The Dietitian’s Guide to Negotiating Pay

Dietitians, are you happy with your current income? Whether it be your annual salary, hourly or per diem, are you truly satisfied with the money you are making? If your answer is “no,” read on for a guide to negotiating for a raise either in your current role or for a new job you are considering.

Of note, there are other factors in addition to money that bring you job satisfaction, including your benefits package, professional growth, rewards and recognition and/or knowing that you are making an incredible difference in the lives of your patients. But financial growth not only provides you with financial security and freedom, but also contributes to the betterment of our dietetic profession as a whole. Let’s be real, we’re well aware that historically, the dietetics profession provides mediocre pay for “traditional” dietetic roles. When we negotiate and ask for better pay, we raise the bar for all dietitians.   

Disclosure: contains affiliate links.  As an affiliate, RD2RD earns a commission on qualifying purchases at no cost to you.

 

woman with confident expression in front of dollar signs

Why Aren’t We Discussing Pay? (And how this hurts us)

Think about the amount of money that you make annually. Do you share this figure with others – family, friends or other dietitians? If you’re like many, you keep that number close to your chest. You might be able to count on one hand the number of people who know what you make per year – they could include your manager, your mentor and your significant other!

Talking about money has historically been considered taboo. Perhaps you view sharing a salary figure with others as boastful. Or, you might fear that if you share your salary with someone else in the dietetics profession, another dietitian might share that they make significantly more, leaving you to feel depressed about your income level.

But what if you talked more freely about what you make among your peers? Doing so could very well open the floodgates for a swell in an increase in pay as a whole. Talking about money more openly can help us all advance the pay grade for dietitians.

One resource and space for compensation conversations is the dietitian Facebook group The Unconventional RD Community. A recent comment about dietitian salaries reads: 

“I think it's important to talk about salary! Especially for me, as a female, I have been raised in a society that teaches me to undervalue my work. Only seeing what other people are getting was enough to push me to go after what I want.”

For women dietitians, the pay gap between what you make and what men make – in dietetics and in any industry – comes into play as well. Women earned 83.0% of what men earned in 2020, based on the real median earnings for full-time employees. The more you advocate for better pay, the more you advocate for women everywhere.

How to Research Pay

If you’re seeking your first role in dietetics, how can you gauge what a competitive salary is? It’s crucial to do your homework before interviewing so that you can approach the process as fully informed as possible. Don’t waste your time – and the interviewer’s – if the advertised pay grade is below what you wish to be paid. (Side note – be sure to check out our top interview questions and answers to help you land the job!)

Where to start?

A simple Google search may take you to Salary.com, which estimates that dietitians, on average, make anywhere from $59,809 to $72,199 with the average base salary of $65,704.

A look at Glassdoor.com says the estimated total pay for a dietitian is $75,058 per year in the United States, with an average salary of $61,799 per year. You can enter your location to get a geographic-specific view into annual salaries of dietitians where you live – and we highly recommend you do so before heading to your next interview. It’s a must! More on why knowing this salary range is important below.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics provides a salary calculator that you can use as one tool in your salary negotiations toolbox. The interactive calculator is based on a statistical model developed with data from the Academy’s “Compensation and Benefits Survey of the Dietetics Profession.” The calculator takes various aspects of your career into account, including your dietetics practice area, whether or not you have any certifications, education level achieved, the number of people you supervise and more.

As an example, let’s say you fit the following entry-level criteria:

  • Have a bachelor’s degree in dietetics
  • Are a licensed dietitian
  • Have been in your current position for less than one year
  • Are considered on-staff at an inpatient clinic
  • Located in Chicago

The calculator generates an estimated $59,000 per year.

If you have this same job but are based in the Nashville or East South-Central region, the salary drops to approximately $49,000 annually.

The Academy notes that its model “provides moderately powerful predictive accuracy within relative broad ranges” but limitations include the fact that the calculator is unable to take other various important factors into account such as job performance or other individual factors.

While various websites and salary calculators can be helpful, you can also ask around – ask your peers in your mastermind group or in a Facebook Group for dietitians. Ask your dietitian mentor. Ask former professors. Ask dietitians who have your dream job. Don’t go into a hiring situation “cold” – go in prepared to ask for what you want and what is appropriate for the role that you aspire to have!

And of course, bookmark this blog post. Keep these practical tips handy when you’re making a job change.

Woman working at coffee shop

Negotiation Tips

Knowledge is power, and knowing what your base salary can – or should be – will set you up for success in the long run. When you start strong and with a top-notch salary at the onset of a new job, you won’t have to play “catch up” to get to your dream salary.

And don’t ever – ever ever evertake the first offer that is handed to you, even if it knocks you over because you never expected to be offered that big a figure in your life! Negotiate. ALWAYS.

We repeat. NEGOTIATE.

Your future employer is offering you a figure that they believe is fair, and it very well may be. But are they going to offer you a number that is fair plus 10% on top of that number, for example? No. Most of the time, they are leaving room for you to negotiate. They anticipate that you will – and if you’re the super smart and savvy dietitian that we know you are, you will negotiate!

Now, we are aware that certain dietitian roles may be locked into a pay grade based on experience, or based on what a grant stipulates, etc. That said, you can STILL TRY TO NEGOTIATE. They can only tell you “No, this is the best we can do.” And if you hear those words, all hope is not lost. Ask for more vacation time, or that your vacation time go into effect at the 3-month mark instead of the 6-month mark. Ask for a sign-on bonus. Ask for an annual bonus. Ask when you are eligible for a raise. Get the idea?

4 reasons you should negotiate pay

Negotiating a Salary Package for a New Job

First – a virtual high five to you for nearly closing the deal on your new job! Let’s focus on negotiating a salary package for you. You’ve completed the final interview (hooray!) and the company has indicated they intend to bring you on board, with a salary of $X.

