Friday, May 21, 2010

Negotiations, Part 2: What to Ask For

False advertising warning: the following post is not a totally definitive guide to what to ask for when you're hired. These are reflections based on my own experience, and so I hope my commenters have some other ideas to contribute.

Bear in mind as well that this post is written from the perspective of a single person with no partner, no kids, so your mileage may vary. If you're trying to wrangle a position for a partner, then everything else changes. Likewise, if you're trying to move a family, and make sure you're in a good school district, then you will really need to focus on relocation provisions. With those caveats in mind, here goes:

Yes, you can ask for more: First of all, as I mentioned in the last post, your most important negotiating moment comes when you are offered the job. But if you're like I was, you're just so happy to have a tenure-track offer that you're not willing to push, either because (1) you're afraid to lose the job, or (2) because you think that they've done enough by offering you a TT job at a decent wage, and you don't want to come off as greedy or ungrateful. A couple of things to remember: (1) Unless you're asking for a private jet and a personal masseur -- in other words, for things that make you sound like you'd make an insufferable colleague -- the chair or dean or the person you're talking to knows that negotiations are part of the process. Negotiations should be completed in a timely manner, but a reasonable employer isn't going to rescind your offer just for asking for something. (2) See #1: they know this is part of the process. BUT... also recognize when you're being offered a good deal, and don't negotiate a point for the sake of doing it. For example, if your suitor-institution has a 4-4 teaching load, and you're offered two years of 2-2 teaching, pushing for more course releases might be a misuse of your negotiating capital.

Take your time (but not too much): Most places will want no more than two weeks to elapse between offer and final decision. Try not to drag it out. On the other hand, if they say, "we need a decision in three days " (as one school did to a good friend of mine), something's going on there. Taking a job is a huge decision, and a commitment for a big change in your life. Don't let yourself be stampeded into it.

What I asked for: I asked for the library to purchase a subscription to a critical bibliographic database that I needed for my research (and that students could also use); I also asked for a one-semester junior sabbatical to work on the book. I got the database. But I also got two years of a reduced courseload that was part of my original offer. Still, I could have done better...

What I might have asked for: And here we have a list of things that you might consider when negotiating. No one person needs to ask for all of these; it depends on your offer, the institution type, and any number of other things. This is just a list of ideas:
  • Relocation expenses. Seriously, you may not think that moving yourself and your grad student furniture is a big deal (if you're like I was, you did it every 12-18 months anyway), but moving cross-country is another ballgame. Check out moving companies' rates -- how much will it cost a company to load, drive, and unload it? Then, see if you can get enough to wholly or partly cover a short apartment-hunting trip as well. My employer was pretty generous in this regard, but that was part of the offer, not something I negotiated for.
Welcome to your new home!
(seriously: don't rent without seeing it for yourself)

  • More money. Most institutions will probably start you at the middle of the range of what they'd planned on offering; sometimes you'll be lowballed; almost never will the opening offer be the very top. If you can ask for even $1,000 more a year, that adds up over the course of a career, where raises are based on percentages of a previous year's salary.
  • More resources. If you're in the sciences or social sciences, you're likely to need equipment and/or lab space. Science-y commenters can expand on this, I think, but my instinct is that it's better to ask up front for whatever you think you'll need over the next 5 years to further your research and that of your students. I've seen friends try to get lab equipment mid-career, and it's very difficult, especially in tight financial times. If you're in the humanities, think in terms of book/journal/database purchases for the library. That one little database I got from my pathetic negotiations costs only $600 a year, but it's essential to my work, and that of my advanced students. If you're at an R-1 (or whatever they call it these days), they expect you to want research resources. Go for it.
  • Likewise, start-up funds. This is linked to the previous point. If you're in a field that needs equipment, your start-up funds are what buys that equipment. Make sure you have enough. If you're in the humanities, your start-up funds can pay for research travel. Do you have enough to support you for, say, a one-month research trip to exotic foreign lands? Or, if you're an Americanist, can you get enough to pay for a full summer of jetting around from one archive to another all over the country? (Again, for the record, I used my funds stupidly.)
  • Course releases. This point is probably less applicable to SLACs. Your first two years are going to be difficult, as you write new syllabi, and get used to the mountains of paperwork. If you can get a few courses off for your first 2-4 semesters, this lets you get going. Of course, the trick is that you have to show that you're using that time -- not just for research, but to develop new courses.
I think this is about all I can think of off the top of my head -- basically, "stuff I wish I'd thought of when I had the chance." Other opinions?


