Negotiating Has Begun, and It’s Not Pretty

(This post replicates today’s Truth Zone newsletter)

I offer Negotiating Assistance* at The Professor Is In, and it’s some of my favorite work. How could it not be?  I get to help people negotiate the coveted tenure track (and sometimes tenured!) offer!  It’s wonderful!  Clients usually start out as nervous wrecks, of course, but quickly see that it’s not a terrible experience, and that it can feel quite empowering to ask for things you want and need to succeed in your career.  My job is to tell you what you can and can’t ask for, and how to make the asks, and then how to read the responses, ultimately deciding how far to push and when to let up.  It’s especially fun when we’re working with the leverage that comes with multiple offers.

As fun as it is, and as successful as the negotiations usually are, I also have to report: things are tight this year.  I’m seeing more jobs than previously that have little or no scope for negotiation.  The spousal hire at the assistant professor level is going the way of the unicorn, it seems.

And, I’ve already had a client who had a job offer rescinded.

It’s always shocking when that happens.  It’s still very rare:  I’ve seen three clients with rescinded offers in the past two years.  But since negotiating season is still in very early stages this job cycle, I’m wondering if I’ll see more this year.  I talk about the rescinded offer at great length in my book, so I won’t repeat it here (read Chapter 50).  But I will say that it’s ever more important that you go into negotiations understanding exactly how they work, and what you can expect, and knowing exactly how to match your requests with the type and status and rank of the department/institution you’re dealing with.  Rescinded offers happen, in every one of the cases I personally know, when a candidate asks for things that are absolutely beyond the pale for the rank/type of institution.  In other words, asking for an R1 offer when dealing with a tiny regional teaching college. Instead of engaging, the department just says, “forget it.”  And that’s it.  There is no going back.  The offer is gone.

I don’t want to see that happen to anyone, so once again, this year, I am offering a free negotiating webinar.  It’s on Thursday December 17, at 6 PM EST.  It is 75 minutes long, and will cover all the nuts and bolts of a successful tenure track negotiation.

It’s free, but you do have to register.  Do that here on the Webinars page.

With the advice in this webinar you’ll be prepared.  Also be aware, if you get an offer, the single most important thing you can do is work with a mentor in the negotiation to read the tea leaves for that particular set of circumstances.  Negotiations are ALWAYS INDIVIDUAL, PARTICULAR, AND LOCAL; don’t expect to apply national salary scales, for example, to your particular case.  (Read more about that in Chapter 48 of my book).  If you need help with negotiating, by all means email me at  I love to help!

(By the way, don’t forget the Campus Visit Webinar will help you get through to the challenge of negotiating!  It’s on Thursday 12/10 6 PM EST; the only date in December.  See it at the same link as above.)

*Here is the info on that if you’re interested:

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 substantial gains, I will refund 50% of the payment (up to $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.”

Another R1 offer (Sciences) client recently wrote: “I’ve been on the market for several years and had always imagined finally getting an offer as the ‘end’ of the lengthy and exhausting job search process; with that mentality it’s tempting to just flop over with relief and take the first thing thrown at you, thinking that you’re now ‘done’! It was hugely helpful to have someone to remind me that the negotiating phase is as much a part of the job search as any other step!”

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.


Negotiating Has Begun, and It’s Not Pretty — 2 Comments

  1. Thank you, Karen, for this informative webinar. I’m on the job market for a faculty position, and my spouse has a Ph.D. in engineering and now works in industry. We know that we may be moving if I get a good offer. If we go to a large city, he can find a job. However, some of the universities I’m applying to are in small towns where the university is the best, if not only, place of employment for someone with his qualifications. If there is a postdoc position that he is qualified (but really over-qualified) for, should he apply? Or, should we wait to see if I get an offer and can negotiate a spousal hire? Thank you.

  2. Thank you for this very useful post. Do you think if one takes a TT position at a regional university following earning Ph.D. at an R1, would it be hard to then be considered for jobs at other R1s in later years? Thank you.

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