Offers

Information on this page includes:
 

 

Overview

After the campus visit, you will expect either to receive a job offer or notification of rejection.  Occasionally the job offer is extended during a candidate’s visit, but most offers come afterward in the form of a phone call by the chair of the department or search committee, or by the dean.

During this conversation the chair or dean may read the formal offer letter to you.  Be prepared to take notes and ask questions.  Do not feel pressed to accept or decline right away.  Ask that the offer letter be mailed or faxed to you (standard practice), and request time to consider the offer carefully.  Two weeks is a typical length of time for decision-making; more time may be acceptable, depending on circumstances.

Keep in mind that verbal promises are not formal job offers.  Funding sometimes falls through at the last minute, putting job seekers back on the market.  Formal offers are always put in writing, defining the salary and terms of the position, including start date, benefits, and other relevant details (e.g. teaching load, resources, release time, etc.).

Following are basic guidelines on evaluating and negotiating academic job offers.  

Considerations

You will likely be ecstatic when you receive a job offer, but be sure to “look before you leap.”  Pause to reflect on the pros and cons and make a sound decision that you can live with.  The more of the following questions you can answer before deciding, the more peace of mind you will have in the long run.

Salary and Benefits

Research the appropriate entry-level salary in your discipline at both the national and regional levels.  Faculty salary statistics are released every year by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) via the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Faculty salaries are a matter of public record at public institutions.  At U.Va. the Cavalier Dailypublishes PDF document icon faculty salaries (.pdf) annually.  You may also inquire with the institution’s office of human resources (as well as with others in the area) if the information is not available online.  If the faculty at the hiring institution is unionized, you may wish to contact a union representative to help you review your offer.

Healthcare and retirement packages are typically standard for the institution, but you should still ask questions regarding benefits, for example:

  • Is there a choice between healthcare/retirement plans? 
  • What healthcare services are covered (vision, dental, orthodontic, psychological)? 
  • When does coverage begin? 
  • What part of the premium do employees pay, if any? 
  • Does the plan cover a partner or dependents? 
  • What are the institution’s family leave policies?
  • What other perks does the institution offer?
    • Tax-deferred savings plans?
    •  Pretax reimbursement accounts for healthcare and childcare costs?
    • Fitness center membership discounts?
    • Childcare services?
    • College tuition support for children? 
    • Discounted classes for family?

Terms of the Appointment

Be very clear on the terms of your appointment.  They should be defined in writing. 

  • Is yours a 9-month or a 12-month position?
  • Can you have your 9-month salary distributed over 12 months?
  • Is separate summer support available?  Can it be included as part of the start-up package?
  • Is summer teaching an option?

For those whose appointments are divided between departments or duties, be sure that the division of responsibilities is clearly defined (e.g. teaching responsibilities, office location, performance review).

Fit

Reflect on how you felt in the environment during the campus visit and any thoughts or information that may have surfaced since. 

  • Does the department seem positive, supportive, and collegial? 
  • Are the faculty and students interesting and pleasant? 
  • Are the expectations clear and reasonable to you?
  • Can you be productive and happy there?

Working Conditions

Will you be comfortable with your day-to-day routine?

  • Is your teaching load well-defined and acceptable?
    • Are the details clear (e.g. the number of courses each term, the variety of courses in the first couple of years, their typical size and level—graduate, undergraduate, majors/non-majors—support from teaching assistants, etc.)?
  • What resources will you have for your work (e.g. office, computer, clerical support)?
  • Does the institution have dedicated resources that support teaching/research?
  • Will you have summers off for your research and writing?
  • Are there opportunities to teach in the summer for extra compensation?
  • Is the library adequate for your field?  Will the department/institution approve acquisition of library materials relevant to your research?
  • Is your advising role clear?  Will you advise undergraduate majors, honors theses, master's theses, and doctoral dissertations?  If so, how many?
  • On average, how many hours per week will you devote to committee work?
  • Do you have the option of a semester or two of release time to focus on your research during your first 2-3 years?

Road to Tenure

Is the department/institution invested in your pursuit of tenure?

  • What is the process for promotion and tenure?
  • How does the department (and institution) define a good faculty member?
    • Balance between teaching and research?
    • Publication requirements?
    • Other standards to recommend tenure?
  • What is the department’s tenure rate?  What is the percentage of assistant professors in the department who have obtained tenure?
  • Does the department/institution have a faculty mentoring program?
  • What support/resources are available for your research (e.g. start-up funds)?  Will these resources facilitate your path to tenure?
  • Does family/maternity leave affect the tenure clock?

Family/Lifestyle

Reflect on your comfort with the community, as well as the comfort of your partner or family as the case may be.  

