Contract and salary negotiation

Published: January 13, 2022

Salary and contract negotiations

In this section, you´ll learn what to negotiate about- apart from salary itself- and how to get a good salary benchmark: You don´t want to sell yourself below value, but also don´t want to price yourself out of consideration.

What to negotiate about?

The following list shows you that a salary negotiation is by no means just about salary. It´s an exercise in creativity to break out of the one-dimensional world of pulling on a single number, like bargaining at a flea market. In the case of negotiations, talking about more than one thing is easier than just about one; you have more dimensions for inventing creative solutions and coming to an agreement.

This list is not meant as your big Christmas Wish List. You should not use it to go to your (future) employer and ask for all of these things; this will undoubtedly turn them off. You should first of all look through the list from the perspective of giving: which of these things could I give to my (future) employer, which doesn´t hurt me much but are of high value to them? This gives you some valuable bargaining chips in hand. For example, “I am willing to relocate for my employer.” Thereafter, you can look through the list, looking for the must-haves, the most important things for you: what do you absolutely need to be happy in a job? This could be, “A solid outlook on personal development is crucial for me.” With your “bargaining chips” and your essential wishes in hand, you can go into the negotiation with the aim in mind, “I want to find a win-win situation together with the employer side.”


Things you can negotiate about apart from the headline salary


  • Salary and extras like bonuses, pension funds, and insurances.
  • Gadgets and petrol vouchers (car, mobile phone incl. minutes, laptop, and petrol: all often tax-free for the employer and does not show up in the salary column of the annual report)
  • Time limitation (“Befristing”) of temporary contracts.
  • Resources for your work- not only for academics. (What is the budget available for my research? Do I get a secretary?) It´s much easier to get such commitments before you sign up for a job than when you have already accepted a position.
  • Career development and vertical mobility. (How quickly can you climb the career ladder?)
  • Horizontal mobility. (Will I be stuck in a position or be able to learn broadly, work in different teams/ departments?)
  • Flexible working conditions (flexible working hours, home office…).
  • Internal change of location (Can/ am I expected to transfer to another site in the next years? Possible? Expected?
  • Acknowledgment of experience level (Do PhD, postdoc count as work experience for the “Stufe of TVL” when working for a public employer)
  • Advanced training. (Do you pay for advanced training courses? How many can I do? Should I do them in my own time or within my working hours?)
  • Relocation support when having to move for the position.
  • Childcare. In-house or benefits (again, tax-free for the employer).
  • The number of holidays and special leaves (usually fixed, but can be inquired to bring it on the table at least).
  • Travelling: how much is required, what is being paid for, can holidays be mixed into the business trips?
  • Length of probation and cancellation periods. (Attention: a double-edged sword. A ong cancellation period makes it hard to change jobs!)
  • Typical position and salary trajectories. (What does a typical career path in your organisation look like?)
  • Help for your partner in his or her job search outside or within the company.
  • Authorships. (Can I publish my work? For jobs in academia: can I be corresponding author on projects you devised?)
  • Freelance work. (Can I do freelance work next to my job?)

Salary benchmarks

General remarks

The following pages refer to the German labour market, many general trends can be useful for an understanding of the situation in international settings as well.

If you have to name a salary benchmark, then include expected bonuses and extras and clearly state that this is the case, e.g.: “My salary expectation is 62 000€ gross annual salary including bonuses.” That way you make sure that both sides talk about the same thing.

When you research salary benchmarks for yourself, then try to find out whether they include bonuses or not, otherwise, you´ll have a factor of uncertainty of 5-20%. Where possible, we have mentioned which of these sources include the bonus or not. Question all sources regarding how well they fit your situation: region, qualification level, field of study, and job type.  

Finding your salary benchmark requires more than just one piece of information; you´ll need to understand how all individual influencing factors will play together in your situation.



