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071 – Natalie Nelson, AuD & Ashley Hughes, AuD – Navigating Student Loans & Negotiating Effectively: A Guide for Young Hearing Pros

This week on the Future Ear Radio podcast, I’m joined by two great audiologists – Natalie Nelson (Clinical Trainer at Phonak) and Ashley Hughes (Audiologist at Interacoustics). This week’s convo fuses together two topics: student loans and collaborative negotiation. As students prepare to graduate soon and enter into their first job, many of whom might be saddled with student loan debt, it’s important to build a strategy around efficiently paying down one’s debt.

As Natalie and Ashley share, one of the most effective skills to hone as a young professional is the art of negotiation and the emphasis of collaborative negotiation. What exactly is collaborative negotiation? As Ashley describes, it’s the act of, “increasing the pie,” and finding a way to create a win-win between employee and employer.

For young professionals, when asking for a higher salary (to more quickly pay down debt) or additional benefits, it’s important to recognize that your chances of your ask being accepted will be much higher if you offer something in return or use data from your externship around your performance.

What’s great about our conversation is that Natalie and Ashley go into depth around concrete examples of what young professionals might offer beyond performance data, such as inventory management, social media management, public speaking and expanding on one’s grand round topic, and many more.

I hope that this conversation makes its way to as many of the students entering into the hearing health industry soon, as well as the young professionals transitioning from their first or second job into the next job (I learned a lot from these two myself!). And for those of you reading this and want to learn more, just reach out to Natalie and Ashley as they’re happy to impart their hard-earned wisdom on the next generation of hearing professionals.

-Thanks for Reading-


Hi, I’m your host Dave Kemp, and this is Future Ear Radio. Each episode, we’re breaking down one new thing, one cool new finding that’s happening in the world of hearables, the world of voice technology. How are these worlds starting to intersect? How are these worlds starting to collide? What cool things are going to come from this intersection of technology? Without further ado, let’s get on with the show. All right, so we are joined here today by two great audiologists. I have Ashley Hughes and Natalie Nelson. Why don’t we go one by one introducing yourself, telling us a little bit about who you are and what you do? We’ll start with you, Ashley.

Yeah. Thanks for having us here today. Obviously, my name is Ashley. I am an audiologist and I earned my clinical doctorate from University of Illinois in 2014. After graduating, I did work in clinic for about a year and then I was really interested in making that switch to industry. So I did work for a hearing aid manufacturer as a research audiologist for about five years after that. A little over a year ago, I joined the team at Interacoustics and worked as a staff audiologist there. Addition to, or in addition to those things, I’m also highly involved in my state organization, the Minnesota Academy of Audiology, and our national organization, the American Academy of Audiology.

Outside of those things and outside of audiology some of my interests are running. I’m a pretty avid runner and exercise, in general, I really enjoy spending time outside, hiking, backpacking. I’m a big animal person. We have two dogs and a tortoise.

And a tortoise. I love it.

Yeah, and just spending time with people.

Does the tortoise remind you of the tortoise and the hare because you love running so much. It’s like a humbling thing of slow things down sometimes?

No, but now it’s going to. But you don’t have to tell me to slow down my running. I do just fine with that.

You have like 100 medals behind you, so you must be a pretty good runner.

I can run far and not fast. I like to say that in races, I really get my money’s worth.

There you go. I love it. Natalie, how about you?

Hi everyone, I’m Natalie. I’m also an audiologist. I graduated in 2017 with my clinical doctorate from Northern Illinois University, and I worked clinically for two years after graduation out in Colorado. Then I joined the team at Phonak as a clinical trainer back in 2019. It’s been just about two years since I started here, and that relocated myself and my husband to Austin, Texas, which is where I’m currently based. I like to do lots of things outside of audiology. I’m a big weightlifter, big into working out. So Ashley and I have lots of in common, including working out. Then I’m big into traveling, love to explore the world. Well, I’ve only really explored like one country outside of the United States, but have lived a pretty sheltered life growing up and hadn’t been anywhere flown till I was 25. I’m looking forward to seeing where things go from where we’ve been and be able to explore and travel a little bit more coming up soon.

Love it, and I see in the background you’re a Cubs fan. I can see at last the World Series posters. Is that your or is that your husband?

It is me. That’s why they’re in my pretty office. Yeah, screw up a Chicago Cubs fan, everybody in my family except for one of my grandfathers was a Cubs fan. So have been to many a games at Wrigley, and I actually really love baseball. My goal in life is to go to all of the baseball stadiums that exist-

That’s a good call.

… because I just love baseball and I love live baseball. But I’m one of those weirdos that can also watch it on TV and be completely enthralled by it.

Engulfed, yeah.


Well, you probably don’t-

That’s another thing that Natalie and I realized we have in common is we’re both Cubs fans.

You’re both Cubs fans and you’re talking with a Cardinals fan, so should I just end the podcast now?

