Negotiating a Faculty Job Offer

You need to endure a little awkwardness to get issues clarified and the terms you need, write Cheryl Reed and Dawn M. Formo.

April 11, 2012

"If nothing else, know that you can and should negotiate your job offer."

              --an interim dean of a college of business administration

The cover letters, CVs, and writing samples are behind you. You've survived Skype  interviews, campus visits, and teaching demonstrations. Your academic job search has gone especially well, and you have a really good feeling you are about to get an official offer to teach at a college or university. You are on the threshold of what most of us find to be the most socially awkward part of the job search process — the part that most mentors don’t discuss: negotiating with people who have what you desperately want. 

Thrilled to receive an offer to teach at the university level in this economy, in this job market, you may feel inclined to blurt out an enthusiastic, "Yes!" when the dean calls to offer you a position. We encourage you to resist the urge. With an offer in hand, you have a powerful opportunity to have a meaningful conversation about your entrance into academic teaching, one that we encourage you to use strategically. But don’t take our word for it. Here is what some recent, successful job applicants have told us.

  • "If I had only known, I would have negotiated my contract."
  • "Once I arrived on campus, it was quickly apparent to me that my most powerful moment in the institution was the time I sat with my unsigned contract in-hand."
  • "The contract is not only about in-coming salary.  It is about moving expenses and teaching and research tools that can help you become the teacher and researcher you intend to be."

Think about how much negotiating room you have as you consider that offer. Is this a tenure-track position? Is more than one candidate being hired for the same position? Is this a non-tenure-track position? Is it a renewable contract? Is this a community college tenure-track position? Of these options, the tenure-track position at university allows for the most room for negotiation. The public community college offer is governed by procedures, salary schedules, and minimum qualifications established at the state level, and many conditions and criteria have already been union-negotiated. Your negotiation at the community college level is more likely to be at the department level, focusing on committee assignments, scheduling logistics, and tenure committee membership.

Here are some things we encourage you to consider about that tantalizing offer:

1. Is the salary fair? Public institutions must make public their salaries, so you may choose to contact the system’s website or HR office for salary information.  For assessing fair salaries at public and private institutions, use the National Center for Education Statistics.

If the faculty are unionized, the union can usually offer assistance in helping you determine a fair salary and contract. Think, too, about whether the salary is adequate for you, personally. Even if a campus is offering you a fair salary in good faith, you need to make sure can live on what they’re offering.

2. Is there a benefits package? Medical and dental insurance for you, your family, and/or domestic partner? Retirement plans? Educational benefits for dependents? Request the details from Human Resources. At the community college level, this is one of the areas likely to be up on the website for public view.

3. What is the teaching load? Your contract should make clear how many courses you are required to teach each semester. At the university level, you may be able to request an adjusted teaching load as you develop new courses for the department.  For instance, in the first year, instead of a 4-4 load (four courses each semester), you might request a 3-3 or a 3-4 depending how many new courses you anticipate needing to develop. At research universities with significant expectations about publications or landing grants, lower teaching loads are normal, and you should ask for one that allows you to meet research expectations. Is winter or summer session teaching available? Required? At the community college, there may be an established number of hours you are expected to be on campus in addition to teaching and office hours.

4. Are start-up research funds available? Science faculty are often mentored on what to request to meet their lab needs in terms of both space and equipment.  While the research needs of humanities and social science faculty are often significantly less in terms of cost than that of our science colleagues, use this opportunity to think about what you need to continue your current research or to move forward with a new project. Will you have the office space you need? Is there special software you need? Do you need access to archival libraries in another city or country and travel funds to get there? What do you need to move forward with your research?

5. Are annual travel funds available? Will you have the resources you need to present your research at regional and national conferences? Chat with your prospective colleagues to find out what you should expect. Because the community college focuses on teaching, there are likely to be minimal funds available for travel even in good budget years. If travel is important to you, this is another moment to pause and consider whether the job on offer is a good fit.

6. Are relocation funds available? Some campuses routinely provide nominal moving funds; other campuses offer them only if candidates ask.  What will you need to get from one city to another? Across the state? The country?

7. Must you have your degree in hand when you arrive? If you are completing your M.A. or Ph.D. and have not yet set your defense date, make certain everyone’s expectations coincide.

If you feel awkward asking questions, we have two suggestions for you. First, try to answer as many of your own questions as you can now, while you’re waiting for the callback. Have a good idea of the conditions of employment on that campus and what it would mean to you and your living companions to accept that job. Second, if the offer comes for a job you fully intend to take, it’s fine to say, "My intention is to say yes. But I have a few questions first." A little social awkwardness now can pave the way for a smooth entry into your new career.

Congratulations on your new position!

Share Article

Cheryl Reed, who teaches at San Diego Miramar College, and Dawn M. Formo, who teaches at California State University at San Marcos, are the co-authors of Job Search in Academe: How to Get the Position You Deserve (Stylus).

Back to Top