BioTech salary negotiation
Salary Negotiation
February 15, 2023
Sameer Siddiqi
Lead Negotiator @ Rora; 100+ negotiations completed

BioTech and Big Pharma Salaries & Negotiation

Biotechnology develops or produces goods using biological systems, living things, or components derived from them. Molecular biology, genetics, and biochemistry are just a few of the many disciplines that make up the field of biotechnology today. The estimated value of the global biotechnology market in 2022 was USD 859.94 billion. It is anticipated to reach USD 1,683.52 billion by 2030 and expand at an impressive CAGR of 8.7% from 2023 to 2030. Does this translate well to excellent compensation at these companies? What is considered a good Biotech salary? How well do Biotech and Big Pharma companies compare to Big-Tech (Google, Apple, Amazon, etc.)? What are the top Biotech firms right now? How should you negotiate your Biotech Offer?

This guide aims to equip you with the essential information you need for your upcoming Biotech salary negotiation — based on our experience with hundreds of Research Biologists, Computational Biologists, and engineering negotiations. The article below will help you maximize your total compensation if you've just received your dream job offer.

If your situation is unique or you want 1:1 support, please sign up for a free consultation with one of our expert negotiators.

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Table of Contents

What are the different types of roles at a BioTech company?

Biotechnology is present in many fields, including agriculture, pharmaceuticals, chemistry, manufacturing sciences, and environmental protection. Because of its wide range of applications, a career in biotechnology allows you to work in various fields. These fields can range from Microbiologists to Crime Scene Technicians. This article will focus on three roles that are computation or software-based:

  1. Data Scientist: Big Data experts can help substantially improve medical innovation by using customized genomic sequencing to forecast illness development. A personalized health and wellness profile may be created based on genetic and lifestyle data.
  2. Software Engineer: Being a Software Engineer in a Biotech company is almost the same as being a software engineer anywhere else. Software engineers and designers develop, test, integrate, and support software applications, technical environments, operating systems, embedded software, data warehouses, and telecommunications software.
  3. Research Engineer: Research Engineers create, investigate, and test novel products and equipment in the biotech industry. They are active in a wide range of research and technology development operations. They are also in charge of enhancing existing technical procedures and developing new revolutionary technologies. In response to specific difficulties, research engineers seek improving solutions.

Albeit the negotiation process and tactics are transferrable across different departments within the Biotech and Big Pharma industry

BioTech vs. Big Tech Compensation

Even though most roles in the biotech industry require expertise and very strong technical knowledge - biotech and big pharma companies are known to pay less on average than most large-tech companies such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook.

Depending on size, some Biotech and Big Pharma companies can get quite competitive with their pay for Software Engineers, Data Scientists, and Research Engineers. Moderna, GSK, Genentech, NovaVax, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals are some of the highest-paying Biotech and Big Pharma companies. Moderna and Pfizer have solid reputations for quickly creating and distributing very effective mRNA vaccines to combat the spread of COVID-19.

While average compensation may be lower for Biotech and Big Pharma companies compared to big tech, the structure is very similar. Most Biotech and Big Pharma companies such as GSK, Gingko Bioworks, and Moderna have pay bands for each role and level. The expected base salary, bonus, and equity will align with a specific band per level (like most prominent tech companies like Google).

Compensation Structure at BioTech companies

Base Salary

Like most other roles, base salaries for Biotech and Big Pharma roles can vary depending on various factors, such as size, location, and industry. However, base salaries tend to be lower compared to big Tech Biotech and Big Pharma. Biotech salaries are generally lower than FAANG companies, depending on the level and role.

Annual bonuses are another component that can be coupled with the base salary. The annual bonus is usually non-negotiable and highly subjective to the company you are applying to. For example, GSK has a baseline 12% annual performance bonus, and Genentech has a 15% annual performance bonus.


Like other big-tech-cap, many (but not all) BioTech firms provide stock. Depending on the company’s size, equity can be given as either Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) or Stock Options:

Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

Companies might also provide you with stock in the form of RSUs, or Restricted Stock Units. Unlike stock options, Restricted Stock Units are genuine shares of stock in the corporation that do not need to be exercised. Publicly traded firms or late-stage startups often provide RSUs. If the startup you're negotiating with isn't in its latter stages, RSUs are unlikely to be offered.

RSUs mean you don't have to wait until the firm goes public before buying back the options and selling them to earn the value; RSUs are yours and worth money. It's worth mentioning that RSUs aren't liquid (can't be sold rapidly) at private firms. Therefore RSUs from a significant company are more valuable in the near term than those from a smaller company.

Stock Options

Stock options are a significant component of how early-stage startups reward their employees and are often the major focus of the bargaining process. These firms want you to feel involved in their growth and development, and what better way to convey that than to give you a stake in the company in the form of equity? Please see our blog article for more information on negotiating your business stock.

Startups typically issue "stock options," which allow you the right to purchase a particular number of shares of the company's stock at a specified, discounted price - known as the "strike price," "grant price," or "exercise price."