Honestly, I don’t know if we can go on. I will say, though, I’ve been to Busch Stadium where I went to school for deaf ed for a small portion of time. Was actually much closer to St. Louis, and I had a gentleman before I started seeing my husband take me on a first date to Busch Stadium.

Take you out to the ball game.

They had season tickets, so it was in those cool rows where you get served, and like a waitress comes and takes your order. I sit in the bleachers at Wrigley because that’s where my soul belongs. It was very fancy, but, yeah, very nice stadium.

Love it. Yeah, well, I’ve spent many a game at Wrigley as well, so I will tip my hat and say that I’ve enjoyed those bleachers very, very much. They’re a lot of fun. Well, thank you two very much for joining me. This is going to be a great conversation. These two approached me with their big passion and the thing that I think they really focus on with the things that they present upon and they write about, and that’s about student debt and also about collaborative negotiation. So, really, I think that for this conversation, if you are a young professional that’s maybe in grad school or you’re about to start grad school or you’re in that first job or even you’re later in your career, I think you’re going to get some really awesome takeaways from this.

Because these two have been thinking a lot about this and have a lot of really actionable insight into ways to be thinking about how to really make sure that you’re properly valuing yourself within the market. I thought that maybe the best way to kick things off as we walk through this chronologically in your life, I think that we start with student debt. I know Natalie with you, this is a big part of your passion largely because it’s very tied to your own experience paying down your student debt. If you’d be cool with it, I would love to hear your experience and some of the big takeaways that you’ve had throughout this process of acquiring student debt, but then also now paying it down.

Sure, that sounds fantastic. For me, it’s just starting at the beginning of where I really made it into college, getting out of high school and going to college and where my journey began. For me, it was maybe a little bit different than other people because I am a first-generation college student and had really great familial support in terms of, “Yep, it seems like everybody needs to go to college these days so that’s probably what you should do.” Despite the fact that my dad is a tradesman, operates heavy machinery, and my mom is a beautician, so realistically, could I have gone into a trade? Absolutely. But I think there’s this mindset that everybody must go to college these days, and so my parents encouraged me to do that if that was my passion.

Off to college I went, but education wise, did I really know a lot about student loans or debt, or really how student loans worked when it came to, sure you’re taking out this money, but really what does that mean in the longterm and what is that going to look like once you’re done with school? When I first started college, I didn’t even know I was going to be an audiologist. I wanted to be a teacher, so I thought I was just going to be that nice four year degree, do my student teaching, and off I go. Then I’ll teach, and I actually really wanted to be a Teach For America teacher. It’s almost like I’ve always had that financial thought process on the mind where there’s positive things about being a Teach For America teacher, even though it might not be in the best possible neighborhood. But it has that student loan payback type of system, if you work in some of these different situations.

Anyways, long story short, obviously, I’m here today as an audiologist, so I’m not a teacher and I never finished going to school for education because I transferred and decided to do something different. So along the process, though, it’s just taking out loans for your education. Because even though my parents were super supportive of me going to college, there was no financial help that was coming from my parents to allow me to pay for college. Everybody knows, when you go to college and you’re under the age of 24 and you’re not considered an independent, what you get for school is also tied to your parents’ income. If people don’t know, people that are in the union and are operating engineers, they make decent money.

I, a lot of times, did not qualify for a lot of things in terms of, I’m not going to call it free money because it’s not free, we all know this, but money that’s going to come from the government that’s going to allow to help people financially when it comes to going to college. I wasn’t really privy to a lot of that because of my parents’ income, and so I was on my own regardless. So lots of money to pay back eventually. Like I said, because I always have just my financial mindset, even wanting to be a teacher, I knew that paying my student loans off, that’s always been something I’ve been interested in, which is a really weird thing to be interested in, in your early 20s. But that’s fine. But going on and going forward where my passion really was with this was really during my fourth year.

It was really tied to the amount of loans that I had taken out and the type of loans. I’m very transparent about it, but when I graduated, I was in school for nine years, including my two years in community college which do not count in the total because that was completely paid for. When it comes to the several, say seven years that I was in school, I did a mass $136,000. Guys, that was me going to a state school for both undergrad and grad school. It’s not like I went to a private college and paid all of this money, and I know Ashley probably has a pretty similar experience with that as well.

I do. But, Natalie, can I ask you a quick question and give you an opportunity to toot your own horn real quick?

Well, I can consider that.

So you graduated with 136,000. Is that what you said?

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

How many years ago did you graduate?

It’ll be four years, actually. I think we’re right around when I graduated in 2017.


How much do you have left?

I think just under 11,000 to go.

That’s insane. That’s awesome.

That’s insane.

