Stop Negotiating Like a Girl

A re-post

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This post comes from an email exchange this week, with a client who is working with me on Negotiating Assistance.  Discipline, institution, etc. all excised.

She has more than one offer, and drafted an email to her job #1–a R1– seeking to negotiate a few elements of the offer.

What I wrote in response to her initial draft is this:

“Thank god you found me. This email is a vortex of female self-sabotage. It’s all emotion, diffidence and excuses…. stop!”

Below I give her original email draft.  I bold every term and phrase that diminishes, juvenilizes, genders, sabotages or makes excuses for the candidate.  My rewrite is below that. Read and learn, ladies, read and learn.

P.S.: Occasionally men do this too, but less often.

———————–

I just wanted to get back to you and discuss a little more about the offer.

I would again like to let you know that xx is my priority but I also have an offer from xxx which is offering me $xxK. I understand that you many have some constraints but would you consider increasing the starting salary to some extent? Also, I was wondering if you could add a start-up research fund. I understand that conference travels are generally covered, but I would like to make sure that I get covered for two conferences each year in order to stay productive. In terms of teaching load, would it be possible to have a x course load during the second year? In addition, I will really appreciate if I could get covered for the house hunting trip for my husband and myself. It is going to be a long move from xxx, so we would like to visit and make sure that we find a nice place for our family.
Also, I would really appreciate if you could consider extending the deadline just a few more days. Again, my priority is xx but I just want to make sure that I know all the options before I make my decision and I am expecting to hear from a few schools within next week.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

New version:

Dear XXX,

Thank you again for the generous offer..  XXX is my top choice and I’m excited about joining the faculty there. However, I have a few issues related to the offer that need to be resolved before I can give a final commitment. I want you to know that I have another offer in hand as well as several possible offers that I am to hear about shortly.

My current offer brings a salary of $xxK. I would like to request that XX match that.

I would also like a start-up research fund of $xxxxx, to fund things like travel for research and a research assistant.

In terms of teaching load, I’d like to request a course release for the second year as well.

I would like to make a trip to xxx with my partner to look at houses, and I’d like to know if the department can cover some or all of that expense.

And finally, I want to ask for a further extension of the deadline by one week. I am very grateful for your flexibility on the deadline so far. But because several offers seem to be pending, I wish to know all of my options before I make a final decision.

I want to reiterate my seriousness about the xx position, and hope that we can reach an agreement quickly.

Sincerely, xx


Comments

Stop Negotiating Like a Girl — 79 Comments

  1. This is extremely helpful. An advisor of mine recently told me that since I do not have a competing offer, I will not be able to negotiate at all should I receive an offer for the job that’s still in play. Is this the case? Should we bother to negotiate if we have no leverage?

    The burning question.

      • Hey everyone. I’m wondering about how much wriggle room one actually has with what seems like a lowish offer for an R1 TT. Say I’ve got an offer of 55k, 5000 to move with and no other TT offer to leverage in time to negotiate. How much additional salary can I actually ask for? I’ve got kids in tow and will be relocating a partner who’ll be unemployed until she finds a job in new location. My current postdoc pays more than the TT offer, which I’d like to take but pays not splendidly. Would asking for 5000 more stop negotiation for salary and perks in its tracks? Thanks very much in advance for any advice!

        • I always recommend asking for at least 10% more than they offer, usually somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 more. Keep in mind if you ask for a salary and they don’t give it, you can follow up by asking for 1-2 years of summer salary, which is non-recurring and so easier to grant.

          • I received an offer today. I have to negotiate within a week. May I state the fact that I am a single mother and because of that, I want to ask for the salary increase?

          • Yikes, no! Can you work with me on this? Please email me if you are interested. Here is the info, for your reference and others:

            “As policy, I don’t opine on negotiations unless someone has signed on as a client (and signed a contract for the work). The stakes are too high! I’d be happy to work with you on the negotiation, however, and we can start immediately.

