By Erin Walsh, PhD
You’ve landed an interview, and the faculty hiring committee likes you! Now how do you negotiate for your dream job?
This June, Dr. James Gould, Director of the Office for Postdoctoral Fellows at Harvard Medical School, led a webinar that introduced the concept of negotiation and provided strategies for negotiating a job offer. In this recap of Dr. Gould’s webinar, I summarize the elements of negotiation, negotiation styles and outcomes, and specific items to negotiate for academic positions.
Dissecting the Elements of Negotiation
Negotiation is the process that leads to an agreement. According to Dr. Gould, much of our negotiating style is “instinctive.” He explained: “Every day is a negotiation. You are in negotiations from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep—negotiating with yourself, with others, for resources, for time, for money…”
Understanding the elements of negotiation and being mindful of how they change throughout the process can help you identify which parts are in your control. Each person involved in a negotiation has their own positions and interests—what they want and why. They also have different relationships with each other, possibly preexisting, which can steer the course in one way or another.
Options are the possible outcomes, or what is “on the table” for negotiating, based on each person’s interests. If parties can’t reach an agreement on one set of options, there is the contingency plan of BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). These are additional/outside options that are available to you, such as a job offer from a different institution. Also affecting a negotiation is commitment, a measure of each person’s ability to implement the options agreed upon. For example, if you’re offered a specific salary, does the department have the funds to provide what they have promised?
Less subject to change in a negotiation are the objective criteria, a set of standards that keeps outcomes fair, such as Kelley Blue Book car values, or average starting salaries for assistant professor positions.
According to Dr. Gould, the aspects of negotiation you can influence include the time and place of a negotiation (do you think best in the morning?), your frame of mind, your level of preparedness, and your approach to negotiation, including:
- Using neutral language
- Asking for clarification
- Staying focused on your goals
- Assessing progress of the negotiation
- Changing your negotiating style as needed (see next section)
Negotiating Styles and Outcomes
The outcome of a negotiation is dependent upon the negotiating styles of the people involved, which tend to reflect their relationship (real or perceived) with each other. Below are possible negotiation outcomes, which reflect the balance of the final agreement.
|Outcome||Negotiating Style||Example Situations|
Relationship is high priority to both, time usually not a factor, needs to be trust
I win–you lose
Relationship is low priority to me, something is not negotiable, immediate results needed
Both win/lose some
Time is limited, both are willing to give something up in order to achieve something else
I lose–you win
Relationship is critical to me, I am in a weaker position in the hierarchy
I lose–you lose
Emotions are involved, the issue isn’t a priority, or someone is unprepared for negotiation
Tackling a Negotiation in Academia
The Pre-Negotiation Self-Assessment
Before you get to the “negotiation table,” Dr. Gould stressed the importance of self-assessment—something you should continue doing every few months throughout your career. Take inventory of your experience, interests, and principles (Check out the box to the right for example questions to ask yourself).
After assessing your skills, interests, and principles, consider the job logistics that will come up during a negotiation. Dr. Gould recommends thinking about your initial terms, transition timing, and transition activities before heading into a negotiation.
Your initial terms are your starting point. You will identify the type of job you want, your target field of work, and the geographic region you desire. Dr. Gould recommends being flexible on location (if possible) because “this is only your first next position.”
After you settle on your initial terms, you will need to think about when to start the job search. If you start too early, you might not be able to commit if offered a job. But if you begin too late, you might be without a position when your current training ends. Ideally, allow for multiple application cycles, and keep in mind how much time is needed to finish a project or publication.
Next, you will need to make an exit plan, which requires negotiation with your mentor. Be ready to discuss the projects you will finish or take with you, publication goals, and any potential for future collaboration. Keep in mind that academic job applications are six to 12 months out, while non-academic jobs usually fall three to six months ahead of start dates. During the interim, plan for interviewing time, both in phone and on-site (travel time required).
The Job Offer Negotiation
What options are on the table when you receive an offer, and how do you negotiate them? Dr. Gould suggests that understanding why they want you—better yet, need you—is a good place to start. He describes this as “reviewing the environment.” Identify and discuss potential collaborations, shared equipment, teaching needs, and research visions. Follow up with your future colleagues (including recent hires) to learn about work culture and typical starting salaries or packages.
When you get into the nitty-gritty of negotiating, Dr. Gould mentioned several negotiation points that you will likely encounter, including:
- Alternatives to salary
- Starting package
- Quality of life
Dr. Gould recommends letting your prospective employer offer the first number during salary discussions. If they insist, refer to objective criteria. The typical starting salary at many research institutions is public information, and usually $75-$90,000 annually (but not very negotiable). For jobs in industry, consulting, and science administration, you can refer to job searching sites like Glassdoor, but annual salaries usually start at $85-$100,000 (industry), $100,000+ (consulting), and $60-$100,000 (science administration). If you are asked what you expect to earn, provide a salary range 10% above and below your target.
Negotiating alternatives to salary
Salary is not always negotiable, particularly in academia, nor is it always the most important issue. Other considerations include:
- Your core interests and principles (remember to self-assess every few months!)
- Geography (cost of living)
- Rate of promotion
- Growth opportunities
- Management opportunities
- Signing bonus
- Professional development
Negotiating the starting package
The starting package at an academic research institution is usually a two to five-year financial commitment and is intended to support you until you receive a major grant.
During negotiation, Dr. Gould encourages you to consider the type of equipment, space, and reagents you will need for your lab, taking into consideration the shared departmental equipment, core facilities, and other resources that are available. You should have a general idea of your required budget for each set of costs, including the salary and benefits for personnel. Department-provided administrative support, time and money for trainees, and training grant opportunities are also important considerations. Check out these helpful resources for information on academic salaries (https://data.chronicle.com/) and cost of living (https://www.nerdwallet.com/cost-of-living-calculator).
Negotiating quality of life
While many aspects of a new job can affect quality of life, Dr. Gould highlighted a few topics common to academic positions. In particular, he emphasized the importance of negotiating teaching load and establishing if teaching time is protected. He also reminded the audience to confirm when the tenure clock starts and if pausing the clock is an option. Institute or departmental service and committee requirements are also important factors to negotiate. Don’t forget, just like money, you must also budget your time.
Other miscellaneous items likely to arise during job offer negotiations include your start time, moving expenses, housing allowances, and job placement for a spouse or significant other.
As postdocs, we devote a significant amount of time developing ourselves into competitive job candidates. But when the time comes, will you know how to negotiate your way into your ideal career? Hopefully with a few of these helpful tips from Dr. Gould, you’ll be on your way to a win-win negotiation.