Like I said, I’m very transparent about it, but guys, I pay $3,000 a month to my student loans, and I know that people are going to think, they’re going to hear that, and think that I’m a crazy person. Which, to be fair, you guys haven’t met me, so I might be. But it was such an important thing for me, and my husband and I are both on the same page financially. Just in terms of what our future goals are and where we want to be, and that’s really what fueled this. But during my fourth year, for me, it was just understanding what I had done. It was very sobering in that I have these federal loans with these interest rates, and I have these private loans with these interest rates. These ones are fixed, but these ones are variable and all of these could change, and these are super high.

My private loans had super high interest rates, and so it was just looking at that and realizing what financially that was going to mean when it came to actually graduating. Then after that six month grace period for the federal loans, which was about 120,000 of that, when I got to that point, what was I going to do? I needed to have an actual plan.

Natalie, can I ask you one more question real quick?


I think the $3,000, that might be like really a lot for some people to hear that number. But you’re not necessarily saying that people to pay that much per month.

No, and I didn’t pay that much this entire time either. I paid a variable amount and I can talk more about the strategy that I used personally. I have not been paying $3,000 a month this entire time. I actually ramped it up like that during COVID to be able to… because of the interest freeze. I was very, very motivated to have these gone by the end of the potential interest freeze in September, which I will. I’ll be done in August.

Maybe it would actually be helpful to talk about some of those tactics that you used.

Yeah, okay. There’s a lot of strategies out there. When you graduate with your student loans, with your federal loans, you automatically are on a 10-year fixed plan, which just means that they allot a certain amount that you’re going to pay monthly and you’re going to do that for 10 years straight. Then once you do that, you’re going to pay them off within 10 years. That’s where you start and that’s fine. However, for me, I was starting at, I think, my payment was 12 or $1,300 a month, and I also had private loans still at that point totaling about 16,000. Like I said, the interest rates were closer to maybe nine or 10%, which was really, really high. For me, it was very important for me to pay off all of my private loans and then get serious about my federal loans.

For me, I chose to go the income-based repayment route, which is what a lot of people do. What this allows is that you’re going to pay only maybe 10 to 15% of your discretionary income, and that’s going to be a much smaller portion per month than your 10-year fixed would be. My first year I think I paid maybe like $240 a month and around there. Then my second year, it was actually less than that. It’s because it goes with your tax returns, and so I got a break one of the years because I was a fourth year and I didn’t make so much money. It’s variable based on your income and also the amount that you have left. I’m currently still on an income-based repayment plan and my monthly payment is actually $518 a month now.

Then the reason that I went this route is because, for me, it was important that if I’m going to pay extra money outside of the amount that I am required to pay, I personally want to choose where that money is going. This is all because of the strategy that I decided that I was going to use. There’s two different strategies payment wise, and this can be applied to anything with debt. You have your debt snowball and your debt avalanche. Your debt snowball is going to be the method that was made famous by Dave Ramsey, so you’ve probably heard of it. But this is where you have a bunch of different payments, a bunch of different debts, and you’re going to pay off the very smallest one, regardless of the interest rate.

Then you’re going to pay that smallest one off, and then you’re going to go and you’re going to go on and continue paying things off in just the smallest amount regardless of interest rate. Because that’s going to keep you going in terms of motivation. The debt avalanche, on the other hand, is all based on interest rate. You’re going to start with your highest interest rate, no matter how astronomical that payment may be, or how much that loan amount is, you’re going to pay that one. You’re just going to chip away at that one until it’s gone, because it’s the highest interest rate.

I’m a really, really big fan of that second method, so debt avalanche is what I did because I was able to pay off higher interest loans, which means that the amount that I was accruing in interest monthly got smaller and smaller and smaller so that my money went further. Then that’s why it’s an avalanche and it’s big, and by the end, you’re really rolling downhill pretty good.

Yeah, I would probably prefer that one as well. It makes more sense. I think that you want to get rid of as much of the interest as possible.

It’s a really good strategy if, motivationally, you can do it. The big thing is, is when you go to grad school, you take out these large loans. Okay, so guys, if you’re in grad school, now you know you’ve gone to grad school. You get the financial, or the federal government gives you $20,000, 20,500 a year to go to grad school. If you take out that whole loan, you get that money and then once you actually have to pay it back, it’s worth more because of the capitalized interest. Me, my high, my 6.8% federal government loans were $25,000. You literally think about your $500 payment from the government, and you’re literally just chipping away at it really, really small. You have to be able to pay additional money in order to ever get that to go anywhere.

But, motivationally, debt avalanche can be hard for people because you’re literally staring down a $25,000 loan. Guys, I have like nine or 10 different separate loan tokens for all of my student loans. I did not consolidate as well, all of my loans are separate. They’re all under the same company, federally, but they’re all their own individual loan tokens so I could just focus in on one. Anyways, long story short there, my method was income based repayment because it allowed me to pay the minimum amount on my federal loans while I finished my private loans.

Once I got those gone, I kept the income-based repayment, and then I just allotted a certain amount of money extra that I was going to try to pay monthly in order to pay off my student loans in a faster fashion. I’ve done that over time, and then I’ve been able to a lot more money over time as well going between positions. Because I’ve worked at more than one audiology position in my time, my short time here in my career.

