ProTips for academic job negotiations
December 3, 2011 10:28 AM   Subscribe

To continue in the series of academic job hunting posts - protips for negotiating an academic position.

For the sake of general usefulness, let's address public/private but assume tenure track R1 positions, not teaching.

I'm a social scientist with PhD-in-hand, so please let that flavor your answers. And in my field, there actually are a decent number of jobs, especially in my sub-field.

I totally understand that this is your one shot to really push. I know about trying to reduce teaching load, getting more startup funds, money for RAs, and better relocation package.

I'd like general thoughts but also specifics like:
- How to make multiple offers work to your best advantage?
- How to interpersonally approach all of this (especially from a female perspective)?
posted by k8t to Education (23 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
It's not your one shot to really push- in fact if you don't get more than one offer (which is COMPLETELY normal so don't put your cart before your horse assuming you're going to get multiple offers, which seems incredibly deluded on you part) you're in a very poor position to negotiate. Multiple offers are only of value if you can use one as a bargaining chip and the way that's done is pretty much common sense- ask one school to match the other's salary, that sort of thing. Not rocket science.

But back to my first point- this is not your one shot. You get shots at renegotiating at any point in your career when you get a job somewhere else. Then, if they want to keep you, you get the new salary bump, the new permanent reductions in teaching, the new title, all that good stuff. Don't think this is your one chance and don't be discouraged if you only get one- or zero- offers. There is always hope in the future.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:41 AM on December 3, 2011

Read the chapter on this in Tomorrow's Professor.
posted by caek at 11:13 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Caek, is a $70 book from 1997 THAT much better than the various other similar books on the subject? Not trying to be snarky, but asking if it is worth it.
posted by k8t at 11:14 AM on December 3, 2011

Best answer: Remember that if you don't get it in writing, you probably won't get it. There will be a lot of promises made during the negotiation process; only some of them will turn out to be true, and if you don't have something in writing there will be almost no chance of holding them to it. It's impossible to put everything in writing, so you need to think about the things that you really care about and make sure that those are covered.

Do you have a two-body issue, or a spouse who will be hoping for either a staff job at the university or their help in finding a job in the new location? Then that has to be an explicit part of the negotiation process, not something that you leave to chance or trust generic assurances of unspecified future assistance. Make sure to ask about daycare/school issues; at some places getting your kid into the university-run daycare is a key part of the negotiation process and if you miss that chance you are in waiting list hell.

It's also incredibly important to make big-picture compensation comparisons, not just the salary amount. Benefits, costs of living, and other pieces of the compensation package (eg research support, spousal goodies, etc) vary enormously, and you are making a big mistake if all you compare is "place X is offering $70k, and place Y is offering $64k." Adding to the confusion, each place will have different pieces that are negotiable -- salaries might be free-floating or on a rigid schedule; teaching loads might be fixed or open to negotiation; etc. Salary definitely matters, but it's just one piece of a big and complex situation; you need to look at sabbatical support, retirement contributions, healthcare costs for your family, and on and on and on.

If you are in the happy situation of balancing multiple offers, make sure to compare tenure requirements and processes; those vary enormously between institutions and departments.

There are frequently good essays on this in the Chronicle, as I'm sure you know; the best I've read are the ones that give the perspective from the hiring side.
posted by Forktine at 12:34 PM on December 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: If I were to make a spreadsheet of important stuff in a negotiation, what else to add?



posted by k8t at 12:38 PM on December 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

FWIW I found the Tomorrow's Professor book to be fairly dry and didn't get much from it. Out of curiosity, however, I just checked the negotiating chapter and it seemed reasonable.

You also want to know the conditions on using your startup. At some institutions you have to use it within a fixed time, exactly what gets charged to the startup varies from institution to institution, etc.

Is there anyone within the department you can trust to ask for advice? You will want mentors/advocates later on so this could be a place to start.

Also although I do not claim to be a master negotiator, one thing that I did was to frame my requests as being support for my *research* rather than myself (salary included).