Your offer will most likely lay out some terms for your equity offer, such as: “Upon joining, you will be granted the option to purchase 10,000 shares with a strike price of $0.35 per share and preferred share price of $1.”

The concept is that when the market value of the shares rises over time, you'll be able to purchase the stock at a significant discount, and your pre-tax profit will be the market price minus the preferred share price. So, in the above example, you could buy your shares for $0.35 per share, but the "market" value would be $1 when you join and theoretically much more in the future - so you would make at least $0.65 in profit (pre-tax) every share of equity you purchased.

A few important notes:

  1. Biotech startup equity tends to have a “cliff” - meaning you don’t receive any of your equity until you’ve been at the company for at least a year - and typically vests over four years.
  2. At a Biotech startup, having your equity vest (and purchasing your options) doesn’t mean you will automatically be able to sell it like you would at a public company. You’ll need to wait for some liquidity event (IPO or acquisition) before you would have a chance to sell any of your shares, so your profit is more theoretical than realized.

Note: Don’t be alarmed if you see Biotech and Big Pharma companies not offer any equity; this statement holds truer for the lower levels at these firms. For example, at Merck and Johnson & Johnson, you need to be at the Principal Scientist level (specifically on the pharma R&D side) to have RSUs as a part of the standard compensation package.

The table below shows a quick comparison between RSUs and stock options.

Options vs RSUs


Gives you the option to buy stock at a predetermined price


Granted stock units outright
You can sell vested shares, or keep them

Offer 1000 options
$10 strike price
1000 units
Vesting Schedule Vests over 4 years Vests over 4 years
Market Price in 1 Year $30 $30
What do you own 1 year later 250 options have vested
You pay $2500 to buy $250 units
You now own 250 units worth $7500
250 units have vested
You pay $0 to own 250 units
You now own 250 units worth $7500

If you’d like to learn more about the different types of equity and gather startup-specific equity negotiation tips, check out our blog post here.

Signing bonus

Biotech and Big Pharma companies don’t necessarily add sign-on bonuses from the get-go; instead, they use them to make the offers more competitive and raise the overall compensation to avoid larger payouts over your tenure at the company. Sharing your leverage is critical for getting a possible sign-on bonus added to your total compensation. Leverage can be in the form of bonuses/equity you’re leaving at your current workplace, a promotion you are up for where your compensation will see an increase, competing offers, etc. A signing bonus is one of the simplest parts of an offer to add or enhance because it is paid out just once (or twice if it is a two-year incentive). You should never be afraid to request a signing bonus; the worst they can say is no!

Typically your offer letter may include a "clawback" clause, which means that if you leave the firm within a specified period, you may be compelled to pay back the signing bonus in whole or in part.

Top BioTech and Big Pharma Firms

Some factors to consider when evaluating potential employers include the company's mission and values, the support and resources available to employees, and the company's culture/work environment. Companies at the cusp of technological innovation and working on cutting-edge projects will have some of the best resources and opportunities.

Here are a few examples of companies that are often considered some of the most exciting Biotech and Big Pharma companies:

BioTech Negotiation Process

Before preparing for a negotiation, make sure you have a good understanding of both your financial and career goals. This will help you decide what you should be asking for and make you better prepared to negotiate effectively.

If you haven’t yet received an offer, here are a few things to consider during the interview process:

  1. Do not share your current compensation. In many states (e.g., California), it is illegal for companies to ask for this. If a recruiter asks you, you are certainly within your rights to say, "I don’t feel comfortable sharing that information."
  2. We do not recommend sharing your compensation expectations before receiving an offer. Most companies will pay very competitively and will be willing to negotiate after giving an initial offer. If you choose to throw out a high number when asked, that will increase the chance you are required to provide proof of a competing offer. Instead, if you’re asked for your pay expectations, we recommend you reply with, "I'm focused on the interview process and still researching market data. I am confident we will reach a number that works for both of us."

Negotiating a salary, equity, and signing bonus for a Machine Learning Engineer offer can be daunting. Still, with the proper knowledge and preparation, you can increase your chances of securing a fair and competitive offer. We recommend you:

