Negotiating the Job Offer

I have blogged about the unwritten rules of academia before. I often share advice to colleagues and students about how to negotiate when a job offer is made – at least in the U.S., negotiation is expected for almost every job, academic or otherwise. Here is my best advice (geared towards U.S. organizations):

  1. LEARN. Read about negotiation! Check out books like “Getting To Yes” and read advice from blogs (for example: InsideHigherEdarticle). Google “how to negotiate a [type of job] offer” where [type of job] is academic, industry, etc.
  2. DO SPECIFIC HOMEWORK. Search for information about salary! Public institutions have mechanisms by which they publish salary information. Some states do this by person name, so you can look up individual salaries! Remember – U.S. institutions typically offer 9-month salaries for tenure-track positions. Make sure you know which salary is being reported publicly (9-month, 12-month, or other).
  3. DISCUSS. Talk to colleagues, especially people who you view as good negotiators and people who have recently been on the job market. If someone at your potential new organization seems open to helping, ask questions about salary and other components of the offer (see below!) to get organization-specific information.
  4. PLAN – GENERAL. Some negotiation will be common across most job types. Remember – for many institutions, these funds are housed in different places in the budget. You can absolutely negotiate for moving expenses, start-up, or other needs and not cause problems for salary.
    • Salary: I encourage people to negotiate salary first. If possible, let the hiring institution make the first offer. Let them set the foundation. If they want you to propose a number, you might respond, “You are better equipped to understand cost-of-living, hidden expenses, and norms. I would appreciate it if you could suggest a reasonable salary.” If you provide a number, the institution will be very unlikely to go above it. If they provide a number, it is very likely to increase.
      • Always negotiate! Do your homework, figure out a reasonable range, and shoot for the top.
      • Once salary is out of the way, start negotiating for the items below (as well as start-up).
    • Moving expenses: Do some research on what a high quality move would cost. Don’t pad the moving expenses, but do make sure you cover the easiest move possible. Organizations often have a set base amount that they will pay for moving.
      • If an organization cannot fund tangibles like moving expenses, you can always ask for a slight increase in base salary. For example, if a move will cost $2500 and an organization cannot cover it, you could say, “The cost of moving is a hardship. Could we increase my annual base salary by $500? I would then at least recoup my moving expenses over 5 years.” This has the added benefit of increasing your base salary – that is magic. It is better to have moving expenses covered, of course, but an increase in base salary is better than nothing.
      • Related to moving: Will the organization provide funding so you and/or your family can visit the location, explore the area, and find housing?
    • Computers/software: Find out if the job will provide you with a computer, software, or other technological resources you need in order to do your job.
      • For some jobs, you may have other needs. For example, if the job will require you to travel extensively, will you be provided with a vehicle and/or travel expenses?
    • Professional development: This might include funds for future training, travel to conferences, or other mechanisms for your career development.
  5. PLAN – START-UP. In academic spaces as well as some industry or government positions, start-up is a common component of a job offer.
    • Think about everything you will need to do the work being asked of you. This should include space, equipment, personnel, time, and other! Here are some questions to consider:
      • Space: Will you have an office and lab? Who will pay to renovate and furnish the space? How much will that cost? How long will it take?
      • Equipment: Many new faculty focus most tightly on physical equipment for research, but equipment can be more than that. Think about all aspects of your position (teaching, research, service, outreach, administration, etc). What do you really need to do your job? What would you love to have that would facilitate your work?
      • Personnel: How are students, postdocs, lab managers, etc. paid for? How many people do you need to get your research or other program off the ground?
      • Time: It may sound strange to think about “time” as part of a start-up package, but there are many negotiation points that can make your life easier. Can you get a teaching release for your first year? What about a teaching release in your last pre-tenure year? What about funds for a teaching aide in your course? Think creatively!
      • Other: Every discipline is different. Do you need special funds to travel, think, do, learn, engage? What about your needs? Do you need to find out about childcare support, medical benefits, or similar? Absolutely remember work-life balance!
      • Finally, an example spreadsheet I often share with people when they are working on putting together a start-up package. Make sure you talk with people in your specific field to get specific advice!

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