Know These Things Before Negotiating

Yesterday I led the first Negotiating webinar of this academic year; I’m already deep in Negotiating Assistance help, which started in earnest in December.  Each year that I have offered this help, I’ve noticed that the timeline of offers has moved up.

(I’ll offer the How to Negotiate Your Academic Job webinar again in March, most likely, but if you need help prior to that, you can get the recording here, or just contact me to work with you individually, at

I updated the Negotiating webinar this year to include info and advice for non-tenure track offers, including VAPs, postdocs, professor of practice positions, and multi-year instructor positions, because those are so common these days.

And I also added new slides to help hammer home some points that I want all negotiators, particularly for the tenure track, to understand.  These are related to the 1% vs. 99% aspect of academic offers in this day and age.

Right now, there are haves and have-nots of the academic world. I wrote about this in this Chronicle Vitae column called Disappointed With the Offer? In that column I wrote,

“there are increasing numbers of offers that, even after some negotiation, do not provide sufficient salary for a family to live on, or for an individual to pay off six-figure student debt. They do not cover even a fraction of a family’s moving costs and provide no support at all for the crushing costs of rental (let alone purchase) of a home in an obscenely expensive location. Indeed, some offers have no scope for negotiation at all. When you try, the department will simply say “no.” That happened to two of my clients last week.”

I still feel that these disparities are not sufficiently understood, particularly as they pertain to variations among both types of institutions, and types of disciplines.

So, I added these slides to the webinar, and to make them better known, I’m sharing them here now. While these are not “real” figures from actual negotiations — and should NOT be taken as conclusive parameters for your own negotiation, which is always unique and distinctive to the specifics of YOUR case —  they are representative aggregate figures based on hundreds of negotiations I’ve assisted with.

(HI SLAC  = elite SLAC like Williams or Amherst, and Reg. Coll = Regional Teaching College)


These vast disparities also can complicate matters beyond simple binaries. After all, a Finance tenure track offer at a small resource poor teaching college may well pay more salary than a German tenure track offer at an R1…

Because of this, I make two key recommendations prior to entering any negotiation. The first is: Evaluate Context Carefully, using your best Ph.D.-level research and detective skills.

And the second is, get help.  Because negotiating is difficult to do well, and easy to do badly. It is as common to accept a problematically low offer as it is to demand an excessively high offer, for the same reason: Because you don’t know the norms of your field and the type of institution you’re dealing with.  This understanding requires a depth of contexual and institutional knowledge that few brand new Ph.D.s possess or have reason to possess.

And especially for new Ph.D.s, who have spent many long years being grossly undervalued, and disrespected, it is almost impossible to have an accurate sense of your own value in a negotiation, and to veer wildly in tone between obsequiousness, and a kind of indignant entitlement (sometimes, I’m afraid, the result of a misread of The Professor Is In!)

So, in sum, use your giant Ph.D.-level brain to really investigate the financial and cultural norms of your field and the kind of institution you’re dealing with, prior to embarking on negotiations.  And, take your time, don’t just say yes immediately to any offer, and get the help and advice of someone who has your back.


Know These Things Before Negotiating — 1 Comment

  1. This may be common knowledge, but I’ll mention it anyway. You can track down salary data for most state employees on the web — state-funded salaries are a matter of public record in most (if not all) states. The most recent data is usually from one or two fiscal years prior to the current budget cycle. This can be useful in seeing where salary scales fall in different institutions/cities within a state, and in assessing whether what you are being offered is within a fair range — private institutions will obviously have different scales, but at least you have something to benchmark by if you don’t have detailed information.

    Digging around for institutional budget information can also sometimes be helpful.

    And for anyone considering moving to non-profit work, PF990s will have information on the most highly compensated employees within an organization — maybe not your hire-in level, but you can at least see what the CEO and other top management are making.

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