Take It Or Turn It Down

Athletic Trainers have big decisions to make when searching for a first job…Do you accept a ridiculously low-paying job to get your foot in the door? Do you try to negotiate? Do you wait for something else?

By Kira Au, MS, ATC
Head Athletic Trainer
Bishop Amat High School

There has been a lot of talk generated on the Think Tanks about finding a “good” job - particularly on the topic of salary. It’s frustrating to be a newly certified athletic trainer trying to find a job that meets both your financial needs and career goals. More often than not, Young Professionals find themselves in a situation where the pay does not match the level of work that is desired of them as an employee.

Unfortunately this isn’t a problem with a universal solution.

Most Young Professionals will be faced with the decision of whether or not to accept a low-paying job in order to get their foot in the door. My advice is to keep a positive attitude and be smart as you shop around for that first job. Know what you are willing to accept and what you can’t live with out. You can’t control the job market, but you can control your approach.

In my position, I relied on my documentation skills to improve my working conditions and salary.

The position began as a 12-month contract but was based on the average 10-month salary in the area. I was a unsure about accepting a job that seemed to have a high expectation of hours worked (all Saturdays and holidays!) for the given salary, but I was coming from an internship where I was essentially a part-time athletic trainer making only $1,000 a month.

At the time, I desperately wanted to be full time athletic trainer with a salary, and I accepted the position knowing that I would try to negotiate the terms of my contract at a later time.

Starting on the first day, I began making a running log of my hours worked.

I kept track of every single hour I worked for the entire first year. It was a depressing activity to watch Excel calculate the increase in my hours and see the hourly break down of my salary decrease. However, when it was time to review my contract with the administration my work paid off.

When they offered me a 5 percent raise, I thanked them politely but explained that I was hoping for a much larger increase in pay. I presented the administration with my hour log for the past year. It broke down the number of hours worked daily, my “hourly” rate, and how many of those hours should qualify as overtime based on my 40-hour-per-week contract. The numbers and how it compared to what they asking of me surprised them.

I told them that I would be happy to accept their current offer and reduce my contract to 10 months or continue working a 12-month contract with a substantial raise (the equivalent to two months pay). I got the raise. I was also able to reduce my hours by eliminating work on Saturdays after football season ends and on holidays.

They saw how quickly the hours I put in on Saturdays and holidays added up and decided that rather than pay me the overtime, they’d allow me to eliminate them from my work schedule.

I attribute my success in getting a raise to the fact that I had kept documentation of the work I was doing and was able to present that information to my employer in a non-emotional, professional manner.

I also think it was to my benefit that I waited until the end of my first year to bring up my concerns because it had given them the opportunity to watch me work and see my value as an employee. It's harder for employers to disagree with you when you can show them records and documentation of your work to substantiate your points - rather than just making an appointment to complain and tell them your situation is unfair.

This is an issue that Young Professionals are going to have to tackle one job at a time.

NATA is working hard to continually promote the image of certified athletic trainers and to work with employers by providing them with current salary surveys and other hiring tool kits. Obviously, the low-paying jobs will get filled by someone because in the end, we all need to work.

But be determined to take that job and turn it around by showing your employer your value and worth and be able to present them with that in the form of documentation. Keep salary surveys, records of your hours and a list of how many patients/athletes you’ve treated. Keep inventories and make itemized budgets... break it down for them. Put something in front of them they can't ignore. Administrators love numbers on paper!

Young Professionals must decide to be the change they wish to see.

Our generation can’t just sit back and wait for the perfect job to fall in our lap. It’s going to take a little bit of “elbow grease.” We have to go out there and turn the less desirable positions into better positions with better pay and improved working conditions. The reality is, we all need to work and that low-paying job you were grimacing at on the Career Center is your future employer.

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