Starting Off on the Right Track: Negotiating a Faculty Job Offer 

Courtenay A. Barrett, Ph.D. and Katie Maki, Ph.D.

The season of faculty searches is well underway, with on-campus interviews back in full swing even as additional positions continue to be posted. Getting an offer for an academic position is certainly thrilling, but for early career scholars, the negotiation process can also be daunting. There are many factors to consider when negotiating a start-up package (e.g., salary, start-up funds, graduate assistant support), but prioritizing those factors can be challenging and knowing which factors the university or college may support is often not clear. In addition, the process can vary from one institution to the next, and even within an institution. Simply put, context matters. To help demystify the negotiating process, we asked three senior scholars who are currently in administrative positions and engage in the negotiation process with incoming faculty: Randy Floyd (University of Memphis), Jeff Braden (North Carolina State University), and another administrator who responded  anonymously. 

Describe your institution (e.g., R1 institution, public vs. private) and role (e.g., department chair, dean) that influences how the negotiation process generally unfolds. 

Randy Floyd (RF): I am almost three years into service as a Chair of a Department of Psychology with 32 full-time faculty members. It includes APA-accredited doctoral programs in School Psychology and Clinical Psychology, a NASP-approved MA/EdS program in School Psychology, a doctoral program in Experimental Psychology, and a master’s degree in General Psychology. Our undergraduate majors include about 800 students. It is my 22nd year in this department, and I served as an Associate Chair for more than 5 years before entering this role. After decades of striving, my university achieved Carnegie R1: Doctoral Universities – Very High Research Activity status in 2022. The push toward this designation and newfound status have increased our emphasis on both (a) ensuring that new faculty have the necessary supports to achieve high levels of research productivity and grant funding during the pre-tenure period and (b) applying more structure to the distribution and spending of start-up funding.

Anonymous (AN): I am at an R1 University. The Dean has a formula that she uses for salary. The Department Head provides that offer to the candidate and the two of them negotiate. But essentially the Department Head is a middle person. All communications then go to the Dean.

Jeff Braden (JB): I am at an R1 University. I was Dean of Humanities & Social Sciences at NC State; our School Psychology program is in the Psychology Department (which I think makes startups much easier to negotiate).

How does your institution negotiate with potential faculty to establish the details of an offer? With whom do candidates negotiate (e.g., department chair, dean)? 

RF: This question is very important because which unit leader you negotiate with might very much shape your experience during negotiations. It’s usually the department head (a.k.a., department chair) or college dean who will make the offer and facilitate negotiations. I sense that deans are more likely to manage the negotiations in colleges of education (or the like), and department heads/chairs are more likely to handle the negotiations in colleges of arts and sciences (and the like). From my experience, department leaders will know potential teaching and service responsibilities better as well as expectations for your research area better (and what your research needs might be) than a dean will. On the other hand, deans will have broader knowledge of the needs of new faculty (e.g., peer support across the college as well as benefits) as they engage in negotiations numerous times each year, whereas this is not likely to be the case for most departments. 

In my department, candidates negotiate fully with the department chair (my position), and I consult with the college dean (of the College of Arts and Sciences) as needed. Following the full interview (and before an offer is made), I discuss general parameters of the potential offer with every candidate, and that sets up the discussion of specific requests after I make the offer.

AN: They negotiate directly with the chair, but the chair just communicates the request to the dean.

JB: The department head (chair) negotiates the terms of the offer unless there’s an issue requiring work with the provost’s office (e.g., a trailing spouse seeking employment in another college). A salary range may be submitted/approved when the job is posted by HR (but usually not). If a range is posted, department heads are not allowed to exceed that range.

What’s negotiable (e.g., salary, start-up funds, spousal accommodations, moving expenses, etc.)? How do you determine what to accommodate versus not? How are these decisions made? 

RF: I suppose that any item can be negotiated. Salaries are not fixed (but there are narrow bands), and start-up funds vary based on research program costs and the professional developmental stage of the candidate. I also try to (a) anticipate needs (e.g., for moving) up front and (b) accommodate other requests (e.g., for supervision for licensure). 