Well, that was extremely, I think, that was really appreciated because I love the transparency there. I’m sure there’s somebody that’s listening to this that this is going to really resonate with. Ashley, how about you? Before we move on from the student loan piece of this, any additional thoughts that you want to add to everything that Natalie just shared?

No, Natalie and I took very similar tactics in terms of student loan repayment. The only thing that I would add is that if you find yourself in a job where you get a bonus or something like that, bonuses, decide before you get your bonus how you’re going to spend it. I’m going to put like 50% towards savings, 25% towards student loans, and 25% for something for myself, or however that looks to you. I’d recommend obviously putting some of it towards your student loans because the sooner you get them paid off, the less you’re paying overall.

Yeah, I completely agree, and now as we here we are, it’s May, so you have a lot of people that are graduating right now. I think that it would be interesting to hear from you, Ashley. You’ve done a lot of… you’ve written a lot and I’ve heard you on podcasts talk about negotiations and the importance of negotiations, the proper way to do them, how to prepare for them. Wherever you want to begin here, if you’re speaking to, let’s say, a fourth year, somebody that maybe just finished their externship entering into the work world for the first time, or somebody that’s even moving into their second job, what are some of those big considerations in ways that you would be thinking about this and you would share with them?

Yeah, so I think the first thing that I would think about is how these two topics marry together. You can’t really negotiate in a way that’s in your best interest if you don’t know your financial situation. If you don’t know how much do I need to bring in each month to be able to pay my bills, buy my groceries, pay my student loans, and any other expenses that you might have. Having said that, we all went to school for at least eight years, more like nine to 11 if you’re me and Natalie. But you don’t need to accept a job that just covers those bare minimums. When you’re figuring out what your reservation point is, it’s okay to account for things that you want as long as they’re within reason.

If that’s a gym membership at a nice gym or getting your nails done or traveling twice a year, you can find a job that will afford you those things. But you need to go into the negotiation knowing what it is that you want to get out of it and what you can provide to the clinic to make them see your worth.

Yeah, because I think that what’s interesting is that a lot of the time, I think you’re so eager to get that first job and you’re willing to just say yes as soon as you get the offer. What would you say to somebody in that position? What are some of the things that before you do that, what’s the right way to approach that in your opinion when you are starting to get your first offers?

Yeah, so I think you hit the nail on the head with that comment where a lot of us, when we graduate, we think, “Oh, I’ll accept this job and then I’ll negotiate my next job.” But, in reality, your first negotiation, excuse me, is the most negotiation. Every job after that’s going to ask you what your last salary was, and they use that to figure out what they think that you’ll accept based on your last salary. Over the course of our working careers, negotiating can earn us 2 to $4 million that we wouldn’t have without negotiating.

Wow. But that makes sense because it’s all about the starting point.


Likely building off of, like you said, each successive job is predicated on what you made prior.

Exactly, and I also think that a lot of us go into this afraid of what will the employer think, or I’m going to look pushy or things like that. First of all, you’re not, you’re just not. If you approach it in a collaborative way, like you said, where you’re not just saying, “This is how much I need to make because I have $100,000 in student loans.” But you say, “I can help manage social media or I can create a clinic newsletter.” Tell them why, from their perspective, you deserve that amount of money. It can really pay dividends and it shows that you value yourself when you’re talking to them. It’s really hard to expect somebody else to see your value if you don’t see it in yourself.

Yeah, okay. You’re hitting on a few things here that I think are really, really interesting. One of my big takeaways from what Natalie said at the beginning around student debt is around, first and foremost, you have to really concretely understand where you lie financially. You have to have this understanding of here’s what I can… here’s the bare minimum of what I can make and here’s what I wish I could make, and understand how long that would give you, like what runway that would be in terms of paying this down? Once I think you have that in mind and you do your homework and you understand, then you can start to come to the table. This is where things I think start to get really interesting, particularly, with today’s young professionals, with a lot of the things that I think they’re way more savvy with that are maybe a little undervalued in the market.

I think the onus is on them to help to calibrate the market for themselves to say, “This is what this is actually worth.” I want to talk through some of these different things, you had mentioned social media. I want to get to that in a minute. Let’s start though with externships as a whole. Help me to understand when you have that year, where you’re in the clinic, what are tangible things that you can pull from there and say in that first negotiation, when you maybe are going to counter and you say, “I really appreciate this offer. I’m very flattered.” Then you go and you counter, what are some of those tangible things that you can site that might actually be able to you can help to justify a higher ask?

I think you could track patients seen, you could track your close rate, help rate, whatever you want to call that. Any other special tests that you’ve performed and have tangible numbers for these. Not like approximately eight patients a day, but 36 patients a week, or however many you saw over the course of your time is really what I would say just because the number is going to be naturally larger. But the human brain can easily be tricked into thinking that it’s actually a larger number when you’re just averaging it over a longer time span. Let’s see, any additional tasks that you took on? If you were in charge of inventory or social media or walk-ins, anything like that, I would track and I would track everything with very specific numbers, if you can. Even if it’s technology tier for hearing aid, hearing aids, excuse me, the number of hearing aids sold per technology tier.