            Negotiating Assistance is $400/first week, and a week is virtually always sufficient (it goes down to $300, and then $200 for subsequent weeks in the extremely rare event that this is necessary). I count the week as 7 days of work, and they don’t have to be sequential. We can start immediately, and I make myself available by email and gchat for the quick turnaround of responses required by most negotiations. While I technically don’t work on weekends, for NA clients only I check in to keep up with and respond to urgent updates. I assist you in evaluating the offer, clarifying your requests, crafting email and verbal communications, interpreting responses, and knowing how hard to push and when to stop. Most clients increase their offer by thousands of dollars in salary, research support, travel support, moving expenses, etc. Most clients increase their initial offer by thousands of dollars. (An R1 Humanities tenure track offer can gain $10-20,000 over the initial offer; at a small regional SLAC it may be closer to $2-10,000. An R1 Science offer can sometimes gain $20-50,000 over the initial offer). If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll invoice you today. I also have all NA clients sign a contract acknowledging the nature of the work, which i will attach to this email for your reference.

            For a client perspective, I will share one recent testimonial:

            “I increased my offer (R1 Social Sciences) by $12,000 conservatively. Another major benefit was that I was confident I wasn’t asking for anything crazy, and I wasn’t missing anything obvious. Since this was my first go-around with a U.S. job offer I would have been much more uncertain about it, particularly in my situation where my advisor was unavailable due to a medical condition. Particularly when I had done the interviews and was waiting for an offer, which is a tense time, the fact that I had this service helped make that easier.”

            Let me know if you’d like to move forward, or have questions!

            Karen”

  2. Thanks for this, it’s very helpful, and a very good point. There was a post about this in the Chronicle some time ago. And yes, men do this a lot as well. I’m still trying to get out of the habit of using the phrase “I’m afraid” or “I’m sorry to say” where it isn’t needed (as in, “I’m afraid I won’t be able to X.”) . It’s a difficult skill to learn, especially combined with things like the “impostor syndrome” and the belief that any job offer is a godsend.

    I’d suggest that there are two sides to the problem, though. Do you think that women’s negotiations are also received differently than men’s? (Related to the tendency that assertive men are “go-getters” and assertive women are “antisocial”?)

    • Yes, I think gender (of the job seeker and hiring staff) affects the response. Way back when, I was negotiating a job offer (for a staff job) with a university from which I had received a degree — and had attended its very own career counseling advice sessions about negotiating. I attempted to implement the advice…with resounding failure, despite my soon-to-be boss advocating on my behalf with his boss. (Staff jobs don’t have as much negotiating room beyond salary as benefits are usually standardized and there aren’t course releases or research funds for which to ask. My other job offer was for a radically different job in a place with a significantly lower cost of living so there wasn’t much leverage there.) Anyways, I was promised a 6-month review with the possibility for a raise at that point. At 6-months, I asked for the review and a raise. First, I was told this wasn’t done. Luckily I had the 6-motn review + raise in email (get everything in writing!) and that, along with my boss’ support, forced the higher-up to consider it. Then, the higher-up (a woman, for what it’s worth), told me she could offer a tiny incremental raise because if she offered any more, I would not be eligible for a raise during the annual review period. I think this was bullshit but didn’t have much recourse. I was a mid-20s woman negotiating with the support of my male boss but ran into road blocks (primarily) with older females. This was not an institution lacking for money, and were it not for my boss — who was a tremendous supervisor and fantastic advocate for his staff — I would have been far more bitter.

    • Thanks for this link!

      I always tell women not to spend any time fretting about how they “might be seen” (ie, as aggressive, ball-busters, etc.). I think dwelling on that simply becomes another layer of (or reason for justifying) self-censorship. Just stay courteous, but go forward firmly!

      And your point about “I’m afraid” and “I’m sorry to say” is spot on as well.

    • Yes, women are perceived very differently than men are when negotiating, and generally have different negotiating styles. Most importantly, women often undervalue their own worth and aim too low when negotiating compared to men. There’s a substantial body of research supporting this; a book by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever called “Women don’t ask” does a good job reviewing this research. Their follow-up book, called “Ask for it”, goes into more detail regarding successful negotiating strategies specifically for women. (I am curious what Dr. Karen thinks of these books.) It’s really shocking how even seemingly tiny differences in things such as initial salary really get compounded during one’s career and lead to huge disparities later on.