Applicants should know that there are real financial constraints on unit leaders based on money budgeted for the position at least a year before. I asked for and received a $2000 laptop as start-up in my first faculty position (in 1999), and I had the sense that this was a costly expense to that department based on my conversations with other faculty. Now, I routinely offer research supports totaling more than $50,000 to incoming tenure-track faculty. Other constraints on unit leaders are social and structural within a department or college. Salary compression and salary inversion often weigh heavily on the minds of unit leaders when hiring new faculty. They usually don’t want to anger their existing faculty and increase the probability of their leaving as a result of hiring new faculty at higher salaries, so knowing the salary range of existing faculty (which is often publicly available online) is helpful. 

If spousal accommodations are needed, I hope that candidates share this need early during negotiations, as securing another hire is challenging for most universities. Positions usually cannot be created de novo based on a candidate’s request. Lots of coordination (and often luck) are needed to identify job openings that can be filled by a spouse.

AN: Salary, start-up, course assignments for first year, summer salary for first and second year, possibly spousal hire but this is really difficult. Moving expense are not negotiable.

JB: Because we are a state institution, we cannot use state funds for moving expenses (and, thanks to a change in federal law during the Trump administration, any moving expenses we give must be reported/taxed as income). Our policy was to offer $3K in moving (from our private funds) for every tenured/tenure track faculty member. Everything else is negotiable, but limits are largely determined by norms/averages. It’s difficult to accommodate trailing spouses because of the costs; our provost would pick up some of the salary and benefits if the spouse would be hired as a T/TT faculty in a different college.

What advice do you have for early career faculty throughout the negotiation process? What are some common mistakes candidates make? What do candidates typically fail to ask for, but should? 

RF: The best employers want you to succeed, and that should be evident throughout the process of interviewing, job offers, and negotiations. It is important that candidates get a sense of the offer and negotiation process during the interview. It is totally okay for candidates to ask the faculty engaged in the search—especially the search committee chair or faculty in the school psychology program—about (a) what unit leader will issue the offer and engage in negotiation and (b) what new faculty need to be successful in the unit. Candidates should ask about office space, storage and lab space (if applicable), shared space, graduate assistantship supports (including teaching assistants and research assistants), and the like during the interview. In particular, it is useful to know how graduate assistantships are funded (through the department or college or through a university-wide central pool) and how much each “costs” the unit. This information will reveal how costly such positions are and allow candidates to weigh these costs against other requests. For example, one question may be whether it would be better to have a 20-hour-a-week research assistant (costing the department $35,000 in stipend and tuition) throughout the year or the same amount of money for participant payments, travel to conferences, reimbursement for licensure, and the like. When directed to the right person (e.g., a faculty member hired in the past 3-4 years or a seasoned program director) and timed right, a question like “If I was to be so fortunate to receive an offer from you, what would you recommend that I ask for in my negotiations?” might facilitate rich conversations.

Candidates should be prepared to have a sense of costs of items—computers, software, furniture, specialized equipment, and the like—and be prepared to provide an itemized list of them. 

School psychology researchers vary in the costs they incur when conducting their research, and when entering highly research-intensive universities, candidates should ask for supports to complete two or three studies in full across the first several years. If these studies can be tied to grant application programs, that’s even better.

Rationales may be needed to justify requests. For example, a candidate asking for graduate research assistantship support should describe in some detail how the graduate assistant will aid them in completing projects (e.g., collecting data from the field, entering data already collected, coding articles in a meta-analysis). A candidate might also strengthen a request for meeting space (even if shared) by providing a rationale that they need that space to connect with community partners to support their research program.

It is important that candidates entering a faculty position for the first time not focus too much on tangible purchases (e.g., computers and conference tables) and insufficiently consider professional development and travel supports that can propel them forward in their careers. Attending workshops focused on research and analytic methods or grant-writing skills might yield major dividends and also aid them in developing research partnerships. 

