After the Offer

Negotiating Terms of Employment

When you get to this stage of the employment process, it is important that you understand your needs and be ready to negotiate. Generally, people think of salary as being the most important thing you will negotiate. However, you need to think about many other factors; the various things you will need to negotiate are outlined below with items for consideration. Remember this very important fact: employers, like everyone else, would like to get the very best at the least amount of cost to them. They may not get everything they want in a candidate, and they may have to pay more than they would like. It is all part of the process.

Social work salary negotiations:

It can be to your advantage to request a higher starting salary than the one you are presented with at the time of the job offer. In the business world, salary negotiation is commonplace. Social workers should also be prepared to advocate for themselves and ask for higher salaries. When negotiating salary, it is typical to ask for a few thousand more than your true “bottom line” and work down. For example, if you are offered $30,000 as a starting salary, but want to make $33,000, you would want to request a salary around $36,000, and hopefully you and the employer will be able to meet in the middle. You might even end up with the high number you request! However, when asking for more, be prepared to demonstrate why your qualifications are “deserving” of a higher salary. Such evidence would include relevant field placement experience, previous social work experience, a dual degree, or any other special skills that differentiate you from the next candidate.

Again, not all agencies will be able to raise your starting salary. Many social work organizations operate under a limited budget. Another way around this is to request a significant raise for the next fiscal year. You can even request to be involved in the budget process and assist with grantwriting and fundraising. Note: With all salary negotiations, especially with promises of a raise in the future, be sure to get everything in writing.

Be sure to consider all parts of “salary,” including benefits (health, dental, eye care, child and/or elder care, tuition remission, 401K or other retirement plan), vacation time and/or birthdays off, LICSW supervision, and continuing education. An agency with a small budget might not be able to raise your starting salary, but they may have a strong benefits package, or you may be able to negotiate your benefits package.

Health and dental insurance:

Typically, agencies pay 80–85% of health care policy premiums and the employee usually contributes the rest. If health and dental insurance will not be offered to you through your job and you need coverage, be aware that it can be expensive. Some agencies cannot afford to subscribe to a plan. If that is the case, you should advocate for more money to put toward a policy. More often than not, agencies will not offer dental plans.


One of the most important benefits of a job for a new graduate is supervision. For example, to earn the LICSW in Massachusetts, a new LCSW must be supervised one hour for every 35 hours of work by a LICSW for two years (total of 100 hours). If your agency does not offer LICSW supervision and you want to go on for that license yourself, you will have to find private supervision, which can be $75 each week or more. If you cannot get supervision, you should advocate for more money to put toward the costs of getting off-site supervision.

You should also be concerned with the qualifications of your supervisor. Ask to meet the person and spend some time figuring out if you think your styles will work well together and if the person can offer you insight and help you develop professionally.

Continuing education/tuition remission:

In order to maintain your LCSW and go on for the LICSW, you will need a specified number of continuing education credits. You should figure this into your budget when figuring how much money you will need. If you can get training onsite that counts toward the license, or if the agency will pay for some hours, you could save a great deal of money.

Vacation, sick leave, and personal time:

You must decide how much time you think you need and how what the agency is offering measures up to what you want and need. Jobs that offer few or no time off generally result in burnout of workers who feel under-appreciated and over-stressed.

Day care, family leave, and flexibility:

The existence and generosity of these benefits show a commitment of the agency to you and your personal life. Employers that offer these benefits often understand you have needs outside the workplace. You should try to determine if you will be “punching the time clock” or if the agency trusts its people to fulfill their obligations and make up time missed. You should determine how much structure you have and how valuable benefits like these are to you both personally and financially.

401(k) and other retirement plans:

If you are offered these as options, carefully consider how valuable they are to you and the quality of the plans. You should check the investment you will have to make, how long you must be employed by the agency for the plan to pay off, what the penalties may be if you leave the agency and want your investment back, etc. Ask around and compare the plan with others so you will know how beneficial they may be to you.

Outlining Job Responsibilities:

In addition to the benefits outlined above, you should consider the many terms of employment that you are signing on to provide for the agency. For instance, you should clarify the average size of your caseload, the number of hours you will work, the ratio of client contact to paperwork, the amount of time on the road, the type of services you will provide, and the skills you will exercise.

Put it in writing!

When you accept the job, you should write a letter outlining the terms of employment as you understand them and request any modifications in writing before you begin work. You would like to think that what you are offered is what you will get, but that is not always so. It is better to be safe than sorry. You would not want to start the job search process over again because your supervision fell through or your job is not what you were promised.  An example of a letter of acceptance follows.


Sample Letter of Acceptance

444 West End Avenue
New York, NY 10023

March 1, 2004

Dr. Eric A. Jonas Jr.
Shimayee Reservation School
Sioux-City, SD 50014

Dear Dr. Jonas,

As we discussed in our phone conversation, I am pleased to accept the position of school counselor. I have taken the liberty of outlining the terms of employment as I understand them. If there is to be a change or if I have misunderstood, please let me know in writing within two weeks from the date of this letter.

I understand that I will be providing individual and family counseling to an average weekly caseload of 25 clients or families. I will also supervise student volunteers in the after-school program in weekly meetings and individual sessions as needed. I understand that I am required to maintain all case files on my caseload which, as you explained, takes about twenty minutes each week for each case.

The salary we negotiated begins at $28,500 with yearly reviews and merit raises. I will enroll in the Met Health and Dental plan and am able to be reimbursed up to $200 in conferences or training per year. Jennifer Cones will provide supervision one hour per week on-site. I also understand that I am entitled to 21 days of paid leave per year to be used for vacation, sick, or personal time.

I cannot tell you how excited I am to begin working with you and the staff at the school.

I enjoyed our interviews and believe we will all work well together. I look forward to seeing you on June 15, 2004, my first day of work.


Allison Bankit


Sample Letter of Decline

212 Salisbury Drive
Oberlin, NH 03426

March 1, 2004

Ms. Arial Masters
P.O. Box 935
Shenandoah Nursing Home
Carlin, NH 03525

Dear Ms. Masters,

Thank you for extending the offer of family therapist and intake coordinator to me and for giving me a week to consider the offer. As you can imagine, this time of multiple interviews has been hectic. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your consideration.

Though impressed with your program, facility, and staff, I have decided to accept another position that offers the opportunity to work with the elderly in a medical setting.

I look forward to hearing you speak at the Annual Conference for Gerontology Professionals in July. I wish you the best of luck in your continued search. Again, thank you for your consideration.


Jon Acton