  3. Reminds me of the conversation I had with my former (male) supervisor:
    “Do you have difficulty speaking your mind and saying what you want?”
    “…Um…maybe?”

    (I was annoyed enough at myself over this exchange to approach my next job with a bit more assertiveness; though I don’t think the battle is completely won yet…)

  4. I would also ask for help with moving costs – ask them to pay to pack (!) and move you, and estimate high. You could also ask for a course release the semester before your fourth-year review (or whenever the big review year is prior to tenure) or the semester prior to tenure documents being submitted. Many universities are now offering this. Also, you could ask for graduate research assistants separately from research funding. My university offered me three years of a half time graduate research assistant, in addition to $20K for research. At my university, one half-time (20 hours a week) research assistant costs at least $30K for stipend plus tuition and fees. Also, when you negotiate on research money, you can also mention, besides travel, that you would use the funds to collect pilot data to use for grant applications to NIH, NSF, etcetera. I know individuals who have negotiated $50K for those reasons, bench scientists likely get much more. I received all of these things at my R1 university, and that was without another offer. It never hurts to ask. They are not going to take the offer away. And, as long as the requests are justified, I do not think it does anything to hurt you in the eyes of the department.

  5. I thought “sincerely” was for informal or friendly correspondence. I know that it is increasingly used for formal correspondence, but there must be other people out there who cringe a bit when they see this.

    • Traditionally, you’re quite right. “Yours faithfully” for formal correspondence (when you don’t know the addressee personally), “yours sincerely” for less formal (when you do know them). But alas, I think we are in a shrinking minority of pedants/traditionalists who know or care 🙂

      • If it is indeed the case that “traditionalists” who know or care are a shrinking minority, that is very unfortunate. Of course, I am all for progress and for improving negotiations, correspondence, etc., but many of the traditional formalities were developed and widely used for a reason. For example, it is my pet peeve to see the all-too-often used closing, “best,” which strikes me as a catch-all, virtually meaningless term. But then, I am probably putting TOO much thought into it!

  6. I would definitely echo the advice on always negotiating even if you don’t have a counter offer. My strategy was to prioritize what was most important for me – in this case start-up funds as the salary, moving expenses, and teaching release were both good at the first offer. By framing it as ‘these are the costs of what I will need to get my research going and to get the data I need to secure external funding’ I got a very good start-up package. I actually hadn’t realized how good until I started hearing what other folks hired in the few years around me had gotten – I did well. I felt it was key to approach the issue in an in a positive but active way, so by framing it as ‘this is what I need to be successful and here are the numbers to back that up’ it takes out the issues of what I ‘want’. They really don’t care what I want (for men or women, although I am btw a woman) but they do care about what I need in order to get tenure. I’m curious about people’s thoughts on that kind of ‘prioritize and push’ approach. I could probably have squeezed a tiny bit more on salary but from looking at other new hires (where the data were available) I wasn’t going to get much more and the start-up difference was significant.

  7. oh crap. Just a few weeks too late for me. And yes, I negotiated like a girl (although I managed to extend the decision deadline). Impostor Syndrome For The Lose.

    I’ll stop writing emails like this in general, but I still feel like “I would really appreciate it” is appropriate and courteous if, for example, I’m writing to someone I’ve never met to ask for feedback on a draft journal article. Am I wrong?

    • Absolutely appropriate, because you’re asking for a favor. Negotiating, however, is NOT asking for a favor. It is asking for things you deserve.

      • I think even graduate school applications can be treated as a negotiation. I’ve found it has been helpful to be politely but assertively upfront about offers and funding needs. I (at least think I) have a sense of my own capabilities and more or less how competitive that makes me. I set my standard before I approach a potential opportunity and I’m always prepared to turn down an offer if it doesn’t meet my conditions. I like to think that if more applicants did this we’d see some changes in how gradstudents are treated, new faculty are hired (sessionals!), etc.

