive or negative. When we give into fear or avoid the situation, we become the victim and have less choices. As we face our fears and find creative solutions to benefit both parties, we become more responsible and have increased opportunities. 

Learning how to be a strategic negotiator will make you successful throughout your life. It’s not all about winning or losing but learning how to collaborate. 

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