Unfortunately, this very good overview of salary benchmarks for natural scientists and engineers has not been updated since 2015. You can get an idea of the influence of education level, job field, company size, employer type and many more. It is not stated whether bonuses are included in the benchmarks, presumably, they are not. They now offer a more updated salary benchmarking tool to get an idea about your current salary and whether you are over- or underpaid.


GDCh- German Chemical Society

An informative booklet which includes a section on salaries.

All salaries mentioned by GDCh include all chemists, not only the ones working at employers following the unionised wages (which VAA cites, see below for leaders and executives). The salaries mentioned by GDCh are “all-inclusive”, meaning they include all extra payments like bonuses, Christmas packages etc.

If you fill in the “Gehaltsumfrage” of the GDCh, which is done once a year, you´ll get access to the exact data of this study.

Chemists working for large companies receive at least the wage agreed by wage settlement with the workers´ unions. In the second year after graduation, MSc graduates receive at least 67 600 € gross annual salary, PhD holders 78 750 € (2020), due to rise by 1.4% in 2021 ( NCh 2020, Feb, S. 18). The salary of the first year can be negotiated freely. This does not apply to most SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises).

Large companies pay their executives[1] on average 31% more than SMEs.

Across all age groups, the average salary is 134 000 € for large chemical industry, 94 500 for other private sector employers. Each year of professional experience adds about 3000 Euros income. PhD time counts as work experience in terms of salary.

The percentage of bonus payments among the overall salary increases with company size. 10% for companies <1000 staff, 18% for >10000 staff,

R&D jobs pay less than the average, production and sales more than average.


Public services

This is an overview of the individual salary scales. Note that although it seems like all set in stone, you can negotiate an essential part of your salary for jobs within the public sector: experience levels can either include your experience as PhD student or not, which makes several hundred € difference in your monthly salary.


BIO Deutschland

Salary benchmarks for the biotech industry. The figures include bonuses and are differentiated with respect to job type (department) and years of experience.



Articles on the salaries of chemists and biologists, respectively. Influencing factors are explained and substantiated with statistical figures, which give good hints at the salary benchmark for your individual situation.

PhDs in biology can, in the long run, expect annual salaries of around 70 000 € when working for the private sector. The PhD title adds on average 10% to the salary of a biologist.

Career starters in the chemical industry (incl. Technical Assistants? Article does not state this) get average starting salaries of 52 200 €. At research institutes, the average is 38 450 €; the overall average is 43 700 €. On average (not only career starters), MSc chemists get 57 000 €, PhD chemists 63 000 €.

Those working for ten years as MSc chemistry earn 70 000€ on average. Leadership responsibility is acting as a big plus on the pay slip. MSc chemists with staff responsibility earn 92 800€ on average, those without 58 500€.



Average salaries, generated through a long-term online survey. Are refined to Germany East/West and Men/Women for hundreds of job types.


Arbeitsagentur (German Job Centre)

You can get median salaries filtered by subject field, qualification level and region.

Further sites which offer you salary benchmarks





[1] The term “Executive” refers to leadership staff with greater responsibilities than a mere team leader (Leitender Angestellter vs. Teamleitung in German). Executives can sign resignations themselves, to give one example. The term doesn´t necessarily mean these executives sit on (executive and advisory) boards, which is the highest layer of hierarchy in most large organisations.

Interested to learn more about this topic?

Our workshop Negotiation enables you to tackle salary and contract negotiations. You will also be able to apply the same concepts to more complex negotiation cases like conflict resolutions.

Our talk Harvard Negotiation Principles introduces you to these simple yet highly powerful negotiation tools.

In our Workshops and talks programme, you´ll find more content that is related to the topic negotiations. The topic conflict management of our workshop Leadership skills uses negotiation principles to solve conflicts. In our Career workshops, you´ll use these principles to negotiate your salary. 

The Harvard Negotiation Principles are laid out in the classic book Getting to Yes by Fisher and Ury.

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