        Example: I was offered what looked like full PhD scholarship from a university after being asked to apply based on a presentation I gave a conference in my masters. However, the fine print in my offer revealed the university actually charged me 3/4ths of their offer back in fees, with terminal restrictions bringing in external scholarships. I did the math and it left me without enough to live on let alone conduct my research. I wrote back asking if I understood some of the conditions correctly, and the exchange was illuminating. After a slightly rude and unprofessional intial response where I was thinly accused of being ungrateful, and I politely but firmly explained myself in more detail and their tone changed. I learned that all research degree applications were centrally processed, and that the research unit I was applying to actually had very little say in who got in and under what funding conditions. My contacts, including the potential supervisors at the research unit, learned just how my offer came to me (several separate offers sent on different weeks, tuition cover that wasn’t [sales job: read the fine print!], etc), and became very apologetic. They had no idea.

        There were enough red-flags among that and other aspects my application experience there for me to stop pursuing it.

    • I tried negotiating last December but the school refused to give me anything – no moving cost, no increase in salary ( only $500 ) . I finally declined the offer and decided to take my chances. It was a small state school so I do understand that they are cash strapped but I just felt hemmed in from the beginning.

      • I had one client to whom this happened as well. It was also a small state school. And then increasingly even big state schools outside the top tier are also proving more resistant… it’s understandable with the budget crises. Generally if you hit a total brick wall you just cave with dignity, or turn down the offer, as you did.

    • Ah, thanks for bringing that up. Other email correspondence with the dept had established that all faculty receive $XK for that, so it was no longer a negotiation issue.

  8. So, it’s entirely fine to conduct a negotiation by email as opposed to on the phone? That’s news to me. I hate the phone, so it’s good news if true–and still effective.

  9. All very helpful. I am supposed to chat with the Provost tomorrow. As this is my first TT offer at a small research university, I am / was uncertain what to even ask for.

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  11. Very helpful, as always!

    I wonder if there is a different set of rules for someone already employed by the college making the offer. I have been teaching part-time (as an ABD) at a small private college for 2 semesters. A contract is on its way, for full-time teaching to begin upon my upcoming graduation. I have already relocated for this job and do not plan to apply elsewhere.

    Should one consider this a negotiable job offer, or is it more of a promotion at this point?

  12. Great information! Thanks for sharing this.

    What about elements of an email for a “pre-offer”? At the end of a campus visit, a department chair asked me to send a list of things that I would want should I be offered and accept a position there. I’ve never heard of this happening and am not sure what I should say other than some of the obvious — grad student, research/prof development fund, some protected time, etc. My postdoc advisor wants me to put it on letterhead as a memo, but I feel this is too formal and that I can begin this process in just an email (but without negotiating like a girl). I’ve been looking for tips on this, but can’t find anything. Any advice?

    • This does happen occasionally. It’s awkward and puts the candidate in a difficult position when they are inexperienced, but you you should definitely proceed. I agree an email is better. Read my post How to Negotiate Your Tenure Track Offer for ideas on what to ask for, or contact me to work on Negotiating Assistance if you feel you need individual help.

      • Thank you! This was helpful. We’re now working on an offer letter. I’m happy to see that you advised a previous poster to still negotiate even if you don’t have another offer. I’m in a similar position — no counter offer at the moment and the pay is pretty much what I’m getting in my postdoc. A man who was hired two years ago got $5k more than what they’ve offered me, and looking at his CV, our experience level is similar. I’ve been advised to try to negotiate for that salary instead of what they initially offered me, but how do you practically word an email like that when you don’t have a competing offer? If I need to contact you privately for this, I’ll do so. This school is REALLY where I want to be, so it’ll be well-worth it. 🙂

  13. Is there any room to negotiate non TT offers? I’ve been offered a non-TT position for 3 years, but the teaching load is 5/5. Is it worth trying to negotiate a smaller load?

    • I’ve had people on the FB page say that they did negotiate shorter offers, esp. when 3 years (ie, not just a one year pos). Most likely a smaller load will NOT be among the things you can neg. for, but there is no harm in asking.

      • Dr. Karen,
        So, one-year positions cannot negotiate salaries, is that right? What about smaller things, such as moving costs and conference travel funds? Any wiggle room there?

