After the interview, you will expect either to receive a job offer, a notification of rejection, or no word at all. Occasionally the job offer is extended at the end of the interview, but most offers come afterward in the form of a phone call by the hiring manager or head of the search. Unfortunately, sometimes candidates who are not chosen are informed of the decision long after it is made, or they receive no notification, which leaves them hanging. For this reason it is a good idea to inquire during the interview about the timeframe for decision-making.
When you receive a verbal offer, during this conversation the hiring manager will likely go over the basics of the offer (e.g. salary, start date). 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, and request time to consider the offer carefully. Several days to a week 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. Arrangements sometimes fail to pan out at the last minute, putting job seekers back on the market. Formal offers should be put in writing, defining the salary and terms of the position, including start date, benefits, and other relevant details. Sometimes in sectors beyond academe you will need to negotiate and either accept or decline an offer before receiving a formal written offer letter. In this case you and the employer proceed in good faith, but you should still request a written offer for your records.
Following are basic guidelines on evaluating and negotiating job offers beyond academe.
You will likely be very pleased 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: Are they fair?
The cost of living varies widely by region and impacts the value of the salary you are offered. Be sure to research the appropriate entry-level salary in your field at both the national and regional levels. Professional associations sometimes conduct salary surveys and publish the results. State salaries are a matter of public record. You may also refer to the many online resources on salary statistics (searchable by job title and geographic area), such as:
- Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Salary Expert
- More resources are available. Consulting with other professionals in the field can also provide valuable insight. Weigh salary against the cost of living in the area. Homefair.com is a useful resource for comparison.
- Inquire about healthcare and 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 co-payment and/or deductible expenses?
- What are the employer’s family leave policies?
- How is the retirement plan structured? Does the company match contributions? Is there a vesting plan?
What other perks does the employer offer?
- Subsidized membership in a professional organization?
- Professional development (e.g. conferences, courses)?
- Tax-deferred savings plans?
- Pretax reimbursement accounts for healthcare and childcare costs (i.e. flexible spending accounts)?
- Fitness center membership?
- Childcare services/benefits?
- Cafeteria plan? Parking?
Terms of the Appointment
- Be very clear on the terms of your appointment. They should be defined in writing.
- What is the exact start date?
- Is there a formal job description?
- Is there a contract? What is the term? Or is the position “at will”?
- Whom will you report to?
- How will your performance be evaluated, and when?
- Are there opportunities for advancement?
- Reflect on how you felt in the environment during the interview and any thoughts or information that may have surfaced since.
- Do you support the employer’s mission, values, and future directions?
- Do the people who will be your colleagues and leaders seem positive, supportive, and collegial?
- Are the expectations for the position clear and reasonable to you?
- Can you be productive and happy there? Do you have a future there?
- Will you be comfortable with your day-to-day routine?
- What hours will you work? Are they set or flexible? How much overtime, if any, is expected or required to do the job?
- Will you be required to travel? How often?
- What resources will you have for your work (e.g. office, computer, clerical support)?
- How much human interaction will you have?
- How much time will be devoted to each of the various job responsibilities? Are you comfortable with the balance?
- 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? Does the employer offer spousal/partner employment assistance?
- Is the employer supportive of your lifestyle choices?
Negotiation can begin once you receive a formal offer (ideally 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 an official job offer in hand, you become the “buyer” and the employer becomes the “seller” as dynamics shift somewhat. The employer 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 employers would much rather work with them than move to their second or third choices or—worse still—recommence the search. Determine what is important to you, and do not be afraid to ask.
It is always worth asking about the negotiability of salary. Many employers 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 (perhaps including some merit increases). The higher your starting salary, the higher each increase will be.
All that being said, sometimes employers cannot negotiate salary without violating equity standards. In some sectors of the economy (e.g. the nonprofit world) salary ranges are relatively set and narrow. Employers 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.
Inquire about any subsidies you will receive for membership in professional organizations if this applies to your field. The employer may cover all or part of the membership fee and may pay for your attendance at conferences. There may also be programs in place for training in new areas of expertise or leadership. Investigate any support the employer may offer for you to advance and grow professionally.
Highly competitive fields sometimes offer “sign-on bonuses” and other cash incentives to potential new hires. The terms of disbursement for these bonuses vary—perhaps a bonus is granted after the completion of a probationary period, after six months or a year, or after a particular milestone is reached. Find out if bonuses are offered and clarify the specific terms.
Some employers 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.
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.
Sometimes employers will agree to pay for a new hire to travel to the community to look for housing prior to moving there. Some large employers in locations where affordable housing is scarce make provisions to house employees temporarily or offer special programs to help new hires find and purchase homes. The employer may also have a special relationship with a realty company or relocation agency. Investigate any such special programs.
Some employers, especially those in remote locations, will 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. While the latter is done most often for highly desired applicants, any leverage from the employer on a partner’s behalf may give him or her an edge if a suitable position becomes available. Inquire about any special efforts the employer may be willing to make.
Occasionally, if a job candidate is ABD and the doctorate is relevant to the position and the field, an employer may agree to an arrangement that would enable the new hire to finish the degree. This arrangement could simply involve postponing the start date, or perhaps the new hire would work a shorter week or reduced hours to allow time to devote to the dissertation. These temporary arrangements are usually made under special circumstances in which the job candidate has a highly desirable skill set that the employer seeks to invest in for a longer term.
Especially if an employer is unable negotiate other elements of your offer, it may be flexible on the start date. If you have not yet completed your dissertation, perhaps you could postpone your start date by a semester.
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 you think professional development would serve your long-term career interests, or maybe housing and spousal assistance are your primary concerns. 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 co-investors. 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.
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 employer 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.
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 arrangement will enable me to be very productive…,” or “Based on my qualifications and the average starting salary for quantitative analysts in New York City…”) 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, such as those at the end of this section, to research entry-level salaries and cost-of-living standards. Some professional associations also produce salary statistics. Check with those in your field if you are seeking a directly related job. Clarify with the employer all details of the offer (e.g. bonuses, professional development), 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. Email may be the best the employer can do in a short timeframe, but you should ask that an official letter eventually follow. Carefully review all details before accepting or declining the offer.
Candidates should formally accept or decline every job offer they receive. It is courteous to call the employer with your answer first to end the suspense, but then follow up in writing, with a formal letter accepting or declining the offer.
Your formal letter of acceptance should confirm all terms and details of the offer, including your start date, salary, and all other variables. If searches for other positions for which you have applied are still pending, it is customary to contact the hiring managers or 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 employers that you have chosen to decline their offers in favor of another.
Make an effort to stay in touch with the employer 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 employer as best you can before starting the job.
You may have to decline a job offer. Perhaps you receive a more attractive offer from another employer (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 employer your initial answer, and in your formal letter that will follow, be certain to make statements about whatever positive impressions the organization made on you. Let the employer know of your alternative plans, and keep in mind that professional circles are relatively 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 employer but would prefer to hold out for other options, request more time from the employer making the initial offer (at the same time expressing how pleased you are by the news). Several days for decision-making is customary, but you may be able to negotiate for more time, depending on the pressures the employer is under. You may wish to inform your preferred employer(s) that you have received an offer from another organization (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 employer within a reasonable timeframe, you may have no choice but to accept or decline the earlier offer without that information.