  • Would you enjoy living in the community?
  • Is the cost of living reasonable? 
  • Is housing acceptable (schools, transportation, etc.)? 

If you have a partner, will s/he be able to find satisfying work in the area?

When to Negotiate

Negotiation can begin once you receive a formal offer in writing.  Together you and the employer decide upon the resources you will exchange.  Your objective in negotiating is to satisfy your interests, but it is very important that both parties come away from the negotiation process pleased with the value they get in return.  Experts estimate that only about 25 percent of new hires negotiate, and women are statistically less likely to do so than men—a factor that plays a role in earnings discrepancies between the sexes.  Most employers accept negotiating—when handled professionally—as an appropriate part of the hiring process.  It is not uncommon for employers initially to offer less than they are willing to pay because they expect the chosen candidate to negotiate for more.  

With a formal job offer in hand, you become the “buyer” and the employer becomes the “seller” as dynamics shift somewhat.  The department has decided that it wants you to join its team.  With minds made up on the hiring side, you have a certain degree of power between the moment the offer is extended and the moment you accept the job.  If your terms are reasonable, many departments would much rather work with them than move to their second or third choices or—worse still—reopen the search.  Determine what is important to you, and do not be afraid to ask.

What to Negotiate

  • Salary

It is always worth asking about the negotiability of salary.  Many institutions work within a salary range for each position, and some make the initial offer below the top of the range, or below what they are willing to pay, to leave room for negotiating.  On your part, doing some research will help you set reasonable expectations.  Keep in mind that salary increases (e.g. annual cost-of-living increases) are usually not a fixed, round amount but are calculated as a percentage of your salary.  The higher your starting salary, the higher each increase will be.

All that being said, sometimes departments cannot negotiate salary without violating equity standards or legislated parameters.  They may, however, be more flexible on the following other elements of value.  Candidates should not attempt to negotiate all variables of the offer.   Set your own priorities. 

  • Teaching Load & Other Responsibilities

A department may be able to work with you on your teaching load.  Think in terms of the number of courses you will teach per term, the number of different course preparations in a given term, and your schedule.  Also take into account other departmental responsibilities, such as advising and service (e.g. committee work).  You may want to aim for an arrangement that will facilitate your research and writing, especially if your long-term goal is tenure.

  • Start-Up Package

An expression commonly used in the sciences, “start-up package” refers to the tools and resources you will need to perform your work, such as office space, laboratory facilities and supplies, computer equipment and software, secretarial or research assistant/technician support, etc.  It may also refer more generally to funding for research and conference participation, release time for research during your first several years on the job, funds for materials, such as photocopies and books, etc.  These are details you want to clarify.

  • Relocation Costs

It is relatively common for institutions to reimburse new hires for some or all of their relocation costs.  Such one-time-only expenses are generally easier to have approved than permanent, ongoing budget items.  Before you reach the negotiation stage, estimate your moving costs (moving company fees, van rental, etc., depending on how you plan to move).  Save all receipts from your move and remember to look into tax deductions that may apply.

  • Benefits

Health insurance and other benefits are very often standard and non-negotiable, but look into these to know the value you are getting, especially if you receive more than one job offer.  You may also have choices (e.g. different plans), so do your homework. 

  • Housing

Sometimes institutions will agree to pay for a new hire to travel to the community to look for housing prior to moving there.  You may also want to explore on-campus or temporary housing options for faculty and any special programs the institution may have to help faculty find and purchase homes.  These are most common in areas where affordable housing is hard to find. 

  • Spousal/Partner Assistance

The challenges facing dual-career couples are of increasing concern in higher education.  As one sector of the economy among many, academia does not want to lose talent to other employment opportunities.  A growing number of institutions will thus make an effort to provide spousal or partner assistance to varying degrees—from connecting the partner with helpful resources to locating a job for him or her on campus.  While the latter is done most often for highly desired applicants, any leverage from within the institution on a partner’s behalf may give him or her an edge if a suitable position is open.  Search the institution’s website for “spousal hiring” or “dual career” for information on special programs. 

  • Start Date

Especially if an institution is unable negotiate other elements of your offer, it may be flexible on your start date.  If you have not yet completed your dissertation, perhaps you could postpone your start date by a semester.  Be sure to clarify when the tenure clock begins if you start working without your degree in hand.

How to Negoatiate

When you receive a job offer, it is perfectly fine to express your pleasure with the news and request a little time to consider the offer carefully.  Doing so will give you time to decide which elements, if any, you would like to negotiate.  Perhaps housing and spousal assistance are your primary concerns, or maybe you think a better start-up package would serve your long-term professional interests.  Perhaps you are in a commuter relationship and need a schedule that accommodates frequent weekend travel.  Identify your priorities, develop a negotiation plan, and remember to:

  • Think broadly
  • Gather information
  • Conduct yourself professionally

Do not be afraid to ask questions if information is lacking.  Consolidate your queries, though—do not repeatedly call or email with questions.