May be too late for you but I found "Getting to Yes" to be an eye opening perspective on negotiation generally.
posted by sesquipedalian at 12:49 PM on December 3, 2011

Best answer: Consider reading Women Don't Ask. One of the problems women have is that there are two competing issues:
1. We know women don't ask, and as a result often get less. We want to be aggressive (enough) that we don't get screwed, especially compared to men.
2. This is an ongoing relationship- you really should want people to like you.

I've seen people move far towards the ASK ASK ASK side of things, and really damage the ongoing relationship. The worst case scenario is you take the job but your new colleagues think you are selfish/a diva/not a team player, as do the people at any schools you turned down.

Part of your strategy depends on your priorities. Do you actually have a first choice, and you are using a second offer for leverage? Do you have two choices that you view equally, and you will truly take whichever one offers you the "best" package? Are you trying to use something that is not quite an offer to your advantage eg pulling out of another search before an interview, etc?

I recommend being honest about certain things. I think people under-rate honesty but being as transparent as you can will help you start the relationship on the right note. The best thing you can do for yourself is find out what the normal range is for assistant professors in this department, and ask for things at the top of the normal range. You can likely find a friendly recent hire, someone who turned down a job at this place, etc to help you with this. If you have this info, just ask for something within the normal range (at the high end, or slightly higher if you have a serious competing offer).

--If this is the job you want, let them know this. Let them know what your actual priorities are eg: I really need a super-computer for number crunching; I need a subvention for my book; I need a research assistant, etc. They will feel good to know that you are leaning towards accepting the job. Unless the department hasn't hired in a long time, they have heard all these concerns and they have responses, or can direct you to someone who can talk more about them.
--Reach out to assistant profs before you accept- in informal conversations someone will likely tell you what to ask for.
--Be honest about the factors that will help you decide and say why, eg salary is a concern because elderly parent will be living with us; leave policy is a concern because I need chunks of time to do research abroad.
--Don't pretend something is a competing offer if it obviously isn't. So don't say "Hey R1, I am deciding between you and NSEW State Community College that has a 4-4 teaching load, can't you sweeten the deal?" The people hiring you understand the labor market, and they know that good tenure track jobs are generally scarce, even if you do have multiple offers.
--If something is a compelling competing offer but you have to explain why, then explain why eg I know you would think that NSEW State Community College would not be as attractive as you are, but actually my partner would have much better career opportunities if we moved to that city, so I am taking it seriously.
--It is less expensive for them to give you non-salary than salary. A $10,000 higher salary costs them almost double that in salary-related benefits etc, plus the amount compounds over time with your raises. $10,000 in your research account costs them $10,000.
--Be aware they may be unable to negotiate on some things (including some things on your list). University will have inflexible policies in place on some things, which may include: Retirement contributions/pension; healthcare and other benefits; relocation allowance.

Keep in mind that most public institutions will have salaries that are publicly available, one way or another. This means:
1. You will know how much others are getting paid, and the chair (dean etc) will know you know.
2. You are very unlikely to be offered a salary outside the normal range because your colleagues will know and possibly get better. So, ask for things other than salary (summer salary may be a loophole here) like research money.

The most important thing to remember is that if you take this job they need to like you. That doesn't mean you want them to think you are a pushover, but you should remember that this is all part of the first impression you are creating. If you "win" and take the job, but have behaved in a way they don't like, or negotiated a really generous package that really may hurt you later. It may hurt you in that everyone pre-judges you to be a diva, but also if you have a deal way out of the normal range (more course relief/RAs/ research money) this may (even subtly) affect tenure expectations. "Why didn't k*t publish more than so and so, who did so much more teaching while on the tenure track?"

In summary: you really are striving to reach the top of the normal range. Be honest; explain the reasoning behind your requests, and try not to string things out for a long time, everyone hates that.
posted by cushie at 12:54 PM on December 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

It may not be your only chance, but it is by far the best chance because those future negotiations will be based on what you negotiate now, retirement benefits that are calculated as a percent of income are affected now, etc.

