Initial Publication Date: May 16, 2006

Negotiating a Job Offer

This webpage is based on a presentation by Tim Bralower, from Pennsylvania State University, given at the 2005 Preparing for an Academic Career Workshop.

The nature of the position, contract timeline, and the tenure clock

An offer letter is not a contract, but it does spell out the terms of the contract that is being offered to you. Study it carefully, making sure that you understand the terms of the offer. In particular, look for the duration of the position, as well as whether and how it can be renewed. Also, the time line for tenure must be spelled out in writing in either your offer letter or your contract. If it is not specified in the offer letter, don't be afraid to ask about it. In fact, you should feel free to ask about anything that is not specified in the offer letter, if it matters to you.

Note: after you have negotiated the terms of your employment, read over your contract carefully to make sure that it spells out the terms you have negotiated. This is a legal document, and mistakes do happen. Make sure you read the fine print, too. You will be obligated to adhere to the terms of your contract.


Negotiating for salary can be tricky. First, get a sense of the range of recent starting salaries at the institution, and if possible within the department. Also, try to find out whether there are any disparities, such as lower salaries for women or other underrepresented groups. Backing up your request for a higher salary with data about institutional norms makes you look reasonable, and also gives your counterpart an opportunity to present additional data to you. Trust your gut about whether the person negotiating with you is doing everything that he or she can to fulfill your requests, and remember that raises are based on a percentage of current earnings - you want to start at as high a salary as you can. If you are a woman, read about why women often don't negotiate and how you can escape that pattern. Ultimately, however, you can only negotiate so far. Have some faith in the institution that wants to hire you, and invest more of your energy in negotiating for start-up money and space.

Teaching Load

Your teaching load should be fairly typical for new faculty at the institution, although what this will be varies widely. Ask about course reduction in first year, and about course reduction ONE OR TWO YEARS BEFORE your tenure file will be submitted. Some institutions now have a standard pre-tenure semester sabbatical - a very humane practice. But if it's not standard, you can ask for it. You won't get what you don't ask for.

If course reductions aren't possible, you may want to ask about teaching multiple sections of the same course, so as to minimize your prep time. Or, to minimize your grading, it may be possible to negotiate smaller class sizes. Be creative. As long as you can explain how your requests will help you to be more successful, the requests will seem reasonable.

Start up

In my opinion, where research activity is part of your responsibilities, start up is the most critical element of the job offer, because it can have a profound impact on your productivity. Start up funds typically cover equipment costs, but may also include money for you to hire research assistants or post-docs, to pay for your own summer salary for the first year or two, to pay for your travel (for field work or to conferences), or other expenses that will help you to be productive. Start up funds are often to be paid out over multiple years, and you should make sure you know the duration of the availability of funds that are offered.

Although this should not be part of the search process, it often is. Do not be surprised to be asked about what you will need for start-up during your interview. In fact, expect it - and do your best to get quotes/bids on equipment prior to your interviews. If you don't have quotes before your interview, don't specify the financial details, but offer to send that information as soon as you have it, instead. If your research plans are appropriate for the types of institutions where you are interviewing, they will not be shocked by your start-up requests, so don't sell yourself short! Also, turnabout is fair play: find out what the start-up "norm" is when you interview. You want to find out whether the institution can provide you with what you need to be successful, too.


It's very important for you to have both adequate square footage and a location close to your colleagues. Again, your productivity and your success as a colleague depend on these two factors, so do not hesitate to insist on a satisfactory arrangement, and make sure you get it in writing.


Throughout the negotiation process, remember that you and the institution have a common goal: to make the job there appealing to you. You want to get what you will need to feel respected, and to be a successful teacher, scholar, and colleague. They want you to get what you will need to feel respected, and to be a successful teacher, scholar, and colleague. It's just the details that need working out.