AN: Talk with another faculty member who is senior but that is not part of the negotiation process. Also talk with someone who might have just done their negotiations last year. Try to find out what other people were given. Don’t ask for a grad assistant in year 1. You won’t be ready for a grad assistant in the first year. Ask for a grad assistant in year 2.

JB: I would strongly recommend asking the dept. head “What do you typically offer to candidates as part of the hiring package?” A common mistake is to argue for things you don’t need, especially for start-up packages (e.g., money, space). Be clear about what you will need to get your research on track to earn tenure (that’s what we all want), but work with the department head about how you get it (e.g., shared lab space, centralized computer software can yield the same result for less cost). Be sure to negotiate a reduced course load to start. Our typical load is 2/2; we usually offered a 1/2 the first year, and a 1/2 after reappointment (typically after the third year).

How has the negotiation process changed COVID (e.g., working remotely)? 

RF: All of my negotiations have occurred since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As our interviews have been conducted remotely, we have invited those offered the position the opportunity to visit in person after the offer has been made, and negotiations have often continued after the that in-person visit.

JB: For a while, everything (including the interview) was mediated via videoconferencing. That dramatically reduces your opportunity to read nonverbal behavior, which is critical for monitoring the impact you’re having on others. If you are in a remote interview/negotiation process, make sure to slow things down and do lots of checking in.

How do or should considerations of equity come into play? 

RF: Some universities appear to have standardized salaries for new hires based on a formula and determination of the candidate’s qualifications, but there is notable variability across universities—usually with consideration of existing salaries. Candidates these days should study online reports from university systems focusing on gender equity (if available) as well as directly address patterns of inequities that appear evident in existing salaries. An applicant might say, “I noticed that women in this department seem to be paid notably less than men, and I am wondering if there is an actual disparity across genders and, if so, how the university is addressing this disparity.” 

Many applicants for faculty positions will be completing internships or post-doctoral fellowships when they receive an offer, and they may have accumulated substantial debt during these years of education. Thus, it is important that unit leaders know that (a) new hires will likely incur significant expenses during their transition to their new place of employment (that they probably will need to put on credit), (b) they may need to pay for health insurance out-of-pocket during the transition, (c) the first payment in the new position may come more than a month (and sometimes 6+ weeks) after beginning the position, and (d) finding a stable living situation (especially a house) likely means that the new hire will settle in to the new position and not leave after a year or two of employment. For example, with these points in mind, my department provides a “moving+” stipend provided early in the summer before the start date that is designed to cover the costs of moving per se, contribute to down payments (on apartments or houses), and aid in bridging the financial gap between positions. Otherwise, moving expenses at my university are unfortunately reimbursed in the first paycheck rather than through a stipend paid to the new hire that is used to pay for expenses when they occur. My department has also implemented a diversity science scholar program that provides summer monies (roughly a month’s pay, based on the new faculty’s salary) during the first three summers for those faculty engaged in diversity related research. This initiative promotes excellence in research in diversity science and may increase representation of faculty of color in our programs.

JB: Equity in salary is pretty straightforward, and most institutions are aware of (and avoid) obvious inequities at hiring (not least because failing to do so will cause problems later). More problematic are expectations for service; if you are from an underrepresented group, you might ask for a reduced teaching load to compensate for the additional work you may be asked to do with underrepresented students and expectations for serving on committees. If not, be sure to negotiate with your department head her/his help in keeping committee assignments in line with others seeking tenure (minority faculty are often sought after for committee service). Finally, be aware of cumulative equity as your career moves ahead. Males tend to be more assertive in seeking salary increases, either by interviewing elsewhere or negotiating with their department head. Over time, failing to assert yourself in annual salary exercises can lead you to fall further behind–so be sure to ask your department head if your increase is consistent with others hired in the same year.

Is there anything else you think early career scholars should know to help them navigate the negotiation process and set themselves up for success in their faculty position?