  1. Research the market: Before beginning negotiations, it's essential to understand the current market for your specific role and biotech salaries. This will give you a better idea of what to expect regarding salary and benefits and help you understand what other companies offer similar positions. We also have hundreds of data points from negotiations we’ve supported and up-to-date data on how the market is trending.
  2. Understand your value: It's essential to understand the value of your skills and experience and to articulate this value to potential employers during negotiations. Asking your recruiter/hiring manager questions about the scope of the role and responsibilities is a great way to understand how companies like Moderna, Pfizer, IQVIA, and Genentech. This will help you negotiate a salary that reflects your worth and the value you can bring to the company. A few great questions to ask are:
    1. What are some of the challenges and opportunities the team is currently facing? How does that translate into initiatives for the team?
    2. What are the main KPIs for the team this year?
    3. What are the major projects the team is working on this year?
  3. Remember you can walk away: Given the long process it often takes to secure a job offer, it can be tempting to sign the first offer you get. However - if negotiations aren’t going well and you’re not excited about the offer you’re receiving, it can be worth considering walking away. Your skills are in demand, and - more than likely - you’re a few weeks away from a better, higher offer that better reflects your value and skills.
  4. See if the company will go above the band: Since the demand for Machine Learning Engineers is high, many companies will go above their standard pay band to get the right candidate to join. We have successfully secured above-band offers from Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. Having another offer or even speaking to another company can create some leverage when making your counteroffer. Additionally, we have seen that patience and slowly moving through the negotiation can help make the company wonder if you’re considering other opportunities.
  5. Ask for specific yearly compensation:We have found that being clear in your request is very important since it communicates confidence and implies that you have deeply thought about your market value. To show flexibility in your ask, you can ask for a total compensation number instead of mentioning a specific breakdown of the base, equity, and signing bonus you want to see. This gives employers, such as Gingko Bioworks, NovaVax, and IQVIA, a chance to determine how to meet your request using a combination of base, bonus, and equity. However, this is where expertise in negotiating is crucial. Remember to make sure what you’re asking for is above the band to maximize the offer!
  6. Ask for support from the hiring manager: Having a great relationship with your hiring manager is critical for successful negotiation — and, more broadly, ensuring that you’re being set up for success within the company. Suppose your hiring manager is disrespectful or not supportive during the negotiation. How can you expect them to advocate for exciting projects for you to work on or get a promotion in a year or two?

    Often, during negotiations, we help candidates speak with their hiring manager about expectations for the role and the impact they hope to drive. This can help ensure that the hiring manager is:

    1. Someone you want to work with
    2. Excited for you to join

    Once you know you have their support, you’ll have more confidence going back to the recruiter to make an ask for higher compensation.

BioTech and Big Pharma Negotiation Tactics

Recruiters commonly use a handful of sneaky tactics to help pull the negotiation in their favor — and it’s essential to be aware of them to avoid being taken advantage of. The most common tactics include putting time pressure on you with an exploding deadline, mentioning that the initial offer is non-negotiable (even though it is!), selling you on company growth and saying that your equity value will increase substantially, and promising to revisit pay shortly.

Some of the most common negotiation strategies that we use in rebuttal are:

  • Putting pressure on the employer – Employers are often pressured to fill a position quickly. You can use this to your advantage by pressing them to offer you a higher salary by saying, “I know you’re trying to wrap up the negotiation - here’s what I’d need to sign.”
  • Standing in a stronger position – If you have a competing job offer (or are currently employed), you are in a stronger negotiating position. You can use this to your advantage by asking what you want regarding salary, benefits, and equity.
  • Sharing outside information – You can also use outside information to strengthen your position. For example, you could talk with a competitor about the compensation they might be offering. Recruiters can be great resources for this information, too!
Negotiate Your OfferGet Support on Your Job Search
Sameer Siddiqi
Lead Negotiator @ Rora; 100+ negotiations completed

Sameer is a Lead Negotiator at Rora where helps individuals understand their market value and supports them during the negotiation process. Sameer has done over 400 negotiations and has been negotiating professionally for 2 years.

Previously - Sameer worked in Venture Capital in North America and multiple start-ups in the Middle East, where he frequently used financial modelling and operational analytics to negotiate equity with investors.

As a negotiator, Sameer has assisted several clients in increasing their offers by millions of dollars, and has helped hundreds of talented candidates advocate to receive their appropriate compensation and seniority.

Over 1000 individuals have used Rora to negotiate more than $10M in pay increases at companies like Amazon, Google, Meta, hundreds of startups, as well as consulting firms such as Vanguard, Cornerstone, BCG, Bain, and McKinsey. Their work has been featured in Forbes, ABC News, The TODAY Show, and theSkimm.

1:1 Salary Negotiation Support

Negotiation strategy

Step 1 is defining the strategy, which often starts by helping you create leverage for your negotiation (e.g. setting up conversations with FAANG recruiters).

Negotiation anchor number

Step 2 we decide on anchor numbers and target numbers with the goal of securing a top of band offer, based on our internal verified data sets.

Negotiation execution plan

Step 3 we create custom scripts for each of your calls, practice multiple 1:1 mock negotiations, and join your recruiter calls to guide you via chat.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will you lose your BioTech offer if you negotiate salary?

A common question that is asked is a valid fear, especially given today’s volatile market conditions. There is always a risk substituted when you negotiate and offer, albeit if negotiation is done with the proper framework, the risk reduces substantially.

How comparable are BioTech salaries vs big tech salaries?

Biotech and big pharmaceutical companies such as Vertex, Genentech, and Vertex are known to pay less on average than most large-tech companies such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook.

Are BioTech and big pharma recession-proof?

Biotech and big pharma, like other healthcare businesses, is regarded as a "defensive" industry that does rather well during recessions.

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