There's nothing delusional about thinking about how to work multiple offers. I had a sizable number of offers, but I had a really hard time making that work to my advantage because of the timing of those offers. For instance, at one school, I asked for more than the department had been authorized to give me. It would have taken 3-4 days to go through that process, but that would have put me past a deadline to decide on another position (and one I'd already delayed while waiting for this other school to make their offer, so I couldn't delay it again). That timing issue can make it hard to pit schools against each other. One very annoying school called with an offer but then said they couldn't give me any details (including the base salary) until they got official transcripts (which they had never asked for). That "offer" came a day before another school's decision deadline, too, so the multiple offer thing didn't end up helping me much in negotiations.

People in my cohort generally found it easier to negotiate on one-time expenses (start-up, moving, etc.) than things that would be ongoing expenses (salary). The men in my cohort generally seemed better at negotiating the ongoing expenses.

On preview, I'd see if you can get a general "professionalization" fund or see if you can allocate money for books (for research and/or teaching), oddball journal subscriptions not in common databases, software, or whatever else you need. That might be included in your startup money, but ask how those things would be funded beyond the first year if you want them. I'd ask about funding for travel to conferences, of course, but also find out whether they'll fund attendance at conferences you're not presenting at. It's been nice to be somewhere that recognizes that I might want to/need to do this sometimes.

I found that things like retirement % and health insurance generally weren't negotiable. Some of my campus visits included time with an HR rep to go over their policies. If I didn't have that meeting, I asked for the info at the time of negotiation and sometimes contacted the school's HR directly if I had specific questions.

I thought I negotiated a good relocation package, but it's more expensive to move than I thought, so you might get a few moving quotes online to get an idea of how much $ it would take to move to each location. I didn't factor in a pre-moving trip across the country to find housing, so whatever quote you get, add another plane ticket+a few hotel nights to that and make sure they'll pay for that.

Good luck!
posted by BlooPen at 12:55 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you talk to some women in academia? Perhaps a mentor or a former supervisor or collaborator?
posted by lulu68 at 12:56 PM on December 3, 2011

Response by poster: To answer some questions...

- Spouse, not academic. And kid. Thanks for the daycare tip.

- I moved last year, so I know EXACTLY how much it costs to move our family across the country. There is a chance that if my spouse secures a job, he might get a moving package - and private is better than university moving generally. Thus we wouldn't 'need' the university moving. How to deal with that?

- At *some* of the places that I've been talking to I have a bit more of an inside scoop, which helps a lot.

- My mentors generally were on the market decades ago. I will ping someone who was on more recently.

- If a place is not very flexible on salary itself, is it unreasonable to ask for other stuff? (Tuition waiver for extended family member, for example).
posted by k8t at 1:03 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: And yes, of course, health insurance/retirement isn't negotiable - I was thinking for more like creating a master spreadsheet of 'total' package.
posted by k8t at 1:03 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would not ask for other stuff because:
1. It will make you sound greedy- you do not want them to think that you are only driven by money.
2. They probably have policies in place (eg who is entitled to free classes).
3. The imputed value will be taxable anyway- so if you get a tuition waiver worth 30K, you will be taxed on that as if it were income. Compare this with any kind of professional development account which is untaxed and you can use pretty creatively.

If something like a tuition waiver for an extended family member is important to you (I've never heard of this happening, I suspect the tax implications are a big deterrent), you should inquire what their policies are on XYZ, rather than asking for it immediately. The will either tell you, our policy is blahblah, or "we can talk about this."
posted by cushie at 1:08 PM on December 3, 2011

I spoke to my (graduate school's) university's Dean of Faculty about this. The web has some good resources.
posted by quodlibet at 2:09 PM on December 3, 2011

There were supposed to be 2 links - here is the other, sorry.
posted by quodlibet at 2:10 PM on December 3, 2011

One very important thing to ask about is whether startup funding expires. At some public universities, you might have to spend it all in two or three years; at private institutions it can turn into a slush fund for a rainy day if you manage to bring in other funding.

In my case, the negotiation was really between the department chair and the dean (it's in the chair's interest to bring as much money as possible to the department, so this can be a good thing). I actually ended up with more than I initially requested - I probably hadn't asked for enough!