RF: Good advice can be obtained from graduate school advisors and mentors, summaries of faculty salaries, and other online resources, but expectations and supports that seem standard at some universities and in some states and regions may not apply universally. For example, salaries vary greatly across states and regions—often relative to cost of living. I encourage candidates to make requests during negotiations based, in part, on the information they have learned from their interviews and other university- or state-level sources, including data from online cost-of-living calculators. Unit leaders expect it, and we appreciate when it is reasonably consistent with the culture of the department and when it has the potential to move the unit forward.

Once the offer is made, candidates should stay fully engaged in the process and prepare for a rapid series of exchanges, with gaps in communication not extending beyond 2-3 days. This often means a lot of emails, calls, and Zooming.

Candidates should prioritize their goals and professional needs—stressing those necessary for them to be successful—and include some “reach” requests that would make their lives easier or enhance a specific skill set but are not crucial to their development. They should ask for more than they expect to receive and also know when to accept the unit leader’s denial of a request and move on. I suspect that the status quo in university negotiations is three exchanges (e.g., offer made by employer, counter by candidate, and revised offer by employer) before resolution. These exchanges can give the candidate a good sense of the set point for negotiations and indicate that extending these exchanges beyond this series might not be fruitful.

Within limits, candidates should be mindful of their own personalities and exercise creativity in responding to features of the offer, as there may be more wiggle room than presumed. For example, a unit leader might be very willing to alter a faculty’s teaching schedule from 1 course a semester for the first two years to no teaching during the first semester, one course during the second semester, one course during the third semester, and two courses during the fourth semester. That alternative arrangement still includes four courses spread across two years, which is the expectation of the unit leader, and if it is better for the candidate and it works for the unit, it’s a win-win situation for both!

Candidates should expect a lot of variation across negotiating tactics and styles, and that variation may depend on whether they are discussing salary, teaching and service responsibilities, supports, and so on. Some unit leaders will want to discuss each feature (e.g., salary versus teaching) in sequence, and others will lay all the major features on the table from the beginning. Some unit leaders will offer candidates more than they considered, and other leaders will want candidates to make the first requests. Candidates are often told to “get it in writing,” but they should not expect to have each negotiated point offered in writing from the beginning. However, before agreeing to accept the position, they should review an offer letter carefully and ensure that each key element is represented in some way. Otherwise, candidates (and unit leaders) may forget that part of the negotiations, or the unit leader may no longer be in that role after a few years, which means that the promise may not be fulfilled.

AN: Talk with others at the institution about what others are getting.

JB: Ask the department head what mentoring is available to you to help you (a) learn about and negotiate the program, department, college, and campus environments, and (b) advance your research. Often, a “local” mentor can help with the first issue, but an external mentor may be needed for the second. Don’t be afraid to ask for both… and to ask your college and provost office what opportunities are available to support your development.

Thank you to our senior scholars for providing their invaluable insight into the negotiation process. We appreciate their time, energy, and commitment to mentoring the next generation of school psychology faculty. We also want to recognize that scholars may encounter different processes, expectations, and resources, including within different settings and types of institutions not represented among our respondents. As our contributors’ responses illustrate, there is considerable variability in this process. For example, although it could be helpful in some contexts to negotiate reduced load in some areas (e.g., teaching) if you will take on other activities (e.g., service, leadership), negotiating for reduced load could also inadvertently set the expectation that you consistently avail yourself for such invisible labor beyond the parameters negotiated. Other tactics could include finding administrative and senior scholar support to protect yourself from an overwhelming amount of service as an early career scholar. Regardless, it is important to seek support as you advance through these processes given the importance of context and the nuances from one to the next. We hope our early career scholars learned a lot and feel more confident negotiating a start-up package that will position them for success in the future! Dr. Floyd would like to thank Dr. Emily Srisarajivakul and Dr. Ryan Farmer about an earlier draft of his responses.

What other suggestions do you have for early career scholars who are negotiating position offers? Comment below.


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