I would agree with that, Ashley, number one, when I was a fourth year, I was pretty autonomous at the private practice that I was at, and I did do that. I kept a spreadsheet of tier level and pricing, and it was really easy to do with the system that we used. But being able to have that tangible numbers and understand what my rate of helping people was and things like that, because I had planned to stay in that private practice realm post-graduation. Then the other thing too, in terms of the list of things that you just had, depending on what practice you’re with or what type of setting you’re going to, another thing that I see some fourth years doing is grand rounds.

I think that’s another really strong piece of, “I did this case study and I saw these cases and I have presented in front of people.” I think that’s a really, really tangible skill for a fourth year as well depending on where you’re headed for your first job.

I totally agree, Natalie. I think in addition to grand rounds, something else that oftentimes students are tasked with and do a great job at is creating process documents for clinics. What is the protocol that we’re going to use for adult hearing aid evaluations? What’s the protocol that we’re going to do for sanitizing? Those are things that, again, those are really valuable tasks to show that you have done, can do it, and are willing to take on that nonclinical work.

Yeah, I love this stuff that’s very actionable. Like I hope there’s somebody that’s listening to this today that is listening and they’re saying like, “Well, what are the real things that I can do?” I hope these are really good examples because the way I look at it is when you’re going… most people are, they have a conceived notion, a preconceived notion of what it is that they’re hiring. It is the ball is in your court to shape what you think that role should look like. They’re not going to come up with this on their own and ask you things like, “What are you really passionate about? Can you help me with these things that I’m not even that comfortable with, or I don’t know how to use like social media.”

I think that there’s a huge opportunity that’s really starting to build right now where it’s all about taking your own, I don’t want to say like accountability, but basically making it and owning this idea of like this is what I will bring to the table. Whether it be I had in my externship, I was able to… whether it be with patient engagement, where, like you said, around inventory management, maybe there’s something that you saw from an operation standpoint that you can help to improve the efficiencies. Can you quantify that? Like is there a way that you can actually speak to this will improve the bottom line by $5,000 or something like that? I love the grand rounds thing too, where it’s if you already are passionate about a particular facet of the industry and you’ve started to go down that path, it’s just a completely go in on that and start to build an online persona around that.

Yeah, build your brand as an audiologist. What do you want to be remembered for?

Thank you. I heard you two on Dakota Sharp’s podcast, On the Ear, shout out, awesome podcast. In another episode I listened to was Lindsay Cockburn, so she’s an audiologist and she had a whole… I highly encourage anybody that’s listening to this conversation that this is resonating with you. Go and check out that conversation because the whole thing’s around personal brand building, which I am a massive advocate for. When I graduated, I started my Twitter account because I didn’t have Instagram… Well, Instagram just came out, but TikTok wasn’t a thing and YouTube wasn’t nearly as big of a thing. But my whole idea, and I’m not trying to toot my own horn, was I felt like the only way in which I could stand out in the professional world was to create a professional identity that lived online.

That lends itself to so many opportunities, and I look at today’s generation, you have so many digital tools at your disposal, and you have to recognize that the vast majority of the tenured professionals in any given industry, in this industry as well, they’re not native to this. They don’t know how to use a YouTube channel, how to use an Instagram channel, how to use a TikTok channel, any of these things. If you already are really good at using those in your personal life, start thinking about, “Can I actually take these things and make it, button it up?” You’re not going to be able to be doing memes and really funny joking things. Actually, you could maybe do memes in some setting.

But I think a lot of it is this idea of being able to create this thing that you can then present in a way that’s actually really impactful. You can say, “I can create a YouTube channel for you, or here’s how I’ve mocked up in Instagram. Here’s the kinds of things that I would be able to post on your behalf. Here’s the actual ROI.” Like you would maybe-

For sure, bring the numbers in.

Exactly, we can create a campaign to measure this so I can actually see this is the amount of new leads that I’m generating. Because, again, at the of the day, you’re actually probably undervalued and you’re not even recognizing that there is so much value that you can bring by utilizing some of these things that you’re really already good at and you’re native to. And you can present it in such a way where it’s fiscally motivating for the practice. When I heard your episode with Dakota, I immediately went back to that episode that he had with Lindsay and I was thinking, “This is also intertwined where so much of it is dependent on taking the initiative.” There’s a number of people-

For sure.

… that I’ve seen that are starting to do that. You two are really good examples where you’re really carving this out as your own niche. I’ve seen like Mark Truong, who has the Hear Me Out podcast. He created a YouTube channel and he basically got a job through that. It’s like there’s I think that the world is like it’s yours for the taking, but you can’t just expect your employer to be like, “I would love to pay you an additional $10,000 if you can create a YouTube channel that-“

Sometimes they don’t know what they’re looking for.


