Question: Because of a phone call someone made to him, my adviser is certain I'm going to get a job offer from a university that was one of my top choices. I think I'll want to accept this offer, but I want to take it under the most favorable conditions I can negotiate. What, if anything, can I ask for? How, and when, do I do it?
Mary: We're glad you asked now, before even receiving the offer, because the best time to let an employer know that you want to negotiate is when you get that phone call telling you a written offer will come in the mail.
Julie: That means you need to think carefully before the call comes about what you are going to say. You should go over everything you know about the position, considering what is satisfactory about it and what is not. Then you should prioritize those conditions that you want to negotiate. What conditions are most important to you, and what can you live without?
Mary: Market data can help you make a compelling argument for a salary increase. Do your research ahead of time. The American Association of University Professors conducts an annual survey of faculty salaries. A new version of the survey is due out this spring, but you can check out the results of the 1999-2000 survey in The Chronicle. Your professional association may provide additional data. A private institution does not need to make its salary information public, but at state institutions, salaries are matters of public record. If you're anticipating an offer from a state school, perhaps you can find the exact figures for the department you hope will hire you.
Julie: State institutions traditionally have less flexibility with salary than private institutions. If you're not happy with the average salary for the job you will be offered, you should realize that it is unlikely you can negotiate anything very significant. Start thinking about other things that may be negotiable. That way, if you learn that the salary is both not satisfactory and non-negotiable you will be ready to discuss other conditions.
Mary: It's also likely that if you're in a high-demand field, employers will be more flexible than they are in a tighter market. In any event, do your best to get competitive salary figures and flesh them out with whatever first-hand information or impressions you can gather from your professional network.
Julie: As you think about and discuss salary, consider its long-term trajectory as well. Some well-known institutions award small raises at the beginning, but grant more sizable increases as professors move into senior-level positions. Other institutions offer relatively small salary increases as faculty members are promoted. It's fair to ask the hiring department to tell you the salary differences between new and senior faculty members.
Mary: The more research you've done before the offer comes, the more easily you can respond when it does. The very first thing you should do is to express pleasure at receiving the offer. If you feel comfortable and ready to let the person making the offer know that you'd like the offer improved, you can say something like, "The salary is a little lower than I expected. Do you have any flexibility on it?"
Julie: Most likely the person with whom you are speaking will be able to answer. It is also possible that he or she may want to check with someone else before saying yes or no. Be prepared to state what would be a more acceptable salary if you are asked. Both of you will understand that you're probably asking for a bit more than you expect to be offered.
If you find you need time to digest the information you are getting, it is acceptable to say that you would like to think about the offer and set up another time very soon to continue the discussion. Reiterate your interest in the job and tell the person you will call back on the agreed-upon date.
Mary: We're assuming here that you get the offer via a telephone call, because that's what most commonly happens. However, if the offer comes to you by letter or e-mail, take a few hours to collect your thoughts and then call the person making the offer. Responding immediately emphasizes your interest in the job. Resist the temptation to try to conduct your negotiations by e-mail. It may feel more comfortable at the time, but you'll miss the nuances available in a conversation. Also, you'll have no control over whether your e-mail messages are forwarded, and you really don't want to make the details of the negotiation potentially public.
Julie: Let's talk about some of the other matters you might want to negotiate in addition to salary. They include reduced teaching load in your first year, a new computer or special laboratory facilities, relocation costs, job-hunting assistance for a spouse or partner, and funds for summer travel or research. You should already have an accurate idea of the teaching load. If the other items have not been covered, find out about them. The more information you have, the better you will be able to present your case and the more likely you will be to get what you want. When you do finally receive your contract, it's a good idea to make sure that, in addition to stating your salary, it lists all of the other perks you've negotiated.
Mary: You may also be concerned about standard employee benefits, such as insurance, retirement plans, and family tuition reimbursement. These are usually institution-wide and non-negotiable, but it's important to know what they are, because they're part of the compensation package. You can get this information from the institution's human-resources office or Web site, and you probably should, as the person negotiating with you from the department may or may not have all the details straight.
Julie: One thing many candidates would like is job-hunting assistance for a spouse or partner. Be aware that, unless you are very senior, such assistance is more likely to consist of contacts than of an offer of an actual position.
Mary: As you go into the negotiation process, always keep focused on what you really want. For example, if you're a scientist applying in a highly competitive research setting, there may be some minimal start-up package without which you truly cannot do the research program you've established for yourself. Getting what you need for your lab will be a better investment in your own future than will a few extra thousands of dollars in salary. It's unlikely that you'll get everything you would like to have, and if your major requests are met, you can sour a future working relationship by continuing to ask for trivial item after trivial item.
Julie: Focus on the fact that the people you are negotiating with may be people you work with for decades. Don't make them regret their decision to offer you the job. While you should definitely seek the conditions that will best enable you to do your job well, you should also remember that most people don't find every aspect of their jobs ideal, and they live with that. You will too. You also should think about the kind of institution you're moving to. If you have been at a prestigious research institution for your Ph.D. or postdoc, and are accepting a position at any other kind of institution, there simply won't be the resources to provide you with a research environment like the one you came from.
Mary: So, now that you've got your thoughts in order about what you want, how do you proceed? Carefully. What makes a negotiation possible is that neither party is exactly sure what the other person will do. Cultivate that uncertainty about your own plans. Don't make absolute statements about what you will and won't accept unless you're prepared to have the offer withdrawn. Be ready to explain why what you want is reasonable. There are basically two kinds of facts you can use to support your argument. One is competitive salary data, the closer to home, the better. I've known candidates applying to state schools who've been able to point out that a salary offer is low in comparison with other salaries for jobs at the same level in the same department. That is a compelling argument. The other kind of reason comes from being able to explain the "value added" of hiring you over someone else. What extra things can you bring to the department? Will you help it expand its curricular offerings, bring in grant support, attract new students to the major?
Julie: That said, one of the most likely reasons you'd be given more money is because you have a second offer. So be prepared to be asked, "Do you have any other offers?" It helps if you do have an offer with a better compensation package. Whether you choose to name the institution is up to you, but you can certainly say something like, "As a matter of fact, I do, at a substantially higher salary. But, as I said in my interview, I am extremely interested in joining your department. So I won't make salary the deciding factor, but I am interested in knowing if there's anything you can do to increase the salary some."
If you don't have another offer -- or if the salary for that offer is no higher -- the best you can do is probably to say something like, "Based on what I've learned about the field, I feel I'm a competitive candidate in the range we're discussing."
Mary: Negotiating may involve less conversation than you imagine if you've never done it before. The main reason a department will improve its offer is simply that they have the resources, want you badly enough, and believe they need to do so in order to get you to accept. So in many cases, asking is all you need to do. Don't feel that you're doing something unexpected, because many departments will assume that you won't accept their first offer and will keep a little something in reserve to sweeten it later on. On the other hand, if a department tells you flat-out that the package offered is absolutely non-negotiable, realize that continuing to push may cost you the job. Most people who will negotiate indicate at least some flexibility. Some departments truly can't improve their first offer, and in these cases you simply need to make up your mind whether to say yes or no.
If you haven't negotiated before, it may help to practice with a friend, a career counselor, or a faculty member, just as you practiced for your interviews. For no-risk practice, go to a secondhand store and try to buy an inexpensive item for less than its listed price.
Julie: You can also remind yourself that at the end of a successful negotiation, both parties are pleased. The department that needed to work a little harder to attract you may be that much happier to have succeeded in landing you.