Advice on Salary Negotiation and Benefits, Part I

Advice on Salary Negotiation and Benefits, Part I

Right now I am sitting in my hotel room taking a little bit of a break from a conference I am attending. For most academics, conferences are a way to see old friends, find some interesting new research, go to interesting places and get rejuvenated. Whenever I leave a conference I am ready to go back to work because of the smart people I am surrounded by.

This morning I was on a panel with a group of distinguished scholars and we were giving advice to future colleagues who were going out on the job market. Each one of us had a specific topic to cover. The advice given by my other colleagues was fantastic and I hope we memorialize those thoughts and ideas to a larger pamphlet, article or something for future graduate students.

I chose the task of giving some advice and tips on negotiating salary and some benefits. I guess you could say that over the past few years I have become almost an evangelist on trying to get others in academia to talk about the dreaded subject of money. It is not something that people like to do in any profession, but I think it is high time we start thinking and talking about it. Particularly, because a lot of people who get their MA, MBA, MS, EdD, Ph.D, or MD have some student loan debt and if you do work in academia you are certainly never going to make a ton of money. You won’t starve, but this is not a job to become an instant millionaire.

Perhaps, one of the reasons my academic friends don’t like to talk about it is because we are supposed to do this job for the love of knowledge, student interaction, helping others, making the world a better place, etc. According to those friends, teaching and researching is a calling. It isn’t a normal profession.  We do it because we love it and money is a secondary issue. Well all of that is true to some extent. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I am privileged every day I go to work. I work with some excellent colleagues. I enjoy my administrative friends. I have great support. I have a pretty darn good work environment all around. However, this is still just a job. It is NOT my life. My life is with Mrs. ROB, my friends, my family, exploring other places, and satisfying my interests. Now I am lucky enough to have a job that allows me to do those things. I get to have my curiosities satisfied, learn new things, be surrounded by brilliant colleagues who inspire me with their teaching, research, and service. So much so that I often self-flagellate myself that I don’t do as good of a job as they do (a personality quirk I am working on). That being said. This is still just a job. For some of my colleagues, I think that it is hard to wrap their head around that idea. Money shouldn’t be something we talk about they say. However, I also hear so many of my colleagues struggle financially, particularly if they are adjuncts, that it is high time we start talking about money.

Now there are all kinds of subjects to cover (e.g. salaries, adjunct overload, etc). Those are posts for other times and other places. What I want to do publicize the tips I think can be useful for people, particularly academics, who are going to be going onto the job market, especially if this their first time. This list certainly is not exhaustive and if other people have ideas I would be more than happy to post them in this post! Please share!

Considerations for Salary Negotiation

So this conversation about negotiating salary and other items was started because a few months ago Inside Higher Ed published a story about a professor in philosophy who was attempting to negotiate salary, benefits, and other concessions with her potential future institution. Well, she submitted some provisions for the search committee to think about. Based upon her provisions the committee promptly rescinded her offer. They didn’t give her a chance to negotiate, respond, whatever. You can read about the story here.

The person who posted this e-mail conversation generated a bunch of controversy over the job offer, their rescinding the offer, negotiating, etc. And it got me to thinking about what people who are in a similar situation should think about. Now these tips are primarily for academics, but I think can apply in other places as well.

Tips for Negotiation:

  • Know the kind of institution you are working at. Different institutions have different academic cultures. Some might emphasize teaching more, some might focus on research, some might not allow you to negotiate at all. Personally, I think the person negotiating the initial offer, who was the impetus for our panel, didn’t understand the kind of institution she was dealing with.
  • Know what kind of faculty culture you have. Are you going to a place that is unionized? Are you going to a right to work state? Will you have the ability to potentially negotiate a higher salary down the road if you were to get another offer later in your career?
  • How do you know if the offer is fair or not? Two ways to find out is if you get an offer from a public institution of higher education most of the time salaries are public domain. In other words, you can google public salaries for that state and find out what a professor is making. My advice would be to go to that particular institution, find someone who is a fairly new faculty member, and see what they make. Then use that as a baseline to negotiate.  If it isn’t a public institution, there are faculty surveys done each year for different academic disciplines. Check out what those surveys are for your discipline.
  • Keep in mind however that they will be different across the country. You will most likely not get the same kind of salary boost living in an urban environment as you would say if you lived in a rural part of the country. And you probably don’t need to because the cost of living there is lower.
  • Whatever kind of salary or other benefit you negotiate make sure that you JUSTIFY IT. In other words, you must provide a reason as to why you need extra money for travel or a higher salary or whatever it might be. Provide specific reasons why. Most of the time, as long as its reasonable, people are more than happy to negotiate. Perhaps, you need some new software or a different kind of technology because of what you are teaching. As long as you justify it, most administrators will try to find a way to help.
  • I suggest that you don’t ask for more than 10% of the salary offer that is made. I have heard others who argue for higher numbers, but unless you justify it you often don’t get it. You can ask for a bit higher, but remember these institutions have budget constraints.
  • Not everything is up for negotiation. There are some things that are out of the control of who you are negotiating with. Sometimes they may not be able to give you a different course (because of scheduling) or leave time (might be part of a union contract). This is why you have to arm yourself with knowledge of the institution, some of its policies, etc. You have to do some due diligence as the potential job seeker.

I will stop there for now, but in my next post I have some thoughts about looking at benefits that might provide people some helpful information in deciding about future employers and what one should do if/when they accept a job offer.



2 thoughts on “Advice on Salary Negotiation and Benefits, Part I

  1. Would you say that university salaries are easier to negotiate due to the information available? I would think pension and insurance would be a large benefit for public universities.

    1. Excellent question. I think it is easier to negotiate salaries at a public university. Although, their are salary surveys done of different types of institutions every single year that a job candidate can look at. In my case, I only got to negotiate my starting salary at my current institution. For example, a couple of years ago I received another job offer. When I tried to negotiate a higher salary with my current institution they said it was not allowed because of our union contract. I stayed at this job because they were paying me more money anyway and future income prospects were much better. I was also able to negotiate some fringe benefits that weren’t governed by our union (e.g. I received a bit more travel money for a little while to get me to stay and that travel money allowed me to go to different international conferences). That said, other states have different kinds of set ups with universities (e.g. right to work states). I am not saying you can renegotiate your salary constantly. You can’t. However, if you were to receive another offer from another job or other state they may have more flexibility in giving you more money or some other type of benefit. It depends on the type of institution, state, and situation. That is why my first piece of advice before negotiating is understand what kind of institution you are receiving a job offer from because each types has its own restrictions, quirks, etc.

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