By Helen De Cruz & Marcus Arvan
We have now examined building a strong CV and research program, dossier materials (cover letters, recommendation letters, research and teaching statements, writing samples, and organizing one's CV), job-market consultants, cultivating an online presence, when and where to apply to jobs (including European and non-academic jobs), APA, Skype, British, and on-campus interviews, and managing the emotional ups-and-downs of the market.
In other words, we are almost (I think) drawing this series to a close--and I hope readers have found it helpful! Still, there are a few more topics to cover, including the subject of the present post: contract negotiations. Because Helen De Cruz and I have experience working at and negotiating with different types of institutions (she research schools and I liberal-arts schools), we thought it might be a good idea to co-author the post. So let us begin!
Negotiating your tenure track offer in a buyer's market
by Helen De Cruz
We've so far explored how to increase your chances on the job market, all the way up to the campus visit. It may seem tricky to negotiate an offer, especially in a buyer's market like it is now (and it seems unlikely to get better, with the large supply of adjuncts). The story of W, who got her offer rescinded while negotiating at a small religious liberal arts college is chilling indeed.
While rescinded offers are rare, skimpy offers are plentiful: offers where the starting salary is disappointing, where there are few niceties, and the school won't budge at all if you try to negotiate. In a market where hundreds of potentially qualified applicants can fill your position, there are increasingly many schools that say "here's our offer. Take it or leave it". Fortunately, there are still plenty of schools where negotiation is normal. Rough rule of thumb: the more prestigious the school, the more willingness/ability to accommodate negotiation. Small cash-strapped teaching-focused colleges are least able/willing to negotiate.
Principled negotiation: the basics
The classic negotiation handbook, Getting to yes (1981), provides an excellent introduction into the art of negotiation (in general, not just for jobs, and it also discusses power imbalances such as occur in job negotiations). Fisher and Ury introduce the concept of principled negotiation, or negotiation on merits.
Briefly stated, most people think in terms of positional negotiation - we each stake out an extreme position and hope to come to an agreement somewhere in the middle. Sometimes this works, but sometimes it just ends up antagonizing and may sour the negotiations. By contrast, principled negotiation takes not the negotiators but the situation into account: what is a fair offer, given the institution's situation and that of the candidate? In such negotiations, you need to press on what is a fair situation for you, rather than what you would like and hope they'd grant. You also need to take into account the realities of the school. For instance, suppose a small regional underfunded state school offers 45k as a starting salary whereas the average starting offer in philosophy for assistant professors in the US is, say, 65k. A suboptimal way to begin negotiations is to say "Well, 65k is the norm in the profession" or "[my top-Leiter-ranked department's] graduates have average starting salaries of xxxk", because the school won't be able match your request. There are also the salaries of associate professors there that you can't go over.
To get an idea about salaries, for state schools, you can often look up how much assistant professors at these institutions make. For other schools, you can use the AAUP's online salary survey (type in the school's name, and select as rank assistant professor). You can also use online tools such as Glassdoor (look up company, then hopefully find reported range of salaries under assistant professor). If that all doesn't work, you can ask people who might know (and who aren't your future colleagues!)
The Best Alternative to no Agreement (BATNA)
Crucial in Fisher and Ury is the concept of BATNA - the best alternative to no agreement. For example, if you have are negotiating with school A, and receive a competing offer from school B, your BATNA is to accept school B’s offer. It is useful to state your BATNA clearly for yourself to get clear on your negotiation goals and strategies, e.g., if you’d be willing to walk away if no agreement is reached, and for strategic purposes, i.e., disclosing your favorable BATNA selectively to your negotiating partner.
The BATNA matters greatly in negotiations. One real situation (salaries somewhat altered to preserve anonymity) was a cash-strapped state school in an area where state funding for universities had been recently slashed. There were two candidates who were offered jobs; both were offered a salary of about 50k. The first candidate had a competing offer, a 3-year VAP position with a 65k salary, and the second candidate had no other offers. The first candidate negotiated for a higher salary, and was granted a few thousand dollars/year extra. The second asked for the same, but did not get any raise (they just got the communication that the school just wasn't able to increase the salary - something they knew to be false, given they were familiar with the other situation).
When you have a favorable BATNA, you should always let them know, but be careful what to communicate. The strongest BATNA is if you've got a competing offer, because it also shows your desirability. Do not reveal the school (right away), and do not reveal the offered salary at the other school. A bit less good but still good is if you've got a few years more on your postdoc or VAP—in my experience, though, a not-so-good offer ends up with the candidate rejecting the offer rather than the school ameliorating the offer, so perhaps my assessment of this is not how schools see it. When it's still very early in season and you've got an on campus, you can mention the several other first-round interviews you've got scheduled, to let them know another offer might be forthcoming. I knew someone who did this, but the skimpy offer was not increased, so I'm not sure if this really helps. If your BATNA is bad (i.e., no income), don't mention it.
