In my first month in graduate school the new faculty in our department did a “How to get a job” seminar. They talked about their experiences, and one thing really stuck with me. Two of the new faculty said that many things were negotiable at our R1 university but salary was not. Our university took the average of three faculty salary surveys, added 10%, and that was the starting salary. I thought that was a cool system to keep things fair and equal between the new faculty. In fact, I thought it was so cool that I mentioned it to my advisor (who was not junior, and had been at two different institutions). He got a funny look on his face and just shook his head. “No, that’s not true.”
No, it wasn’t true. It was what the administration told new hires to keep them from asking for higher salaries. Some were more savvy, pushed back and made more money than the others who took the administration at face value. Those initial differences added up over time through raises which were all calculated as a percentage of starting salary. My advisor stressed one thing to me: Do everything you can to raise that number.
It turns out our administration was pretty ruthless in negotiations. As a graduate student I sat on a job committee and learned the start-up funds that were budgeted for each position at junior, associate, and full professor levels. Later, I learned that the administration offered junior hires less than half of what had been budgeted. Less than half! I’m sure the candidates tried to negotiate upwards but I don’t think most people would try to more than DOUBLE their start-up offer.
I am not sure how it works in other fields but in science you can negotiate start date, salary, space, research start-up funds (both the amount and what will be covered), teaching assignments and spousal positions. The institution usually starts with a one-size-fits-all offer.
In my experience, junior hires are pressured to not ask for more in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I caught this on a blog the other day “My second caution is to remember that your negotiations are something your colleagues will remember, as they are in many ways their first experience of you as a colleague. While you do not want to be a door-mat, do you want to be a prima-donna? Sending the message that “its all about me” may not be the way to put your best foot forward.” A friend of mine got the advice, “If the offer is decent, don’t ask for more. You don’t want to be that guy.” You know, that greedy junior hire who asked for the moon while everyone else was happy with their crappy salaries and pulled in huge grants after gratefully accepting their tiny start-up. I made the decision early on I didn’t want to be that girl. You know, the one that makes less than everybody else and will for the rest of her career. The one that couldn’t get her dream research going because of her meager start-up and settled for less.
Wait, but when do we negotiate?
I’ve negotiated two faculty positions- unfortunately, in two separate years- and both times I was left waiting for our “negotiations” to start. I got an offer over the phone, they told me I had X time to decide. But when am I supposed to ask for all the things I have been told to ask for? So I asked a friend who also had a job offer what he did. He looked at me with surprise and said “I just called the department head and asked. How are we supposed to do it?” So that’s what I did- I just asked. My initial requests were met with horror. The department head had never heard of anyone asking for more salary without a competing offer and had certainly never seen it granted. She made it clear she was shocked by my behavior and embarrassed for me. Public employees salaries are public record, so I looked hers up. Her salary for the past year was four times what they were offering me. I kept pushing.
The Dean did increase the salary. A member of the committee told me later- after I had already signed the contract- that the College has X amount of money to play with in salary negotiations. Guess how much I was able to raise my salary by? The same amount.
Unfortunately I couldn’t get them to put everything in my offer letter. Everything they wouldn’t put in was waived away with an “Oh, it will all be fine, you worry too much.” Some things turned out fine and some didn’t. For example, the lab space I was promised was taken away and I am still unsure of where my lab space will be and how it will be configured, which is pretty stressful. On the other hand, I got a major upgrade to my office space, my start-up is 20% higher than other positions and my salary is 5% higher. You win some, you lose some.
Things to think about
Academic negotiations are a squishy, weird thing. Universities are leery of lawsuits and everything happens verbally. That means your “negotiations” are discussions and if you are not assertive, your requests will get swept away. I’m not used to being assertive in conversations with people who are basically strangers, and I found the whole thing really difficult.
Get everything you can in the contract. In my case, the department head changed between my offer and my starting date so all those things we discussed… gone. Different department heads have different priorities. I thought I was safe because I had email exchanges but I was wrong.
Do your research. Some institutions have very limited resources, some do not. Consult salary surveys like the AAUP’s and start-up offers from sites like Wiki Ecology. If it is a public institution you can find salaries for current faculty in state databases. There is a culture in academics of not wanting to discuss numbers because it is shallow or crass. It’s not.
Focus on the long-term. A lot was made of the humanities candidate who had an offer pulled from Nazareth University because she tried to negotiate. I know a woman who had an offer pulled because she requested a position for her spouse, another woman who had an offer pulled because she was pregnant and requested to delay her start date to have her baby, and another woman who had an offer pulled because she couldn’t move her family by the start date. They ended up with better jobs at better institutions (the first also negotiated a tenure-track job for her spouse) but it took 2-3 more years on the market. I don’t know if this happens to men too and they just don’t talk about it. Ultimately I think you are better off searching for a job at a place that values you enough to at least try and accommodate your needs but finding that place may take a while.
Identify your priorities. Whether it be teaching assignments, space, salary or equipment there are going to be some things you can not live with or without. At the same time, you are probably not going to get everything you want so don’t feel like a sucker if you take some aspects as-is.
Understand that you are wanted. The administration usually wants to fill your position with a minimum of money, fuss and bother but the department really, really wants you. Your colleagues will be overjoyed to have you share the load and add to the social and intellectual life of the department.
It is very unlikely that other faculty will know any details. Once the department makes their decision and the offer goes out, the administration asks current faculty to bow out. This is meant to benefit the administration because they are the only ones with all the information. Use it to your advantage and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.
Today’s guest post was contributed by Professor in Training, a new assistant professor at a large public research university.