I think it’s on us, and the pay gaps and things like that are separate conversation. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be ideal to get offered a salary that you’re happy with from the beginning. But regardless that’s not the world that we live in, and so we really need to learn how to show what we can bring to the clinic even if it’s not something that’s listed in the job description, but something that you think you can do to help the clinic. Then, of course, phrasing in a way that isn’t disrespectful to them or condescending to them.

Right, and I think that it’s all about the way that you position this. I think a lot of that is in the way that you prep for it and the way that you frame things. I know both of you have a lot of thoughts on this as to maybe, first of all, where do you begin with formulating some way to practice this? What are some of those things that you can routinely do, whether it be like in the mirror or your role playing with somebody else? Can you just speak to this a little bit about, again, as maybe someone that’s listening that has no experience doing this, where would you even start them off?

I think there’s two, well more than two things, but two main paths that I see for practicing negotiations. One of them is in situations that don’t really matter. Look at a couple of gyms in town, get prices from all of them, go back to one and see if they’ll match a different one’s price, or if they’ll go down in price. Again, those situations seem really overwhelming at first, but realistically, the best thing that will happen is they’ll say yes and the worst thing that will happen is they will still take your money if you end up paying full price to join the gym. Like they’re not going to define you as a member. Getting upgraded to a higher class when you’re flying, those are all situations that you can negotiate with where nothing is really on the line for you. You’re just getting practice from it.

That’s actually really great. You’re basically saying think about like make this part of your mentality is like can I negotiate this? That’s pretty brilliant because there’s a lot of real world examples of how you could start to do this.

For sure. Realistically, everything is a negotiation, but it’s just us being in the mindset of this is also a negotiation.

I think Ashley just touched on something really important that was very subtle. Is that you’re going to these gyms and you’re verbally saying out loud, “Here’s what I’m hoping for. I went here, I went here,” or even negotiating different flight class. You’re saying these things out loud, and I know I can speak for both of us and that in our current roles in the industry, we do a lot of public speaking and we do a lot of presentations. We get up in front of a lot of people every single day, and I can sit here behind my computer and I can create a beautiful presentation and I can type out the most wonderful slide notes. But unless I sit down and I actually verbalize and physically say out loud what I want to say on that particular slide and practice how I’m going to say something, it’s not going to go well if I don’t do that.

I think it’s the exact same thing with negotiation. When Ashley said in Dakota’s podcast, “Practice makes perfect,” some of it is just actually tangibly going out and practicing negotiation skills. But some of it is actually just practicing exactly what you’re going to say. Because if you don’t say it out loud and you just say it in your head or you’re reading what you’re writing, when you have to actually deliver that, it’s not going to go the way that you think is going to go.

Totally, that was the second path that I was going to say is literally like I would start with writing down what you’re going to say. If they offer this or higher, this is what I’m going to say, or if they accept this is what I’m going to say, and practicing it out loud. Whether it’s you negotiating at the airline gate, or you practicing your negotiation or actually negotiating your first job salary, it is going to feel super awkward and uncomfortable. It’s just going to. But every time after that, it gets easier and easier because you build confidence just like anything else that you practice, you get a little bit more or a little bit, excuse me, less nervous each time that you do it. Like Natalie said, call a friend and practice it over the phone with them, a trusted mentor, anybody, but get yourself used to that feeling.

Yeah, I see too like I’ll link this in the show notes, but Ashley wrote a really great article for, it’s on aaudiology.org, and it’s called Negotiate: You’re Worth It. You have some awesome negotiating tips in here, and it’s bringing me back to my job that I had before I was at Oak Tree. I was in a sales job and we learned a lot of ways to communicate things. Like one that’s always sticks out in my mind is when you’re selling to somebody the first time, you use this feel felt found method, which is I completely understand how you feel, we’ve had a number of people that have felt that way, and what they ultimately found. It’s, basically, these things that you condition to yourself, and so I would just say check these out, these negotiating tips that she has here.

Because there’s so many things like that, little things that you can start to do to train yourself. What that ultimately will do is it will make you feel, like you said, a little bit less nervous each time, and it will start to become second nature. Because I think that for a lot of you that are in a position like this, you’re going to have that first experience, and like I said, it’s going to be really hard not to just say, “I’m in. Thank you so much. This is so exciting. This is my first offer.” But these types of tactics can really help to where you can make sure that you’re being very respectful in terms of how you respond to the offer when they just outright say, “Here you go, sign on the dotted line.” In a way that you can still say like, “I would like to have some time to consider this. Thank you so much.”

Ashley, with this, what are some of those other things in terms of you get that initial offer or you’re in a situation like that where you want to be respectful but also still be able to make sure that you’re having your own considerations involved here. What are some of those things that you can do to speak to in the moment, and then also after the moment in terms of going back to the table and back to the drawing board and being like, “All right, now what exactly is it that I want to ask for?” In terms of, is it just strictly monetary? It might also be benefits that you can be substituting for these different asks. What are some of those different things?

