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 contextual 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.

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Know These Things Before Negotiating — 8 Comments

  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.

  2. Hi Karen,

    I’m writing because I’ve used your blog and your book as guidance throughout the job application process (thank you!). This is my first year completely “out” on the job market (I did it once when I was ABD but only for a select few schools). Anyway, I wanted to write to share my experience in the hopes that it might serve other readers (and admittedly, for my own sake).

    I had a campus interview for a regional teaching-college (4/4 load, about 2k research a year but this is never guaranteed, just what they’ve gotten in the past few years). Last Friday at 4:30 pm I got a call from dept. chair to tell me I was the top candidate and that they wanted to offer me a job. I asked for an email with all the details and when I opened it that night–in the midst of celebrating–I read the fine print. I have 48 hours to accept the job. I was confused–did that mean Monday? I had another campus interview lined up for that upcoming week so I immediately emailed the chair asking for some time to go to campus interview that was already set up. Cutting to the chase, the chair responded on Tuesday letting acknowledging he had received my email and telling me he was asking around about the protocol regarding the deadline.

    Radio silence until Thursday–the day I am at the aforementioned campus interview. I receive an email that day telling me to call him when I can. I get back late to the hotel exhausted and email him to let him know that I didn’t reply earlier because I was at my interview and that the next day I would be traveling all day. I asked if we could perhaps speak on Monday. I wanted to put it off for a moment since there was no sense of urgency in the chair’s email about speaking on the phone and I was obviously hoping to buy time to see if I could get another offer.

    The next day as I am waiting for the connecting flight I get a text from the dept. chair telling me he emailed me and wishing me safe travels. Again–no urgent tone. After a while I go ahead and open the email. The email says that I have until 5 pm (I land at 4:30 pm) to accept the offer. Otherwise they are moving on. I panicked–after doing some quick phone calls to get advice from anyone I could reach before boarding my next flight I decide to just go ahead and say yes to the chair.

    I landed and called him and tried to initiate the negotiations (since it’s a small town far from any metropolis my main concern is my academic’s partner hire–because otherwise what’s he going to do?) this was perceived as incorrect. There was also no negotiation for salary. Basically everything I had read (and discussed with colleagues) regarding academic offers was out the window. The offer was set. Nothing was negotiable. The chair went through the motions of asking the dean who also made clear that there was no way that my partner would even get to share the position with me.

    I declined the offer.
    As a regional college, I knew that there’d be a lot of limitations and I tested the grounds. But what I wasn’t expecting was a surprise pop-up deadline coming to me in the middle of a Friday when the chair knew I was traveling. It felt inconsiderate and made me lose trust in his ability to advocate or be up-front. I feel like I dodged a bullet but I am also feeling extremely down about having to decline a tenure-track position.

    • Thank you for sharing – This really means a lot. I wondered also whether a verbal ‘yes’ over the phone without signing any contract or papers counts as anything set in stone? I’ve a similar experience. After saying ‘yes’ formally in an email reply, the Chair had wanted me to urgently start within the next month and he says he will get HR to draft the contract asap. But, because I had to wait for my work visa to come through (which would take at least 8 weeks), he said he would be willing to wait. I have now waited for almost a month for any kind of contract/formal letter of acceptance to come through and I have note received anything. In the meantime, I have also received a second offer with a contract that has offered a better salary and start-up package and has urged me to reply in 2 weeks. We haven’t even started negotiating and I’m already being asked what kind of teaching I can fill. What should I do? Please help!

  3. So, I had a great on-campus interview, had great research and teaching talks. I gelled in great with all the members. 2 days after I came back home, I get a call from the Chair that I am their top candidate and now the negotiations would begin. They asked me regarding my wife (for spousal hire) to which I said yes I am looking for spousal hire. They seemed very enthusiastic and asked for my spouse’s CV. They also asked me to set a start-up budget which I did in the format given by them. I submitted my budget to them and they said they would meet the Dean and VP to advocate my budget as much as possible. They said they would get back to me the following week.

    Current status: It’s been a week and there has been no email from them. I sent an email 2 days back and there has been no reply to that. This SILENCE sucks. I don’t know what’s happening. It’s just making me anxious. I mean what does it take to respond to an email?

  4. Thank you for all of your great advice! I’ve read your book and a lot of your blog. Have you posted or shared anything on specifically negotiating a postdoc offer? I know your motto is to always negotiate, but I wonder how that might look different for a postdoc – in the Social Sciences, specifically.

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