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Preparing to Negotiate an Academic Job Offer

Submitted by peryan79 October 10, 2012

If you have been following our Calendar for Career Success, October is the month to prepare yourself to negotiate a job offer.  Because the preparation for negotiating an academic position versus a non-academic position is so divergent, we are going to cover them in separate blog posts.  This week, we will give a brief overview of how to prepare for negotiating academic job offerings.  For more in-depth information, watch the videocast or view the slides from the latest OITE workshop on negotiating an academic job offer.

As you prepare to interview for academic jobs, it is important that you are preparing to negotiate an offer for those positions as well.  Often times the initial negotiation occurs verbally during or shortly after your interview(s).  You may be asked to provide information regarding your needs before the institution is willing to make you an offer.  Thus, it is important that you do your homework and be prepared to know what is reasonable.

Research what a typical offer looks like.   On-line databases can be a good place to start, but you need “real-world” data as well.  Many state universities publish salaries of current faculty.  Also, the Association of American Medical Colleges salary surveys are great resources for knowing your worth.   For those at the NIH, the OITE has the AAMC book that we welcome you to come in and use.  If you are outside the NIH, check to see if your institution has an online subscription to the AAMC web site.  Then you will need to determine your three salary numbers:  Ideal, acceptable and unacceptable.

Understand all the components of an offers. Is your salary is for a 9-month of 12-month appointment? Most 9-month salaries are paid over 12 months, but the duties associated with that salary (e.g. teaching), might only be for 9 months of the year.  You will want to ask if there are realistic ways to find support for the summer months to supplement that salary?  Is it a base salary with the possibility of bonuses?  Will the salary be fully supported by the university?  If not, how much will you be expected to provide from grants and when?  What about insurance (health, life, disability, etc.), retirement plans, sick days, vacations, holidays?  Almost all Universities have a standard benefits package, but you will want to know the details of that package to know if you will need supplement it on your own if it does not meet your needs.

Know the difference: Need vs. Want.  For both salary and your start up package, you need to clearly distinguish your wants from your needs.  If your research projects require certain equipment, your package needs to include money to purchase those, or provide written access to the equipment.  Know the cost of consumables and personnel.  Understand that the cost of doing your work will vary between institutions.  You need to know the costs associated with that particular institution.  Clearly define for yourself what is a “must have”, what can wait and what you could do with out.

Consider the perspective of the hiring institution.  As with any negotiation, you will need to have a sense of how the other side of the table views things.  Is the department, school, or university financially healthy?  If there economic situation is not strong, they may have less flexibility in their offer and you will need to be prepared for that.  Have they hired a lot of new faculty lately?  Have they had a lot of faculty leave?  How will these factors affect their willingness or ability to negotiate?

Practice! – While you cannot mock up exactly how a negotiation will go, you can work on sounding professional and confident.  Practice oral presentations of your salary requirements, start up needs and desired benefits.  Then, work on crafting written requests for each.  Also, consider possible questions they may ask you and possible responses you may hear to your requests in negotiations.  This will allow you work on responding in a direct and professional manner.

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