In the moment, my general advice is never accept it right when they offer it to you. More than likely that’s going to be an emotional response and not necessarily a rational or logical response. It could be both, but give yourself time to really look over the offer. Also, keep in mind that a verbal offer of a salary does not give you a whole picture of what you’re getting offered. You would really want to ask for an offer letter so that you know what your time off looks like, what your benefits look like? So really taking time to look at the whole picture. Additionally, hopefully, by the time you’ve gotten to the point that you’ve received the offer, you already know what your walkaway point would be. You should decide that beforehand, again, just to avoid making emotional decisions.

I understand that there are things in our life outside of our control, and sometimes there might be a time where you have to accept a job because you need to pay the bills. These tips are going into it with the idea that you have the flexibility to be able to say, “I need a couple of days.” If they’re not willing to give, or I’ll speak for myself, if I ask for a couple of days and a company or a person wasn’t willing to give that to me, that would be a red flag. I would want them to respect the fact that I understand that a month, but maybe like three to five business days. Just to let yourself, again, look over the whole package, go back to your spreadsheets that you’ve made of how much money you need and things like that.

Like you said, some other tactics for it, the list in that article for negotiating, I think that in addition to helping you, as the negotiator, it really helps the whole negotiation process. Because it focuses on how you can think about it from the other person’s perspective or what you might be doing that is thinking about things only from your perspective. Again, ideally, you want a long-term relationship with them. So going into the negotiation you can understand where they’re coming from, and not necessarily concede to everything. But at least communicating clearly that you understand, but then asking for something else. We’ll say that somebody gets an offer and they say here’s $50,000 and you go over your spreadsheet, you counteroffer and you ask for 60 and they say, “I can’t do that.”

Then think about what else you could ask them for and try and ask questions that will give you that answer. Whether it’s more PTO or working from home one day a week to manage their social media. But we’re really trying to expand the pie instead of just like cutting it and each taking our pieces of it.

Right, no, I like that whole theme of collaborative negotiation because it should be a win-win, and I’m looking at this spreadsheet now and it’s really interesting. You have salary, moving expense coverage, signing bonus, start date, vacation time. I just think these are really interesting considerations to have. Again, I think it goes to what is it that you really want out of this? Would a four-day work week and being able to work from home one day, like what is that dollar amount in your head?


How can you start to really put a figure to these wishes. This is where I think you do have to have empathy to your employer to understand this is what that actually equates to in their eyes. To your point, I think if you can make it so that, look, the reason I would like this day off or I would like to work from home this day or whatever the consideration is because of X. I think that X would allow for me to create more opportunity for this or whatever it might be.


So long as you can help to justify what you’re asking. It’s not like, “Well, who are you to just ask all these things?

That can be about like PTO too. I think that I will be a more productive employee if I have better work-life balance. It can be something that, maybe on the surface, it looks like it only benefits you. But, like you said, this is all like a sale, and so you need to sell them on why it benefits them for you to have more PTO or half-day Fridays? I think, to me, the beauty of the preference sheet is how customizable it is. Mine might have salary PTO and start date, and somebody else’s might have student loan repayment or buy into the practice or things like that. So really take it and make your own.

Yeah, I agree fully. Like with this whole idea, what are some of the do not dos? What are some of the things to avoid? Anything that comes to mind, Natalie, with you, that is from your own experience or from just like researching all this and understanding it is what are things to avoid as it relates to this entering into the work world, or you’re moving into your second job? Anything that comes to mind there?

That’s a good question. I’m not sure if I have a full answer for that. I’m sure there’s always something to avoid, especially, with negotiation and things like that. For me, though, with student loans, if you’re really… You want to keep forward momentum, I guess if I was looking at it from that perspective of things that you might want to avoid, I personally would try to avoid going backwards. If I made X amount of money at my first job, and now I’m moving to a different job, that’s maybe not necessarily a lateral move. Maybe you’re going from private practice to ENT, going backwards in salary even if the promise of higher bonuses is there.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that because you’re on a certain structure of what you financially plan to do with your student loans, but also just your financial goals in general. At minimum, you need to at least be making a lateral move if not going the other direction with your second end jobs beyond that. I would personally try to avoid that.

Yeah, for sure.

I agree with that. I think a couple other things that I would think of is we talked about this a little, but don’t use your debt as a reasoning or justification for a certain salary. That’s not something that they benefit from. It is something that you need to account for, but figure out what you can do or offer to get that higher salary. I would avoid counter-offering more than twice. I would argue that, at that point, it’s no longer a collaborative process, and so then you just need to figure out if it’s the right fit for you or not. The third one that I was thinking about is something that I wish I thought about when I accepted my first offer is if you can afford to not rush to accept an offer, don’t. There will be other jobs posted, audiologists are always being hired.