While a good BATNA might help your negotiations go well for you, you cannot turn a skimpy, unattractive offer into a golden offer. What you can expect at most is to sweeten a deal you already like.
What to negotiate for
This depends very much on your priorities. Even a small salary increase can be dramatically amplified later on, so if getting a good income from your labors is a priority for you, this is what you would need to focus on. Common wisdom is to not negotiate beyond 10% increase of the annual wage. Teaching load, teaching preps, Summer research money, summer teaching, pre-tenure sabbaticals, university childcare, office (not always automatically included!) are other possibilities. In my European mindset, it is disconcerting that American female colleagues need to negotiate maternity leave (which is protected, paid, fixed by law, and at least 14 weeks in all European countries, to my knowledge), but such is life, and if you contemplate having children it is good to negotiate for, to the extent that the school has no fixed policies for this. Always check on the university's HR website to see what policies they have for childcare, sick leave, maternity leave, pension etc etc so as not to waste resources on things you can already get in the standard package.
The spousal hire is also something Americans (but to my knowledge, not European) schools are sometimes willing to grant. What I've heard about the spousal hire is: schools with more remote, less densely populated geographical locations are more willing to accommodate academic spouses than schools on east or west coast densely populated areas. Spousal hires are tough to get, and basically eat up most of your room for negotiation. If you don't negotiate a position for your spouse now, don't expect it will happen later (however, I have seen it happen, but don't count on it. Ask for a tenure-track position for the spouse, and be skeptical about offers that they'll be given some adjuncting, and a position once one opens up. It hardly ever happens. So if you are part of an academic couple, now is the time (that is - once you've got a firm, written offer in hand) to bring up the spousal issue.
A note on European schools: there is in principle little to negotiate for. Maternity leave, holiday, research, teaching load, etc are all fixed. What is negotiable is the salary scale on which you are hired, and the step on the scale. Starting date is also usually negotiable. So in a European context, most of your negotiation will be about where to put you on the scale and step - which will affect your future salary increases and pension.
How to negotiate
When you hear from the school, never ever accept the position right away, but respond something like "Thank you for letting me know about this. I'm very interested in this position, and look forward to learning more about it." The standard is a 2-week window for decision (which may be important given competing offers, and which you might try to extend, but they do not always grant extensions).
Karen Kelsky recommends always negotiating by e-mail rather than phone, since you can think better how to phrase your requests. She also recommends having a collegial, friendly, not desperate or emotional tone. No need to justify yourself ("I really need a few summers of research funding, because…") but just ask. Set your priorities straight, and ask for the most important things first, e.g., an accommodation for your spouse, or salary increase, and only get to the other, saving less crucial parts of the negotiation for later, once you've set the priorities.
What if negotiations don't go well?
By this I don't mean a rescinded offer, which is rare but does happen, but an offer substantially below what you envisaged. I've heard from several people who negotiated with schools that offered skimpy starting salaries that the school did not budge at all on. In three cases I heard of, the candidate ended up walking away from the offer; in two cases without a safety net of a continued temporary job or competing offer. Keep in mind the following when contemplating to accept an offer you don’t like (1) How marketable are you? Did you get many interviews? Seek help from a trusted advisor. This will help you get some grasp on whether this is a unique opportunity, or whether you are better off waiting and seeing - especially if it is early in the season (2) It difficult to land a job, but also difficult to find another tenure-track position, so it's important you are happy in your first job.
Undeniably, there is a huge power imbalance in academia when it comes to negotiations, because there are so many candidates willing to step in the shoes.
Negotiating with Liberal-Arts Institutions
By Marcus Arvan
[Update/qualification: As one commenter helpfully notes below, my suggestions in what follows may not apply well to "elite" liberal-arts institutions, which place a strong emphasis on research. My suggestions, then, can perhaps be best thought of as food for thought on "non-elite" liberal-arts institutions that primarily focus on teaching].
Although I've never negotiated with a research institution, Helen's advice seems to me largely right when it comes to them. I've witnessed some hiring at research institutions, both in philosophy and other departments, and the short story with them is this: if they've extended you an offer, chances are they really want you. They think you will be the best researcher to add to their faculty--better than any other candidate--and so, chances are, you have some bargaining power in negotiations.
Alas, my experience is that things are a bit different with liberal-arts institutions, on a number of counts. On the whole, my experience is that Helen's following points are broadly right: "Rough rule of thumb: the more prestigious the school, the more willingness/ability to accommodate negotiation. Small cash-strapped teaching-focused colleges are least able/willing to negotiate." I would simply add that I don't think it's merely "small, cash strapped" teaching-focused institutions that are less willing to negotiate. Even well off liberal-arts colleges may be not-so-willing. For, as I will now explain, "the stakes" are different with liberal arts college.