Now is the time to be thoughtful about their offer and what you will counteroffer. Here are a few tips for those of you who may not feel comfortable negotiating, or who have never done so before.

  • First, you shouldn’t be surprised by the salary/hourly figure that your potential future employer eventually offers you. The figure may have been advertised, or you were given a salary range or estimate when you started the interview process. Ask for this before you even begin the interview process; it’s better to know at the get-go versus after five rounds of interviews.
  • Again, come to the table prepared with what you know to be a competitive salary. Do your research.
  • When you are told what the proposed salary (or hourly rate) is by your potential employer, let them know that you’d like time to think on the offer. Ask when they need to know your decision.
  • Take the time that they give you to prepare your counteroffer.
  • Aim high! Don’t sell yourself short. Aim high and don’t be afraid to aim high. Your future employer will likely scale back on the number that you propose. For example, let’s say you’re offered a $72,500 annual salary. Perhaps you counteroffer with $80,500. The company may then say that they will pay you $75,500. Are you comfortable with this? It comes down to what you want. You might be thrilled. Or you might say, “How about $77,500?”

Again, other pieces of the offer can be negotiated – not just salary.

Think about what is most important to you – benefits, vacation time, tuition reimbursement, the ability to work remotely, etc.

As a result of the pandemic, many employers are offering the flexibility to work from home a portion or the majority of the time, depending on your role. Employees have made it known that they prefer a hybrid or work-from-home model; companies are taking note. Ask for what you want.

Negotiating a Raise in Your Current Job

For those of you who have been in your current role for six months, a year – or more – have you received a raise since your hire date? If not, ask for one. Inquire of your manager when you are eligible for a raise as well, as your company may have dedicated annual reviews by which they abide.

Another consideration is current company performance.

“Know what your company’s current economic standing is and align your request with the company earnings,” says Stacey Dunn-Emke, MS, RDN, owner of Nutrition Jobs and creator of career-building courses. “For example, if the company is growing at only 5% in the last two quarters, then asking for a 10-15% raise is not in alignment with the company potential (unless you are not paid at the same value as your co-workers). You could also ask to roll out an incremental raise, like 10% over 3 months.”

If you are eligible for a raise, here are a few “dos” and “don’ts” for best approach:

  • DO research what is considered a competitive salary based on your experience, your role, your geography – and have a conversation with your manager to ensure you’re making a competitive salary for the role
  • DO make it known to your manager that you wish to be considered for a raise; ask for feedback on whether you are eligible due to timing, a set pay grade or other factors at play in your company
  • DO put together a one to two-slide PowerPoint that outlines all of your amazing contributions to date. Demonstrate your growth. Show how you’ve benefitted the company. Outline how you’re an asset – and how you’ll continue to contribute and lead. Include data points such as “increased plant-based protein intake by x% over the last three months.”
  • DO have your preferred salary in mind – consider asking for a 5% raise, or if you feel that you’re currently at an income level that is not competitive for the industry nor your geography, aim higher:

“With the right conversation and value-based evidence, you can aim for 3-10% annual salary increase. If a large salary increase is not an option, then negotiate other tangible perks as alternative compensation.”

Stacey Dunn-Emke, Founder of NutritionJobs.com
  • DO have your preferred salary in mind – consider asking for a 5% raise, or if you feel that you’re currently at an income level that is not competitive for the industry nor your geography, aim higher:
  • DO schedule time with your manager for a thoughtful conversation; DON’T catch them off guard
  • DO practice what you will say – get comfortable with confidently expressing that you deserve a higher income

If your manager says “no” to your ask, don’t lose hope! DO have a conversation around when you can revisit your proposal. And if their answer isn’t to your liking, it may be time to look for another job, set up your own business, or create a side hustle (like selling digital downloads for other dietitians on RD2RD!).

list of step in dietitian salary negotiation

Real World Dietitian Pay Negotiation Examples

Find inspiration in the following examples from dietitians who refused to settle:

  • “I just got a job offer from a hospital and it was super low ball based my level and years of experience, so I told them I’d think about it, and they called me back saying they were reworking my offer! Trying to learn to value what I do as an RD and stand for it! And, they called back with a better offer!” – Dietitian Crystal Hays Fox
  • “Working in clinical I was making $32K – I was underpaid and undervalued. I haven’t worked a full year in my private practice yet but am on track for $400K. Maybe even more! Do NOT undervalue yourself. I’m a 25-year-old with less than three years of experience being an RD.” – Dietitian Kimberly Kramer
  • “When I was the nutrition program manager at a substance use rehab clinic, I was offered $65K, negotiated it to $68K. Within two years I was making $71.5K.” – Dietitian based in Massachusetts
  • “I work at an insurance brokerage as a wellness consultant for HR departments in Southern California. I also create corporate wellbeing content for our proprietary programming tool. The position was listed at $55K, and I negotiated up to $80K due to my two years of experience, project management certificate and a master’s degree.” – Dietitian Olivia Schwartz
  • “I was happy to hear this week that because I disclosed my current salary to a fellow RD friend of mine, she was able to negotiate her salary and get more than what they were originally offering. This is why it’s important to be more open about sharing our salaries to create transparency.” – Dietitian Madalyn Vasquez

You’ve Got This

Whether you’re searching for your next role or aiming for a pay raise in your current one, use the tools outlined in this post to set yourself up for negotiation success!

Know your worth, express your value, and know that by adamantly pushing for a competitive salary not only benefits you but the entire dietetics profession. Now get out there and land that salary figure you’ve always wanted!

 

“Seven figures, here I come!”

Erica Julson, dietitian and founder, The Unconventional RD Community
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