How to Participate in the Negotiation Process

student in white shirt smiling at another student in blue shirt while sitting at a table
(photo credit: Brittany Hosea Small)

You’ve spent months applying and interviewing for jobs, and now you’ve landed one. Congratulations! Before you accept the offer, consider negotiating. In most circumstances, negotiating is expected and welcomed by prospective employers. It is particularly important because once you accept an offer, you will unfortunately have less leverage to negotiate for your needs and priorities. 

Approach negotiations as a collaborative process, where both you and the employer have opportunities and constraints, and a goal of finding common ground. Below are a few key considerations to address as you participate in the negotiation process in either academia or industry. Many of these insights and suggestions are informed by a conversation with Andrew Green, the Associate Director for Graduate Students and PhDs and a Career Counselor at the Career Center.

Gather Information
Throughout the interview process, gather information on what salary and benefits people with your education and experience earn at that institution or in that industry. Also learn about what others in the field have successfully gained through negotiations.

The Chronicle of Higher Education publishes salaries for professors at any four-year institution, but it should be noted that the data is not disaggregated by discipline. Another source for salaries is the American Association of University Professors, as well as professional and academic associations related to your field of study. 

If you met someone during the interview process with whom you built a connection, ask them questions about the negotiating culture so you understand how to approach the process. For example, if there is a union, there might be limited room for salary negotiation, or there may be a precedent for negotiating summer research grants. Lastly, your faculty adviser and alumni can provide further insight and information. If you meet someone who graduated from Cal or attended the same undergraduate institution as you, reach out to that person and ask questions. 

Some common requests during the negotiation process include financial support, research support, and teaching support. Forms of research support include research assistants, conference and travel funds, intramural research funds, grant-writing support, office and lab space, computing and software tools, and journal subscriptions and books. Financial items for negotiation can include starting salary, moving expenses, sabbaticals and vacation, tuition reimbursement for your partner and children, summer research stipends, and patent rights. Teaching support can include a reduction in teaching load, teaching assistants, and course relief for the first year. Other priorities may include your work schedule, faculty housing, employment assistance for your spouse or partner, on-site childcare, and parking. 

For example, if you have not yet completed your dissertation, you might request a January start date instead of a September start date. Alternatively, you might want to teach one  course fewer in your first semester, so that you can make good progress on your research and scholarship, which are necessary to strengthen your tenure case. Questions about additional benefits not strictly in the realm of teaching and research, such as tuition coverage for children or loan repayment assistance, should be addressed to human resources.  

Glassdoor is a starting point to identify salary ranges in your industry. Recruiters are also a valuable source of negotiating information because they have an incentive to bring you onboard once the employer has extended an offer. You can ask recruiters what the salary range is for a candidate like yourself at the company or agency. The recruiter may act as a go-between for you and the hiring team, so you could present your requests to the recruiter to see whether the requests are doable for the employer. As with academia, if you met someone during the interview process with whom you built a connection, ask them questions about the negotiating culture so you understand how to approach the process. Further, alumni and people in the field can provide insight and information into the salary range, benefits, and the negotiating culture at the firm or company. 

Other than negotiating salary, it is also common to negotiate  relocation costs or the use of vacation time before the job begins to facilitate moving. Another key area to negotiate is paid time off and stock options. Questions about additional benefits such as loan repayment and maternity leave should be addressed with human resources. 

Understand Your Sources of Value
As you negotiate, it is pivotal to understand why you were extended an offer. The institution or company is offering you a job; they have selected you because you have skills and capabilities that have separated you from others. This often means you also have leverage in negotiating. For example, your publications or work experiences may warrant a higher starting salary. Because there are several actors in the hiring process, you should tell them why you deserve a stated salary with other benefits as part of the compensation package. This may feel repetitive, but it is important because the person making the hiring and financial decisions may not be the people who interviewed you. 

Rank Your Priorities and Engage in Conversation
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, each side has opportunities and constraints, so rank your priorities based on which ones you deem the most important to you and make these priorities clear during negotiations.

After ranking your priorities, engage in a thoughtful conversation and recognize that negotiation is not a zero-sum game. The institution or company will do what they can to bring you on board, while you will make sure you have the tools to do the job. If an employer cannot offer your top priorities, then move on to your next priorities or see if there are alternatives. Similarly, if they cannot fund one request, then ask if they can improve their offer elsewhere. For example, if the institution does not have a lab for you, they might cover all costs for travel to an archive or other research site. Ultimately, both sides want the same thing – for you to accept the offer. As you make progress in the negotiation process, be sure to get everything in writing. 

Finally, if you find yourself needing more input or suggestions during the negotiations process, consider making an appointment at the Career Center to meet with Andrew Green or Debra Behrens, the Career Counselors for graduate students.

About the Author: Jennifer Chung is a J.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and is a Professional Development Liaison in the GradPro office of the Graduate Division.