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Too Many Mentors Might Spoil the Soup

Sarah shared with her doctoral-program mentors the joyous news of her first job offer from a relatively small teaching institution. Several of them said, “What are you countering to their offer?” She was surprised, figuring she should merely be appreciative of the offer itself.

They started peppering her with items she should ask for. Relocation expenses? A research assistant? A library allowance? Travel money? Those were not that surprising as she thought about it, but then they pressed on: a full-time, tenure-track position for her spouse? An interest-free loan for a house or down payment? Deferred compensation? A two-day teaching schedule? As they continued, she expressed her hesitancy that she might overreach and end up undermining the offer, or at least ruin the start of her career. One of the mentors pressed her hard: “Look: they want you; make demands. A good administrator will respect you for being shrewd.” She was surprised by how much her mentors pressured her to be aggressive.

Suggestions like these may be wise, depending on the context of the job offer. A wealthy institution might be able to offer significant perks, but most institutions are limited in what they can do, and aggressive negotiations can result in a very early reputation as a prima donna or even a withdrawal of the offer. Candidates must use good judgment in listening to these sorts of suggestions, as too many mentors can end up spoiling the soup.

How should job candidates deal with pressure from their mentors, who might be relatively out of touch with the realities of negotiating with less elite institutions? How far should a candidate push on perks in the final stages of the hiring process?

[Creative Commons-licensed photo by Flickr user Average Jane.]

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