Most people who get an academic job offer aren’t sure how to negotiate their offer or if they even can. Unless you’re dealing with a PhD or postdoc offer, your job offer can be negotiated and the department expects that you will negotiate. Here’s how to ask and what to ask for.
When to Negotiate
Don’t try to negotiate until you’ve received the written offer. In most cases, the chair of the search committee will call to offer you the job before sending you the formal offer. Remain polite and gracious but do not accept the job yet until you’ve seen the full offer. You can tell the chair that you’re excited to be offered the job and are looking forward to reading and considering the whole offer. This is a pretty standard response and the chair will be understanding.
You should receive the written offer shortly as well as the deadline to accept. Be wary of a university that gives you a 24- or 48-hour window to accept. Review the offer to make sure it details the full compensation package (salary, benefits, retirement contribution, vacation etc.) Next, you should schedule a time to talk to the chair about the offer in more detail. This is when you will discuss all the terms you want to negotiate. Most people will advise you to negotiate in person, on Skype, or on the phone rather than over email. This allows you to get a better read on the room and know when to stop pushing.
Set Your Expectations
The most important thing to take into consideration when negotiating your offer is to make sure your requests are appropriate to the resources of the university and the norms of your field. There will be more room for negotiation at a major private university than a small, religious college. Likewise a physics professor will have higher start up funds than a linguistics professor. You should have a good idea of the university’s resources and the department’s needs after the interviews.
If you are negotiating an offer from a foreign university, remember that attitudes towards negotiation (plus the way we negotiate) differ across cultural lines. Find a trusted advisor in your network who has experience negotiating or working in that country to advise you on how to proceed.
Negotiating your salary should be your first priority, especially if this is your first faculty position. You starting salary will affect your future salary (both in terms of raises and if you move to another institution) so, if push comes to shove, forego other requests in favour of a higher salary. Over 30 years that extra couple thousand per year will really add up! Salary statistics are often available online for public universities, especially in Europe where national legislation sets the salary range for each type of position. A general rule of thumb is to ask for no more than a 10% raise expecting to negotiate down from there.
If you can’t make headway on the salary (which is often the case for non-permanent, contract positions) then turn to one time expenses. These include things like: start up funds, moving expenses, benefits, computer and software, job search assistance for your spouse, start date, a teaching release, professional organization membership fees, summer funding, travel support, or administrative support. Think about what is most important to you and talk to a mentor about what is reasonable for a position of this rank. You will rarely be able to negotiate for everything that you want. Be aware that the department will have financial and logistical limits that will cap your negotiations. If you try to negotiate above them, you risk alienating your future colleagues. Almost every departments expects a job offer to be negotiated, but you have to know when you’ve hit the wall.
Negotiating Multiple Offers
You do not need to have a competing offer to negotiate, but it can work in your favour. Keep in mind when you’re comparing offers that the institutions might not be able to offer equivalent compensation and resources. A teaching-focused university will want you to have a higher course load than a research-focused university. One university might be offering a larger salary because it’s in a major city with a higher cost of living. Deciding your negotiating priorities will help you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of both offers.
Another thing to keep in mind is that offers rarely come at the same time. You might be reviewing one offer while simultaneously waiting for another university to decide if they’re also going to make an offer. Be upfront with both universities. Tell the university that is still deliberating that you have received a competing offer and have to respond by a certain time. This might force them to speed up their decision making process. Departments understand that you might be juggling other offers and will be understanding if you need to extend the decision deadline. However, you should only ask for an extension if you are seriously considering accepting the offer.
The Final Steps
Don’t expect to hear back immediately about your requests. The chair of the search committee will likely not be able to say yes on the spot; they will need approval from the department, dean, or provost.
Once you and the chair have set terms that you both agree on, ask them to redo the offer letter to include the new changes you have negotiated before you sign it, or at least have them confirmed in an email.
If, after negotiations, the offer is still unacceptable turn it down in a timely manner.