      • Last year, I negotiated 6K higher (50 to 56K) salary and more moving expenses (500 to 1200) on a one year VAP and LAC with rationale that I had 5 years prior FT VAP experience at comparable institution. Also, new VAP was in small midwest town, where they can’t just get adjuncts at the last minute and have to lock in their teching faculty in advance. I had NO bargaining power on prior VAP in urban area. So, it depends.

  14. Hi Karen, thanks for posting this. I have another question. Does one also negotiate postdoc offers? Does it matter how prestigious the postdoc is? I am sorry if this is an obvious question or one you’ve answered elsewhere. I just assumed postdocs were non-negotiable and am hoping I am not a gigantic fool for failing to negotiate.

    • They are much less negotiable than jobs. Typically the terms of the postdoc are more or less set in stone. But you might ask for a few small thigns, especially if you are the recipient of more than one postdoc offer—perhaps a bit of conference travel funding, a little bit of extra research support, or the like.

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  16. Thank you for reenforcing the stereotype of women being the overly emotional and complicated creature. Hearing this from a supposedly highly-educated woman, I can comfortably and confidently go back into overshadowing all their words, especially at work place, based on the assumption that they are all emotion and irrational.

    In case you are blinded by your feminity, let me point out my obvious sarcasm. You are unbelievable. Sure, the original email was jejune and reducdantly wordy. But female sef-sabatoge? Because she cared about family? You are either telling me (1)men don’t care about family as much, or (2)men are smarter so they would not mention is as they understand it shouldn’t be brought up in such explicit manner.

    PS. I usually agree with your points on various subjects. Your templates, however, always mundanely immature. You write like a person who has only been in school (regardless of level of eduacation) and never been exposed to outside world.

  17. while I agree that negotiating is essential , I disagree completely with email correspondence.
    If the candidate isn’t ready to verbally speak to the dean without getting flustered, how can the candidate be ready to teach and mentor undergrad or grad students? I would say if the prospect of negotiating with a dean freaks you out and you are afraid you’d accept too little do it anyway. You may have been too sheltered in grad school all this time (we all were to some extent) and the baptism by fire life experience you’d get from taking that phone call is worth more than having 5000+ more and remaining fearful of face to face.

    • These are completely different skill sets, especially, I’d hazard to say, for women. It is very easy for many academics to stand in front of a room and lecture on their field of specialization, while it is terrifying to speak up individually on their own behalf about issues of money. Email is always better in those cases.

    • You need to negotiate by email anyway so that you have everything in writing. Sometimes people are shady and will insist that they never agreed to what they did.

  18. A belated thanks, Karen, for this article, which I have read several times already.

    In terms of back-and-forth with the hiring powers, could you say something about how much back-and-forth is standard? Initial offer, my response, final offer? Or do I get a final counter request?

    Secondly, can you say something about how much justification one should include for salary-increase requests? For example, if I ask for 55K instead of 50K, do I need to include a reason? It would seem to me that a good justification for the 10% increase would be key. Rather than simply, I would like 5K more (just ’cause).

    Lastly, what if the initial offer is already in the high range of field standards? Is a 10% increase still appropriate to request? Or might 5-7% be more appropriate?

  19. Hi Karen,

    I have a question about a recent offer for a VAP.

    I was offered 36K for a 2/3rds position (teaching load is 2/2). That seems low to me. What is an appropriate range for a counter-offer?

    I also am waiting to hear back on a post-doc and a TT job, but both places have not told me anything. Should I contact them, or assume that nothing’s going to come out of the positions, this late in the game.

    Thanks!

    • that is definitely low. But VAPs have little room for negotiation—not none, but little. You could ask for $40 and see if they come back at $38 or so. Or ask for $42 and see if they come back at $40k. But no guarantees with a VAP! You can contact the other places just to make sure although it’s unlikely youo’re still under consideration.