Dr. Crazy said...

I'd only add that you can negotiate for things that don't cost any money at all, but that make your quality of life better. So let's say you ask for course releases (which cost the university money) and they say no. You can then go back to them and negotiate things like course schedule and what courses you will teach over your first two years (getting sections in particular semesters, teaching repeat courses, etc.), which do give you time and help with your research, while they don't actually cost anybody anything. Along those lines, you can also make office space part of your negotiations - requesting a certain kind of desk chair/desk, an office with a window (or if that's impossible, one of those SAD lamps, if you crave natural light), etc.

Other things that you can/should negotiate for that didn't make it to Notorious's list:

1) computer equipment. If you'd prefer a Mac to a PC; if you want a computer with particular graphics capability, extra memory, certain programs.... now's the time to ask.

For what it's worth, my negotiations when I first started got me 1 course release in my first semester, a guarantee of course distribution (sections, repeat courses) and scheduling preferences, relocation expenses, the computer I wanted, and more salary. I felt like I should have asked for more, but after consulting with others who were hired with me who did ask for more, they ended up getting about what I got. I think I just "guessed right" about what was negotiable, but that always makes one think that one should have asked for more :)

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Thanks, Dr. Crazy. ABSOLUTELY on the computer equipment -- that was part of everyone's hiring package, so I didn't think of it. You need a computer and a printer, minimum. Get the newest you can, because getting an upgrade can be difficult. Also, you can ask for software you need, but you may need to explain what you need it for.

Janice said...

If you are being hired at a unionized faculty, it's not bad to get a look at the collective agreement. That'll give you an idea of what's available. For instance, my university automatically covers relocation expenses for new hires to the tenure-track. There's also a course release for new hires who are X years or fewer into academe. These are all specified in the contract.

Even so, there's wiggle room for things such as start-up expenses and library resources. Better to ask and, depending on your hire category and institution, you can often emphasis how these will be useful to other researchers/students.

kfluff said...

I'd second the computer, and I might also add software. If you use any kind of specialized and expensive software, don't assume that the university will a) already have a site license or b) hand it over later. It's taken me a few years to get the stuff that I needed.

Also, you might ask for additional professional development funds, if you plan on going to a couple of conferences per year, or you regularly go to one abroad; or if you need your book indexed. All of this might already be covered, but if it isn't, this kind of thing can add up.

Ewan said...

Ask for everything you can think of; get it in writing. All else is detail :).

Seriously: unless you get the sense that the offer is very fragile - and as far as I can tell, that's never the case - then you have almost nothing to lose by asking. The *only* case I know where I thought someone went too far is a colleague who, after accepting in writing, went back *three* times to ask for more stuff - had she been upfront and thought it through initially, no problem.

Be prepared to justify - also in writing - the need for anything that's not obvious to someone who knows nothing of your field; but the personal bits (salary, funds for members of your research group, space, computers, yadda yadda) have no reason at all to be lowballed on your end, and every reason - as noted - not to be.

Having multiple offers obviously helps both give negotiating strength and a sense of the ballpark. But in general, framing things such that 'this is what I need to succeed and be a happy faculty member' is likely to get your chair and probably your dean on your side.

It's been said many times, but bears infinite restating: this is your *only* time of negotiating strength for at least the next several years. Use it. That power vanishes as *soon* as you commit; get everything IN WRITING before then. If it is not in writing, it WILL NOT happen, regardles of who promised what verbally.

[The overall package size obviously varies hugely by discipline; the expensive neuro startup I asked for would be silly coming from a scholar of modern Scandinavian lit or whatever. But there are good numbers available for guidelines; and if all else fails, ask your prospective colleagues, who have everything to gain by you getting a good offer (because the they have leverage for their own renegotiations!)

Ewan said...

p.s. For context, my negotiation process increased the initial salary offer by ~55% and the startup package by ~100%. I suspect that's an outlier, but then I think this kind of negotiation game is fun and play them competitively in my leisure time :). Still, I would be surprised if you were ever not *expected* to negotiate, and hence an initial offer were intended to be take-it or leave-it.

AmandaR said...

A somewhat late comment here, but I'm a frequent reader who is also a librarian. I just wanted to stress that you absolutely should make sure the library has the databases/resources you need, and if not, push for their purchase. I'm so glad to see you mention this.

Sometimes the library will already be aware of the lack, and the arrival of a new faculty member can help us make the case for special support money for something we know will be used. Everybody wins!