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Preparing for Your First Job Offer Negotiation

An image of Heather Patton.
By Heather Patton
July 3, 2017
An image of a woman negotiating her new job offer.

Whether you are just starting your job search, or you already have an offer, it is important to go into the negotiation process well prepared. It is rare that a college would actively try to screw you over, but taking their first offer means potentially leaving money or other benefits on the table. If you prepare ahead of time, you will be able to negotiate with confidence – and maybe even get more than you originally expected!


Tip #1: Do Your Research

Before even applying for a position, you should do some basic research on the institution and where it is located. The more information you have about the school itself, the stronger your case will be when you negotiate later.

Here are some things you should find out before negotiating your job offer:

  • Research comparable salary ranges within the institution, other colleges in the area, and other colleges you’ve applied to. There are amazing resources online where you can find this information.
  • Is the job offer even negotiable? For example, if a union represents the faculty, there may be limitations to the salary or benefits they can offer. Also, if the school is struggling financially, they may not be able to offer the salary you want – but they might be flexible with teaching load or other aspects of your job to make up for it.
  • Research how much money you will need to cover your budget and living expenses! Many first-time faculty don’t consider rent/house prices before taking an offer, let alone other expenses like transportation, taxes, child care, savings, student loan payments, etc. Creating a budget will help you figure out your minimum salary you can live on, which should be the same as your “walk away” number.
  • Determine a salary range you are okay with, based on your current budget and your own financial goals. Stand firm on your minimum number – and know that it’s okay to walk away if the school won’t meet your minimum needs. It’s not worth taking a job that won’t pay the rent!


Tip #2: Create List of Job & Salary Priorities

Once you have determined a reasonable salary range, it’s time to consider all the other things that go into a job offer. Create a list of priorities that you will need to be happy in your job, and what things you are willing to bend on.

When creating a list of priorities, consider how important each of these will be for you:

  • Salary & Pay Scale Increases
  • Healthcare Benefits
  • Retirement Contributions & Benefits
  • Teaching & Research Load Requirements
  • Leadership Opportunities
  • Tenure Process
  • Research or Conference Funding
  • Tuition Reimbursement
  • Child or Spouse Tuition Covered
  • Summer Duties
  • Child Care On-Site
  • Moving Expenses
  • Partner Hires

It is a good idea to list 3-4 things you absolutely won’t bend on and stick to it. In a lot of cases, if an institution can’t give you the salary you want, they may be able to give you things on this list in exchange. For example, I have seen colleagues take a pay cut in exchange for using the college’s daycare for free, which in some cases is worth more than the difference in pay anyway!


Tip #3: Read Your Offer Letter Carefully

Once you have your offer letter, it is a good idea to read it over very carefully. Don’t just look at the salary number and accept/deny it – look at everything they are offering! You may not initially like the salary, but it may cover things like research supplies, conference expenses, and other things that will offset a lower salary. Go back to your priorities list, and determine if there are other things more important than the money. I also suggest having a trusted friend or mentor look over it with you to make sure you don’t miss anything.

However, if the salary and offer details aren’t what you are looking for, you will need to contact the dean or hiring manager and get down to business.


Tip #4: Negotiate With Confidence

Even if the offer letter is exactly what you wanted, it’s a good idea to at least attempt to negotiate for more. If you have done your research, you should feel confident in knowing what you’re worth and asking for it.

Depending on the size or type of school, you should ask for somewhere between 2% - 10% more salary than initially offered, and let them meet you somewhere in the middle. Also make sure you are prepared to defend your decision – why do you think you deserve more? What are you going to offer the school that shows you’re worth it? Even if you only get $1,000 more, it will add up to a lot more over the course of your career!

In addition to asking for more money, make sure you are honest and firm about the other things on your priority list. Let them know what’s important to you, and what you can bend on, before accepting an offer. It is also a good idea to get any non-salary changes in writing before accepting the offer; these are things a school can easily back out of once you’re hired!

Once you have an offer that both sides are happy with, it is up to you how long you wait to accept the offer – but be nice and give the school a time frame. If you’re not interviewing anywhere else, taking the weekend (or a couple days) to think it over is reasonable. If you’re still interviewing or negotiating, it’s up to you if you tell them that – but try not to leave them hanging for more than a week if possible. Not only do you have to plan your future, so do they – and if you wait too long, they may move on to another candidate!


Tip #5: Consider Getting Outside Help

Since you are new to salary and job negotiations, it’s a good idea to get outside help throughout the process. If you are a current student or recent graduate, consider asking your mentor or advisor for advice. You can even see if your department dean will meet with you – they can sometimes offer a great perspective of what it’s like from their side of things!

In addition to asking friends and colleagues for help, there are great online resources available to help you with your job search! Here at HERC, we have a 2-part seminar in July called “Tips for Negotiating Your Job Offer” that will walk you through the basics of negotiations and specific advice for higher education. It is a great option for those who need help entering higher education, whether you are a recent graduate or looking to change careers!


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Heather Patton is a writer, editor, and adjunct English instructor with 10 years of experience in helping her students become the best writers they can be. She has taught at Wright State University and Clark State Community College in Dayton, OH, and Seattle Central College in Seattle, WA. Her students often refer to her as “nice but expects a lot,” which she feels is a pretty accurate assessment of her teaching philosophy. She has an M.A. in English Composition and Rhetoric from Wright State University. When she isn’t grading papers or editing company websites, she is an avid hiker, voracious reader, and makes a mean banana bread. 

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