As I mentioned above, if a research institution extends you an offer, chances are "you are their candidate." Chances are really want you, as they are trying their best to improve their research profile--and so, if they extend you an offer, the chances are good they will be willing to negotiate significantly. When it comes to teaching institutions, on the other hand, these same stakes (viz. wanting to hire a research "rock star") are simply not there. I've heard people on search committees at teaching-centered institutions say that when it comes to their top several candidates, "they are all people we would extend offers to." Hence the story of W that Helen mentioned above. You just don't have the same "negotiating power" with teaching-centered institutions as you do with research institutions--and it's important to be aware of it. You don't want to be the next W.
Second, there are certain things that you absolutely do not want to try to negotiate with teaching institutions: namely, more "research resources." Here were W's negotiation requests:
As you know, I am very enthusiastic about the possibility of coming to Nazareth. Granting some of the following provisions would make my decision easier.
1) An increase of my starting salary to $65,000, which is more in line with what assistant professors in philosophy have been getting in the last few years.
2) An official semester of maternity leave.
3) A pre-tenure sabbatical at some point during the bottom half of my tenure clock.
4) No more than three new class preps per year for the first three years.
5) A start date of academic year 2015 so I can complete my postdoc.
There are many things wrong with this attempt at negotiation. First, setting aside research, it asks for a salary increase (to $65,000) unrelated to the initial offer, just referring to "what assistant professors in philosophy have been getting in the last few years." Salaries differ greatly from university to university, and discipline to discipline within a university. The university's offer is what they are willing to offer to someone in your department--and so, even if they low-ball you, unless you have an offer from another college, you need to start there. I've read in many places that a 5-7% salary bump from an initial offer is standard to ask for. So, if you've been offered $45K, you should not attempt to negotiate $65K (as W did). You should only ask for about 7% more than what you've been offered. Sucks, I know, but absent a back-up offer, you just don't have negotiating power to ask for more. (Also, some institutions may tell you during on-campus interviews that their packages are union-negotiated, in which case you will also not be likely to get a salary bump).
More importantly, W made a really bad error asking for extra "research resources", such as a pre-tenure sabbatical and no more than three course-preps. These sorts of requests just won't fly at a teaching institution. Nobody gets those sorts of exceptions at teaching institutions--at least none that I'm aware of. Teaching institutions are looking for a committed teacher, and they typically have classes they need to teach (new course preps and all), whether you like it or not. Asking for teaching reductions and the like is a needless risk (one W paid for dearly). At best, you'll get an angry dressing-down from the person you're negotiating with. At worst, you'll have your offer rescinded (rare, I know--but, trust me, unless you have a competing offer, you probably don't want to risk it, if only for your own peace of mind!).
Finally, although Helen mentioned that Karen Kelsky recommends negotiating by email, I want to suggest that this is probably a bad idea with teaching institutions. The main rationale for negotiating by email (you can formulate your requests clearly, and without pressure) makes sense for research institutions. First, as I mentioned before, if you are extended an offer by a research institution, they really want you. Second, research institutions tend to be quite bureaucratic, and are accustomed to serious negotiations. Things are different with teaching-centered places.
I have to confess that I was a shocked when I read W's email--not just because W's demands seemed ill-suited to a teaching institutions, but simply because W negotiated by email. My initial reaction to this was strongly negative, as I was always "taught growing up" (by my father, who is a businessperson) that negotiating is something one should do in person, or at least over the phone. Although (apparently) this isn't true when it comes to research institutions--where, due to the bureaucratic nature of such institutions, negotiating by email is apparently okay (and, I expect, in other lines of work where one has great bargaining power)--I am fairly confident that negotiating by email at teaching institutions is a bad idea. Teaching institutions tend to be very personal types of places. They are places that tend to place emphasis on personal interaction--and simply sending an email can really rub someone at such a place the wrong way (as it did in W's case). Indeed, although I'm not an administrator, I can say--in all honesty--that it would really rub me the wrong way. And, as W's case indicates, these risks are very real. You can't "read" someone's reaction when you send an email. You can over the phone, or in person, where you can see how the person you are negotiating with is reacting.
In short, for better or worse, there are reasons to negotiate a whole lot more cautiously with teaching-centered institutions than with research institutions. As Helen notes, teaching centered institutions not only often (but not always) have fewer resources to negotiate. More importantly, the power dynamic and character of the negotiations are very different at teaching institutions. You don't have the same negotiating power, and so, absent a counter-offer from another institution, there are reasons to play it safe. A 5-7% salary increase is reasonable to ask for (though you might not get it). Beyond that? Ask at your own peril. I'm not suggesting not to try to negotiate with teaching-centered institutions--but there are reasons to think one should tread carefully when doing so.