05 Negotiations


The only moment more exciting for a candidate than getting an invitation to campus is getting a job offer from the dean. The recommendations below are intended to help candidates get the most out of their negotiations with institutions. Remember that frank and constant communication between both parties is key to a successful negotiation.

Things to Do

  • When you receive the offer via telephone, take a deep breath, thank the person calling, take notes on what is said, and ask for some time to consider all that is taking place. The dean does not expect you to accept at that moment. It is expected that you will ask for a few days to a week to think about it. It is natural to be excited – try not to squeal and jump like you just won the lottery. You can do that after you get off the phone!
  • Collect as much information as possible about the offer. Have a written copy of the offer sent to you electronically. Be sure to get detailed information about retirement benefits, medical and dental benefits, your ability to do outside consulting, start-up supports, etc. Some of this (e.g., medical benefits, dental benefits) will be on the university website. Don’t waste the dean’s time asking about these. Ask only about negotiable things. 
  • Get the information that you need to negotiate effectively. This is the time when prior research into salaries and benefits – and other university support structures (e.g., internal grants for new faculty) – can really pay off. The more knowledge you have about faculty salaries and entry packages at the institution, the better off you are during negotiations. Consult respected outside sources, mentors, and trusted colleagues regarding appropriate salary and job expectations. Salary information at public institutions is a matter of public record. With some effort you can find out the exact salaries of everyone in the department; calling the circulation department of the library is a good place to start if you get stuck. 
  • Investigate the local cost of living since it may impact your final salary requirements. Some real estate websites have “cost of living” calculators.
  • It is okay, and likely expected, for you to negotiate. You don’t have to take whatever the dean (or department chair) offers you. They are expecting you to outline needs and wants that you have beyond their initial offer. If you need certain things for your research (e.g., specific computer hardware and software requirements, graduate assistants, etc.), ask for these during negotiations. It will be next to impossible to get them after you’ve reached an agreement. Other items for which you can negotiate include a house-hunting trip (with your significant other), moving expenses (FYI, they’re taxable!), funds for professional development or travel, new office paint and/or furniture, etc. Decide what is important to you and ask for it. Decide what the minimum entry package would be for you to take the position. It can be difficult to ask for these things, but at this point in the journey they want you to join their team and be successful there. You need to make sure that you ask for the things that you believe you need and not shy away from a seemingly “awkward” conversation. Be sure to ask rather than make demands.
  • Remember that one-time costs are usually easier to negotiate than recurring costs (e.g., startup funds versus a higher salary). Universities have much more wiggle room with these expenses so don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. 
  • Ask if you will have office space in or near the department. You don’t want to end up sequestered in a basement somewhere!
  • If you’re a faculty member who is switching institutions, be sure to find out what your tenure status and requirements are at your new university, whether or not you can count your past years of experience, etc.
  • Be specific in your negotiations, but balance specificity with creating a good relationship.
  • Get everything in writing. Insist on it. Do not rely on the word of the dean / department chair. If they leave or pass away before you arrive (yes, these things do happen!), the only guarantee that you have is what was put in writing. One good idea while negotiating is to send a very polite letter, prior to signing the contract, to whomever was handling the negotiations that outlines everything that you believed had been discussed and asking for confirmation. Institutions often will provide you with a modified offer letter after some negotiating has occurred.
  • Be both firm and polite. Negotiating can be difficult; stand your ground, but be nice about it. Frame your requests in terms of what you need to be successful at the institution. Be prepared to give on some of your requests that are above and beyond your bottom line.
  • Strive for a win-win situation. Be realistic about what the institution can / cannot do for you.
  • Don’t assume anything. If you don’t talk about an issue, you may be unpleasantly surprised when you arrive at the institution to begin work. Be as explicit as possible about specifics.
  • Be aware that, in general, women tend to negotiate smaller overall compensation packages than do men. This may be due to biases held by deans or it may be due to distaste for the process of negotiating. Regardless of your gender, be aware of your proclivity toward negotiating and take steps to help yourself negotiate the best package possible. Remember that your own professors can be an excellent advisory resource.
  • Don’t feel like you have to accept the offer. Remember that the ultimate bargaining ploy is to walk away (telling the dean that the package is insufficient for you to accept the offer has its risks, of course). It is also acceptable to ask for some time to think about their offer. Decide how much you want the position, and how willing you are to continue the search for a new position. If you feel that other options are available or more attractive, politely decline the offer in writing and thank the institution for its interest in you as a candidate.
Things to Avoid
  • If you’re not offered the job, don’t be upset. It’s a competitive process, and the faculty simply found a better match for the position. Most often it simply is an issue of “fit.”
  • If you’re offered the job, make a decision promptly. A reasonable amount of time is generally one to two weeks after an offer has been made. Do not try to play one institution against another. If you know that you don’t want the job, don’t hold on to the offer in case something better doesn’t come along.
  • Don’t be antagonistic and overbearing.
  • Without sufficient experience and publications, don’t expect to come in at an advanced rank.