We are well into the spring semester and for many 4th years in search of job opportunities, that means we are in the thick of contract negotiation season. If you are not a current 4th year or are not actively looking for job opportunities at the moment, don’t tune out quite yet – this information will still be valuable to you. We want to preface this article by saying that we are not experts in negotiating contracts. We have, however, picked up a few pointers along the way in our job search experiences. Specifically, we’ve been exposed to key things to look for in a contract that would be beneficial to know prior to engaging in negotiations. We are both big fans of the saying “you don’t know what you don’t know.” This saying is especially applicable when it comes to contract negotiating. If you don’t know what to look for when scanning through a job offer or contract, you will likely make some of the mistakes that many of your colleagues before you have made.
In this article, we are going to attempt to give you all a very brief list of some important things to keep in mind when negotiating your future contract. For more detailed and thorough advice, we highly recommend checking out some additional resources like these articles here.
We also suggest relying on your school’s private practice club as another source of information on this subject. Ok, now on to the list:
If there is one thing you take away from this article, it should be this point. If you don’t ask for the things you want in your contract, you will never get them. Seems pretty straightforward, right? This isn’t as easy as it sounds, however. Many new graduates are so eager to get out into the real world and start making money that they make the mistake of accepting an offer without doing any negotiating. A common reason for this is that the new graduate is worried that they will offend their potential new employer by asking for more in their contract. If you make it to this stage in negotiating your contract, your employer obviously sees value in you and you should not be worried about asking for what you believe is a fair offer for what you bring to the table. Contract negotiations are a part of business and your employer will be aware of that. Bottom line, if there is something in your contract you would like to change, you HAVE to ask or else you won’t get what you want!
After years of living the college student life filled with ramen noodles and working a few hours at part-time jobs you can manage here and there, negotiating a salary can feel a little overwhelming. In order to get a better grasp on what a competitive starting salary is, we recommend researching the area you are interested in practicing. The biggest thing to take into account when it comes to salaries is that they vary significantly depending on geography. For example, the starting salary for an OD working in a large metropolitan city like Houston will often be less than a starting salary in a smaller, rural town in Texas. Once you have an idea of where you would like to practice, we suggest looking into what other OD starting salaries are for positions in the same area before you start your negotiations.
Important Things to Include in Your Contract
- AOA and state association dues: Having your employer pay for your state and national association dues is pretty standard for most of the contracts we’ve seen. If they are not already in your contract, then ask to have them be included. Paying dues to the AOA and your state association are extremely important to the profession of optometry as a whole.
- Licensing fees: This is another item that is fairly common to have included in your contract. Licensing fees typically don’t cost very much, but it’s a nice bonus not having to pay them yourself, especially when you’re just beginning your career.
- Benefits package: Things like medical insurance, dental insurance, a 401K plan, paid time off, paid sick leave, paid holidays, and a continuing education stipend are all common things to have included as benefits to your contract that can really add value to the bottom line. Things like paid time off and paid holidays will often already be in place at the practice you are going to work for, but you should make sure to discuss these with your employer and ask that they are explicitly stated in the contract. Keep in mind, employers do not owe you anything, so you may speak with offices that do not offer certain benefits such as health insurance or a retirement plan. The more benefits you can add to your contract, the better value you will get.
- Bonus Package: Having a bonus structure in place is something that can often be beneficial for both the employee and the employer. This is often be set up in a way to give you a percentage bonus based off of the amount of collected revenue you personally generate. For example, if your contract states you get a 10% bonus of collected revenue you generate over 1 million dollars, and you generate 1.1 million dollars in collections, then you would get a $10,000 bonus. In short, if you are busting your tail and raking it in for the office, you will (or should) be rewarded for doing so.
Contract Red Flags
- Verbal agreements: Anything discussed and agreed upon when negotiating has to be put in writing in your contract. For example, if there is a verbal agreement that you will have the opportunity to purchase ownership stake in the practice in the future, then it should be explicitly written in your contract (including a time frame for the buy-in process). The same goes for other items such as bonuses, benefits, and overall employee expectations. They should all be clearly stated in your contract.
- Unrealistic non-compete agreements: You shouldn’t go into any agreement thinking about the possibility of leaving the employment opportunity, but at the same time you need to protect yourself if that scenario were to arise. Once again, non-compete clauses will vary greatly depending on geographic location. Using Houston as an example again, ten miles in Houston makes a much bigger difference than ten miles in a rural town. Much like salary, you should research what the standard agreements are for your area of interest and try to negotiate a fair clause into your contract.
We hope that gives everyone a little bit of insight into contract negotiations and what to look for in an offer. Our final parting nugget of advice would be to have the confidence to ask for what you believe you deserve in your contract. Be prepared to tell your employer why you believe you deserve what you are asking for. You have worked hard up until this point and you should show what a valuable addition you would make to any practice. Good luck and go crush it!
About Bryan Williams
Bryan is from Dallas, Texas and currently a 4th year optometry student at UHCO where he enjoys learning about special contact lenses and the business side of optometry. He is an Executive Journalist for the OptometryStudents.com team and held the position of Vice-President for the Student Optometric Practice Management Association at UHCO. Bryan is excited to be moving to Birmingham, Alabama after graduation to complete a cornea and contact lens residency at UABSO. He spends most of his free time watching sports, especially football and basketball.
About Chris Lopez
A fourth year OD/MS student at the University of Houston College of Optometry, Chris holds multiple positions with OptometryStudents.com: Director of Academy Relations, Executive Editor, and Executive Journalist. He is the Past-President of Beta Sigma Kappa, Past-National Liaison of the American Optometric Student Association, and is completing his thesis on new diagnostic tests for ocular surface disease. Chris joined OptometryStudents.com to engage readers with informative, useful content. After months of sorting through terrific optometry employment opportunities across the country, he signed a ridiculous contract with a fantastic office in the state of New York. Chris hopes to practice full-scope optometry providing a variety of services, including comprehensive eye examinations, specialty contact lenses, medical exams, glaucoma care, and more.