Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Negotiating an Academic Job Offer: What are the Secrets?

The academic job market is difficult, but people are still getting job offers. When you do get a job offer, how do you negotiate? Should you negotiate? I think the answer is yes and I offer some tips for how to negotiate in this post.

Negotiate this, motherfucker!


For my first job offer, I did not negotiate at all. I had heard I was supposed to negotiate. However, I had no idea where to start or what to ask for. I meekly asked for more moving expenses. The chair said he could not budge on moving expenses. Instead, he offered me $1,000 more in salary and I took the offer.

I had interviewed at another place, yet withdrew from the search before (potentially) receiving an offer. I had heard that I could use a second offer to negotiate, but I feared that I would appear greedy.

It was my first academic job and I was happy to have a job at all. So, I did not negotiate for a better salary.

I am not alone. Only seven percent of women negotiate when they get a job offer, as compared to 57% of men!

After six years in my first job, it became clear that my salary was not competitive. I asked my senior colleagues for advice on how I might get a raise. They told me that the only way to get a raise was to go on the job market and get another offer. So, I sent off three job applications.

One of those applications turned into an interview and then a job offer. The job offer included a significantly higher salary and a substantial amount of perks that I did not have at my then-current position.

Still, I did not want to regret not having negotiated. And, after six years as a professor, I had heard plenty of stories of people getting more resources when they negotiated. So, I decided to ask for more resources in each of the following categories:


  • base salary
  • research funds
  • conference funds
  • equipment funds
  • course releases
  • summer salary
  • moving expenses
  • housing allowance


For each thing I asked for, I gave a justification. When I asked for help with housing, I explained that I would be unlikely to be able to sell my house due to the housing crisis. When I asked for course releases, I said I would use the time to write a grant. When I asked for research funds, I explained what I would do with the money.

I made out my list of requests and accompanying justification, ran it by a few trusted people, and sent it to the Dean.

I didn’t get everything I asked for, but the Dean was willing to give me some of the things I asked for.

What I found interesting about the process is how simultaneously hard and easy it is. It is hard to work up the nerve to ask for stuff. But once you have the nerve to ask for things and know what to ask for, negotiating is remarkably easy. You ask for it and the Dean either says yes or no.

In my case, the Dean said yes to some things, met me halfway on others, and said no to others.

I took the letter back to my university and they offered me a substantial raise, research funds, and course releases. The hard part was making a decision: should I stay at my job with improved resources or should I leave and venture off into unknown territory?

Eventually, I decided to move because the new job and location seemed like the best option for my family and I was ready for something a bit different professionally.

Now that I have the job and the accompanying resources, I am glad I negotiated because I feel like I got the best deal possible. In my first job, I always had that nagging feeling that I should have negotiated.

The important lesson here is that you never know what you will get if you ask, but you can be sure that if you don’t ask, you won’t get anything.

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