Again, that’s a nice to have if you can afford that. The last one is to be aware of non-competes. I’m not saying don’t sign something if it has the non-compete. I would strongly encourage you to bite the bullet and pay for a lawyer to look it over though. Any job offer really, but especially one that has a non-compete. Because you might think that there’s never anywhere in that town that you’d want to work afterwards, but you could really be pigeonholing yourself where you have to move if you want another job.

Yeah, that’s actually a really good one.


Yeah, so as we come to the close here, I think this has been super insightful. I’m even, myself, like I’m learning a lot from you two and I think this is really going to resonate with some of the listeners out there. Any other topics that pertains to either student debt or collaborative negotiations that come to mind that we haven’t covered that maybe you want to touch on?

I’m actually going to say one, because this happened prior to when we started. We’re talking about how much money that you take out for grad school, and I don’t think that we did touch on that once we started recording. If we can just go back to, if there’s students listening to this, people, maybe if you’re an undergrad, maybe you’re in grad school already, just consider how much money you’re taking out for school. It’s really, really easy to fall into that pit or that trap of, “Hey, they’re offering me so much money. I’m going to take all of this. It’s going to be so great. I’m not going to think at all about what is going to happen later on when I have a mountain of debt that I actually have to pay back.” So, guys, I did that, I totally did that.

I know Ashley said she definitely did that as well in terms of taking out additional loan money that you didn’t necessarily need. If you are a future student or a current student and you have the ability to take a step back and just calculate how much money that you actually need financially for your living expenses and your tuition and things like that. And maybe you don’t need to take the full amount that you’re being offered, do consider doing that. You’re going to thank yourself, your 20-something self isn’t going to think about it, but your 30-something self is going to be giving you a really big pat on the back if you definitely do that.

For sure.

Totally, and like you said, to calculate it. Think about how much that $5 beer you’re actually paying for when you’re paying interest on it for the next 20 years.

Just drink like Bud Light and-


Natalie, that, what is it? What did they always get in school? The 30 racks of Natty Light?

Yeah, there we go.

Oh, yeah. [slip a beer 00:46:45] in your purse.

There you go. You’re in cheap.

Seriously, seriously. I think one thing that we haven’t touched on that I’ll just mention really quickly is when you’re figuring out your asking salary, do some research first. Go to bls.gov, I prefer that one over our organization’s compensation salaries just because the organization ones are self-report, BLS is not. Go to bls.gov, they will give you a map that divides by region and the median in the region. I can’t tell you like what you should ask for, but if you don’t, if you consider yourself to be an above average audiologist, then maybe look above the median because you want to anchor high. Again, just be prepared to justify your worth. We know that you all know that you’re worth it, so you just need to show that to the people who are hiring you.

BLS stands for Bureau of Labor statistics, so they have all of the public wages on there. I think they track a lot of that. Yeah, cross-reference that maybe with other sources that you can find. I think a lot of it self-reported if it comes from the industry, so that’s to be aware. But I think it should help to at least guide you directionally as to where you probably fit in on the pay spectrum. But, to your point, you’re not mediocre, you’re exceptional because you’re listening to this podcast, then you have to be exceptional. But, no, this has been a great conversation. I really think that this is a lot to think about. But, obviously, I had a conversation on one of the panel discussions on here not long ago, and I had Amin Almani on.

If you don’t know Amin, he’s done a lot of work in research around, basically, the labor force in this industry. One of the things that’s concerning is that there appears to be a labor shortage on the horizon. Which if you’re a young professional is actually exciting because there’s not as many of you as to compete against. There’s, obviously, you’re in high demand, but I think that obviously we, as an industry, need to support the young professionals that are the future of this industry. I think that a lot of these things are it’s helping to impart a lot of the experience and the knowledge of what you went through and some of those experiences that you can share with somebody that’s in your shoes that’s 10 years younger than you, or however. I think it’s we all have a role to play here where we make sure that… We’re like helping them to avoid maybe some of the obstacles that we ran into. I think, Ashley, you had one other thing that you wanted to say.

Yeah, I think, honestly, this might be what I think is the most important part of this is-

Best for last.

… ignore the negativity. If you see on social media or in clinic or in the classroom people are telling you not to negotiate or just accept your first offer, ignore that. Surround yourself with people with similar values, and remember that a rising tide lifts all boats, and we should be doing what we can to lift each other up in the profession.

I love it. What a way to end it. Natalie, Ashley, thank you so much for joining me today. Thanks for everybody who tuned in here to the end and we will chat with you next time. Cheers.

Thank you.

Thanks for tuning in today. I hope you enjoyed this episode of Future Ear Radio. For more content like this, just head over to futurear.co, where you can read all the articles that I’ve been writing these past few years on the worlds of voice technology and hearables, and how the two are beginning to intersect. Thanks for tuning in and I’ll chat with you next time.

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