  20. What about negotiating a spousal hire in the humanities? Both in the case of a TT offer and an adjunct position. I do not know exactly how this works or where they get the funding for the additional hire for. I have heard that some smaller departments actually are glad to be able to hire 2 people, is there any truth in that? How about the Ivy League?
    Thanks

  21. Is there any ability to negotiate once in the TT job? I’m at a unionized school and was told that most salaries were funded at the same level within disciplines, but I’m also at a public school and recently looked up what colleagues in various departments (including my own) make and realized that, although I was told “no” in my negotiations, I should have pushed harder. So:
    1) When along the TT is it appropriate/possible to renegotiate salary etc.
    2) What leverage (aside from an outside offer) can be used for this? Record of pubs?
    3) Does it make sense to do this before tenure, or should you wait for the tenure year to try?

  22. Ug, this is me exactly! I have a great job right now but applied for a position in our hometown. The initial offer was slightly lower than my current one, so I used the exact words from the sample version, stating simply, “My current offer brings a salary of $xxK. I would like to ask if XX can match that.” My impulse was of course to overexplain and apologize (it took major control to not say “can match that or come close to it”), but I just left it at that. Lo and behold, they accepted that completely. So now I’m of course left wondering if I should have asked for even more.

    My current institution is interested in countering, but I don’t know how much time they’ll need to figure something out. At what point is it too late to continue negotiating?

    Thanks so much for this tremendous blog.

    • Negotiations are delicate and particular, and I can’t give advice on the fly like this with no info re the specifics. For stuff like this, you really do have to work with me directly (for which it’s probably now too late).

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  24. Is it at all appropriate to bring student loan payments into negotiations? I’ve heard that in some fields people have successfully included that in their packages. Thoughts?

  25. Karen,

    I have been offered a TT at a SLAC. While I am not excited about how much they offered it isn’t that bad either. It is 9 months paid over 12 so I don’t need to worry about summer pay. However, would negotiating for extra courses (ie course overloads [15 instead of the standard 12 credits] or summer classes) be acceptable? I’m not averse to working more if it means a bit more in the pay check. What are your thoughts?

    • It’s not a disciplinary thing. Offers are rescinded occasionally; check out the Universities to Fear forum on the Chronicle, and also my post, Job Market Horror Stories: The Rescinded Offer. Also see my notes about the rescinded offer in my post, How To Negotiate Your Tenure Track Offer. In general, beware small religious-affiliated colleges and their ilk (ie, perhaps not currently religiously affiliated but still retaining that kind of culture). They are the type of institution most likely to rescind an offer. It is still rare, but when it happens, in my observation, 9 times out of 10 it’s at a school like Nazareth, and it happens just as described here.

  26. I am a writer widely published on 3 continents. I am a master of words in several languages. My undergraduate degree is in linguistics. I am a man.

    Yet, when I write those stupid business letters (which I hate doing), I fall into the trap of doing it in this idiotic subservient self-sabotageing little-girl-trying-to-melt-cruel-hearts kind of way.

    What’s worst is that I already know very well all of what you are saying and yet I do it way too often (not every single time).

    So I am bookmarking this page as “Before sending a letter out”. 😀

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  30. I’m in negotiations (today!) for a university staff position (extremely academic, requires a PhD plus experience — but no teaching). It is grant-funded, and pays less than half my previous industry salary (par for the course in academia it seems).

    Due to the constraints of the grant, there is little-to-no wiggle room on salary — can I ask for a 4-day work week, as time is just as valuable to me as money? (I am also asking for $62K instead of the $55K offer — hey, you never know).

    Thank you!

    Michele

  31. I am so happy you are here helping younger folks with their negotiations. In the early 80’s, women were expected to just take what was offered. IF they asked for more, they were told they were too bold.

    In the 90’s, I was offered a job and asked for more. I don’t remember the details except that it was a tech company. I suspect the manager wanted someone withI was told I didn’t deserve ‘special treatment’.

    In the later 90’s, I discussed a job, was thrilled with the beginning discussions and then received an offer that was about $10,000 LOWER than the starting range we had discussed as part of the qualifying discussion. In that ancient day, emails were not used, but the offer came from their corporate offices and my written reply was to reiterated the job, my qualifications, and my request that they meet the original numbers discussed. They didn’t bother answering.

    I came here today seeking information on this very topic. Women used to meet unfavorable treatment during negotiations purely because of their gender. Simply asking for more meant trouble.

    Today, it’s all different.
    What would you advise older women workers trying to find a new job?

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