It helps to put things in perspective.  Those of us who have lived for many years as poor students are prone to cringing at the thought of negotiating.  For one thing, the offer usually sounds pretty good to a student (especially one who is thrilled to have a job!), so why take chances?  For another, we come from a culture where self-sacrifice for the pure pursuit of knowledge is assumed.  Are we greedy to seek a standard of living and working conditions that will allow us to perform to our best ability?  No, and the employer certainly has an interest in you performing your job well.  Negotiating a job offer is not analogous to haggling over the price of an old Buick at a used car lot.  You and your employer are investing together.  As long as you handle yourself well in the negotiation process, you may even find that you impress people with your preparedness and reassure them that they selected a truly professional candidate.  If they are unable to meet your request/s, they will say so; they will not rescind the offer.  Practice with a friend or mentor if you feel nervous. 

Think Broadly

Avoid considering offers in terms of salary alone.  Doing so is a common mistake.  An offer package contains many elements, and a completely non-monetary factor may have more value to you than your paycheck.  It may also be easier for the hiring institution to work with you on variables other than salary.  Be prepared with a strategy, and be flexible.  Remember that negotiation is a two-way street.  Set your sights for negotiating higher (within reason) than your expectations to allow room for give and take. 

Gather Information

A well-informed negotiator is much more effective and easier to work with than someone who has no justifying data.  Arguing in terms of worth (e.g. “This start-up package will enable me to be very productive…,” or “Based on my qualifications and the average starting salary for assistant professors at your university…”) rather than need (e.g. “I’m supporting a family of five…) is a much more persuasive approach, because it focuses on value.  Use resources, to research entry-level salaries and cost-of-living standards.  Some professional associations also produce salary statistics.  Check with those in your field.  Seek estimates for any start-up expenses you may desire.  Clarify with the institution all details of the offer (e.g. funds for travel and research, costs for visa sponsorship), including fixed benefits that may not be negotiable (e.g. health insurance).

Conduct Yourself Professionally

Effective negotiating is not aggressive.  Be polite and professional with those who may very well become your colleagues.  Verbal negotiation (on the phone or in person) is preferred over email because it is easier to communicate a collaborative demeanor verbally.  Once you have agreed verbally on the terms of the offer, request that the employer send you the information in writing.  Carefully review all details in the offer letter before accepting or declining the offer.

Accepting and Declining Offers

Candidates should formally accept or decline every job offer they receive.  It is courteous to call the department with your answer first to end the suspense, but then follow up in writing, with a formal letter accepting or declining the offer.

Accepting

Your formal letter of acceptance should confirm all terms and details of the offer, including your start date, salary, teaching load, and all other variables.  If searches for other positions for which you have applied are still pending, it is customary to contact the search committees and withdraw from the running.  Needless to say, if you have other pending job offers, you should waste no time in notifying those institutions that you have chosen to decline their offers in favor of another.

Stay in touch with the hiring department between the time you accept the job and your start date.  You may wish to begin building relationships with your new colleagues by contacting them to introduce yourself.  Perhaps you have a question they can help with.  Familiarize yourself with your new department and institution as best you can before starting the job. 

Declining

You may have to decline a job offer.  Perhaps you receive a more attractive offer from another institution (or you anticipate that you will).   Perhaps you decide that the position is not a good fit for you, or its terms are unacceptable, and you chose to take a different road.

Be very respectful, courteous, and polite when declining a job offer.  In giving the department your initial answer, and in your formal letter that will follow, be certain to make statements about whatever positive impressions the institution made on you.  Let the department know of your alternative plans, and keep in mind that academic circles are small.  You may run across these people again at some future point in your career.  Leave a positive and professional impression on them.

Preparing for Multiple Offers

Finding yourself in the fortunate situation of anticipating multiple offers presents its own problems and stressors.  If you receive an offer from one institution but would prefer to hold out for other options, request more time from the institution making the initial offer (at the same time expressing how pleased you are by the news).  The two-week period for decision-making is customary, but you may be able to negotiate for more time, depending somewhat on the time of year and the pressures the department is under.  You may wish to inform your preferred institution(s) that you have received an offer from another employer (do not reveal the name).  This information can sometimes expedite the process and result in an answer more quickly.  It can also give you more bargaining power in negotiations.  If, however, you cannot get results from your preferred institution within a reasonable timeframe, you may have no choice but to accept or decline the earlier offer without that information.