I'd ask anyone you know who recently got a job what their startup package was like (at least in rough terms). It varies a lot from field to field, and (at least in astronomy) by about 50% from institution to institution (i.e., a typical package at an R1 university in astronomy might be $500k, a low one $250k, a high one $750k). There are other fields (e.g. condensed matter physics) where the norm is at least twice as large (and the grants are commensurately larger). Deans look at startup as an investment, and (at least in the sciences) they expect to see a return on what they are putting in.
posted by janewman at 3:53 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Caek, is a $70 book from 1997 THAT much better than the various other similar books on the subject? Not trying to be snarky, but asking if it is worth it.
I wouldn't pay $70 for that book, no. I wouldn't pay $70 for any book though.

I'm not just focussed on the U.S. market, so I found bits of it of rather limited use. And I'm not sure to what extent some of the more specific lab/student advice translates to the humanities. But it does seem to be the default recommendation and people whose advice I trust do recommend it. The chapter on negotiation is very good. Absolutely worth a trip to the library for.
posted by caek at 4:12 AM on December 4, 2011

Also worth checking out the job negotiation chapters of A PhD Is Not Enough: A Guide to Survival in Science. Again, most of this book will not apply to you. But it was rewritten very recently, it's extremely short and readable (unlike Tomorrow's Professor), and I literally cannot recommend it enough for anyone in the sciences.

For you, I would again say certainly worth a trip to the library. It's only 160 pages, so if you skip the chapters about whether to work in academia or a government lab, etc., you could get through it in a couple of hours.
posted by caek at 4:18 AM on December 4, 2011

I second cushie in being careful about asking for "other stuff." I've seen some of the more unusual requests continue creating bad feelings with other faculty members, and get trotted out as examples of the lack of collegiality of the faculty candidate (or fellow faculty member, if the person is offered and accepts the job).

Beyond the major categories you have listed, the "other stuff" becomes institution- and department-specific. For example, a private university may pay a lower salary than a private institution, but have generous tuition assistance benefits for family members as part of the standard package. In general, the impression I have gotten is that public institutions have much more standardized packages and less room for negotiation.
posted by needled at 7:52 AM on December 4, 2011

Tomorrows professor was a serious project undertaken by a stanford engineer in which he interviewed, over a period of years, dozens of different fauclty members about every aspect of the job hunt and new professor's life.

It is an amazing resource - if you don't want to buy it, get it from a,library......(says someone who is on his 2nd tenure track job as an associate prof!).
posted by lalochezia at 9:54 AM on December 4, 2011

Best answer: Some key points:

Now is the time to ask for things, in writing, although as tomorrow's professor notes, this is not like negotiating the purchase of a car, where you try to get the most up front and screw the dealership. These will be your colleagues, and if you come in 'big swinging dick', you will be remembered as such.

However, if you ask for NOTHING or too little, a) if they know it's too little, they wont respect you and b) whether they know what 'enough' is or not, you will be doing everyone a disservice; you wont have the tools you need to be productive and get tenure, which, unless you are at a crazy department, EVERYONE wants you to be the person who gets tenure.

All your requests should be couched in terms of the success of your teaching and scholarship.
posted by lalochezia at 9:59 AM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

State schools don't have a lot of wiggle room on salary (and none on benefits packages or tuition waivers) but there are things your department may be able to offer that make the transition easier. One thing to consider would be asking for a course reduction in the first year/semester to get your research off the ground. This is something that can happen at the department level.
posted by media_itoku at 1:16 PM on December 4, 2011

Lalochezia's point is an important one. "I Need This to do My Research" is not collegial; "Having this will help my research make the greatest possible contribution to the department" is, even if you're asking for exactly the same thing. A surprising number of people think (and articulate their thoughts) only in the former terms.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 1:47 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Other tips I've learned along the way:

- remember that salary is everything - your first salary is what all future salaries are tied to, as well as summer teaching salary and retirement, so it should be the primary focus of negotiations

- that being said, salary is taxed, so the other stuff might be more valuable because of the lack of taxes

- find out exactly what is included in startup, computer purchases and furniture and stuff
posted by k8t at 6:48 PM on January 6, 2012

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