Can I Negotiate? Advice For All, Especially International Ph.D.s

I am regularly asked “can I negotiate my offer when it’s my only offer?”

People constantly seem to think you need multiple offers to have leverage.

This is not true. For the vast majority of schools, you can and should negotiate your offer. The only time you should beware of negotiating is when there are red flags about the school itself, or the specific department you’re dealing with, red flags that I explain in my post, The Rescinded Offer: Who Is In the Wrong, and in more detail in the chapter on rescinded offers in my book.

But barring the danger signs explained there, you should absolutely expect to negotiate your offer.  Sometimes you might gain only a couple thousand dollars additional salary–but as a recurring gain, that amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary, raises, and retirement over your career, so don’t neglect to get it!

And at R1s, you’ll negotiate a whole set of things, including salary, startup, moving, course releases, conference funding, lab equipment, and so on, that amount immediately to tens or hundreds (if in the sciences) of thousands of dollars up front, and massive gains over your career.

You should always get help with negotiating, as no new Ph.D. knows how to do it, or how to do it well (and frankly, neither do mid-career folks, which is why about a quarter of my Negotiating Assistance clients are tenured!).  I work on hundreds of negotiations with clients each year, and I am constantly either PUSHING HARD to get over-diffident, insecure clients to ask for what they deserve, or more rarely, PULLING HARD against over-entitled clients who think they should be given R1 offers at tiny teaching colleges, and become angry and petulant (and very inappropriate in their email correspondence drafts) when they don’t.  While some negotiations go like buttah, these two extremes tend to predominate.

And yes, women tend to fall into the first category.  And while the latter category has a varied membership, I can say at this point, after three years of this work (which has grown exponentially as a part of The Professor Is In business), that if you are from South Asia, the Middle East, or Western Europe, you –whether you are male or female — might, possibly, fall into it.  There are clearly strong and varied cultural elements at play, which are beyond the scope of this blog post.  (And indeed, my East Asian clients overwhelmingly fall into the first category – one Chinese client cancelled our planned negotiating work last week saying, “I am sure I could get a better offer by working with you but I think right now I am not ready to take any risk.”). But, if you’re from the three parts of the world I just mentioned, and have a tenure track offer in the US, please move carefully.  One Middle Eastern client had an offer rescinded early this year because she disregarded my advice and plowed ahead with a set of asks at a small teaching college that were both inappropriate in substance, and alienating in tone.

Please know that I would not name cultural groups in this way, if I didn’t see a very clear and distressing pattern.

So, if you don’t have anyone you trust to help you, please do contact me for help at  Contact me the instant you get a verbal or email indication of an offer–the work starts from that moment!

And meanwhile, remember: you can negotiate almost all offers, barring specific red flags, whether or not you have any competing offers.

Good luck!

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Can I Negotiate? Advice For All, Especially International Ph.D.s — 9 Comments

  1. I graduated last year outside US, and am now a tenure track faculty member at a R1 university in US. While negotiating the offer, I found the inputs from my advisor (who had worked in a R1 US university too) very useful. I am sharing this piece of private info to just add to this post that your advisors can be a good source of information to get some inputs on offer negotiation.

  2. Friends or even acquaintances employed by peer institutions here can be important guides. They can help you gauge both scale and tone for such requests. And know that even if you’re such an attractive candidate that a dean says ‘yes’ to some outlandish request, you will have pre-alienated all your future colleagues; in their eyes your granted request may be coming at the expense of other beneficence shown the department.

  3. Dear Karen.

    Am I expected to/can I negotiate if I have been offered a Visiting Lecturer position? The Chair has explicitly mentioned to me that the salary is non-negotiable…

      • Thanks you so much for your answer! The most important thing to me are teaching assignments. The position description explicitly states that the Lecturer will teach lower-level courses (in my case, as Foreign language scholar, language courses), something that the Chair has reiterated, but I feel that teaching upper-level (literature, culture) courses would put me in a much better position when looking for a job again next year. As teaching assignments will not be allocated until later on, should I bring this up during the contract negotiation phase?
        Thanks again!!

  4. I love your advice. It has been a major help in the last few years. question: Is there a standard wait time from the offer to the end of negotiations. I received an offer and then provided them with a list of items that I’d need. That information has been passed along to the dean and I am waiting for a response. How long should that take. Thanks.

    • Congrats on the offer! When it comes to offers and negs, though, as policy I never offer opinions or advice unless someone signs on as a client. The stakes are too high for ad hoc advice. If you’d like to work wth me, let me know. Actually, I’ll paste the info here for your reference. (this is rates as of May-June 2016–subject to change moving forward!)

      Negotiating Assistance is $500/first week ($600 for tenured positions), and a week is virtually always sufficient (it goes down to $400 [$500], and then $300 [$400] 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 (no phone calls) 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. (An R1 Humanities tenure track offer can usually gain $15-30,000 over the initial offer; at a small regional SLAC it may be closer to $2-10,000. An R1 Science offer can sometimes gain $30-60,000 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.

      Fine print: You must return the signed contract to proceed with the work. After payment you’ll get a set of instructions on how to provide the offer details; please don’t submit any info until you get that and can follow those instruction. If your negotiation requires fewer than 7 days I don’t refund payment or apply it as credit to other work. In the event that your institution refuses to negotiate and you achieve no gains, I will refund 50% of the payment ($250).

      For a client perspective, I will share a few recent testimonials:

      Assistant professor R1 Social Sciences: I increased my offer 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.”

      Associate professor with tenure, R1, Humanities: “As a mid-career academic in the humanities, I knew exactly how important it would be to negotiate good terms for my new position. Karen provided me with: concrete examples of things I could negotiate for; a sounding board for my requests; assistance in clarifying and rewriting my negotiation emails; and overall, tremendous peace of mind in what would otherwise have been an extremely stressful process. I successfully negotiated increases in my salary, start up package, and travel support, totalling 11K. I highly recommend her negotiation assistance services, no matter what career stage you’re in.”

      Assistant professor, SLAC, Social Sciences: “When I got the job offer, I was so terrified to negotiate, specifically for the delayed start date. I felt a bit lost, and then I went to a yoga class and on the wall was a quotation from Cheryl Strayed which said, ‘The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.’ It was at that time, I knew I should contact you and just get one-to-one help with the negotiation so that I could advocate the best I could for myself without worrying about taking up someone’s time or unsettling a relationship, but also not sabotage myself. I am glad I reached out, because I think I may not have represented myself as well otherwise. Thanks for your time, Karen. I look forward to FINALLY becoming an adult after so many years of training….to earning a good salary, to having a retirement plan, to moving to a place where I could really build a home and a life without a foreseeable expiration date. Thanks for being one of the people who helped me get to this point.”

      Assistant professor, Regional Teaching College, Music: “This morning I officially accepted a tenure track job offer from a regional institution in the southeast. Karen’s negotiating assistance helped me see which of my “wants” were an appropriate ask for a regional institution. She helped me find the proper tone to ask for these things, and she also found some things in my “want” list that might be questioned as uninformed or insulting from the department’s point of view. With TPII’s assistance, I was able to obtain a 6% salary raise, double my moving assistance, and clarify exactly how to obtain $10,000 in start up funds for my line. For a regional academic position in the arts, particularly in the southeast, this type of package is almost unheard of.”

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

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