This is a follow-up question to this question of mine, where I wanted to know if academic salaries can be negotiated.

How does an academic negotiate a pay package that has been offered? What special points in one's profile must be emphasised in order to get a favourable bargain? Are there any standard cards (tricks) that must be played?

PS: The negotiator is assumed to be fresh out of his doctorate.

  • 1
    This probably requires more details to be answered, doesn't it? As said in the answers to your linked question, this depends heavily on your place (and employer). Some employers have fixed grid, no negotiation possible: in such a system, you can, however, require a promotion (assistant prof to associate prof, associate prof to full professor, full prof to senior prof, …) that would entail a pay raise. In other places, there are bonuses depending on an evaluation of your performance: then, instead of negotiation a pay raise, you would make sure to increase your chances of a positive evaluation.
    – F'x
    Commented Oct 17, 2012 at 13:30
  • Thanks Fx. I had a person fresh out of PhD in my mind. And a place where neg. is possible...
    – Bravo
    Commented Oct 17, 2012 at 13:50
  • 5
    For a general discussion on salary negotiation tactics, which is fairly relevant here as well, I would strongly recommend reading this fairly long and very detailed article in it's entirety.
    – eykanal
    Commented Oct 17, 2012 at 15:22
  • @eykanal Thanks for the article link. It has some great advice!
    – Dan C
    Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 4:41

4 Answers 4


It's important to remember that you're negotiating a package, not a salary. In other words, there is a set of things you're negotiating for, and you can play games in that space to get most of what you need. Limiting yourself to salary negotiation is tricky because salaries are often the most constrained part of the package (especially in public universities in the US), and the one the chair/dean has the least power to change.

So remember that your success at the job depends on your ability to recruit students, procure resources and bootstrap your research program. Which means you need startup money to pay students, lab space and equipment money as needed, teaching relief if that helps you focus on research, and so on. Throw these all into the mix when you negotiate, so that if you give up something along one dimension, you can try to parlay that into a gain along a different dimension.

Also understand who you're really negotiating with, and what powers they really have to offer you things. This can be found out by talking with your supporters at the department (you must have some, otherwise you wouldn't have an offer) and also folks at other institutions.

  • Thanks @Suresh, I have one question on this. Salaries in public univs are known and give some idea on how to bargain. But how does one get some idea on the startup packages? Should one list the possible resources and make an idea of the expenses by himself?
    – Bravo
    Commented Oct 17, 2012 at 18:33
  • 1
    Startup packages don't vary greatly from university to university in the US, when evaluated in transferrable currency (number of students, number of summer months of support, etc). So one could ask people in comparable universities for suggestions. For things like equipment, it helps to provide a breakdown and pricing (by going to some website and pricing things out).
    – Suresh
    Commented Oct 17, 2012 at 20:27
  • 2
    +1 for the package perspective. You have to get to know the package, which takes time as it's complex. Things I didn't realize I could negotiate at the time I was hired were not explained, and I was not looking at all the dimensions. The "supporters" @Suresh speaks of should be able to give you insight. Even a guaranteed lab space for students is something I could have negotiated. Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 15:35

To a first approximation, you have two ways of negotiating for a higher salary, namely fairness and leverage from other offers.

If your offer is not in line with what other people have received under similar circumstances at the same institution, then you can ask them to address this. If you make a convincing case, they may improve the offer, either out of a desire to do the right thing or out of fear of embarrassment if the details became known (for example, if it suggests discrimination). However, it's rare for there to be enough information to make an objective case for unfairness. Unless the offer is really outrageous, you aren't likely to have much success with this sort of argument: probably, the administration will just explain why they think it's fair.

By far the most successful way to negotiate is based on other offers. This gives you concrete proof that another university values you more than this one seems to, and you can make a credible threat of going there instead. You can't necessarily expect to get other offers matched exactly, since the comparison always involves a complicated mix of benefits, cost of living analysis, departmental quality, etc. However, it at least gives you a powerful way to start the conversation, and you'll have a lot of leverage if you might plausibly accept the other offer instead.

Incidentally, the worst mistake naive job candidates make is to accept a job offer and then try to negotiate. During the period when you have offers but haven't accepted yet, you are in a better negotiating position than you ever will be later. As soon as you accept, almost all your power disappears.


I think the first thing you need to ask is do you want a raise. While it may seem obvious that more money is better, I would argue that this is not the case since the raise comes with other "costs". In the simplest case, would you rather a raise of x, or an increased startup package of 10x? While not directly linked, your total "cost" (including space) is a factor.

There are two problems with seeking a raise. First, they are hard to justify. Universities want you to do good research. The effect of a raise on research output is hard to see, while the effect of an extra RA for a year is easy to see. Further, a small increase in salary now projects to large future costs for the university. The university will keep that number in their head during negotiation. A raise means you might top out on the pay scale earlier, so your pay may stagnate (meaning the university over estimated the cost of the initial raise). This means that overall the raise is not good value for money.

You might argue that a raise is the only way increase the money in your pocket. In the short run this is true, but in the long run, better research might lead to more money.


In some cases (for example in Germany), most academic positions are paid according to collectively negotiated labour agreements. The universities have little room to deviate from this (at the professor level things are different, though). The wages are paid according to scales corresponding to different "function levels", and each scale consists of a certain number of steps. The number of steps you get for free is based on your previous experience. It might be possible to negiotate an extra step, but this is usually difficult. In principle you can be placed in a higher scale, but this depends on the specific tasks you will be responsible for. For example, a postdoc leading his/her own group can be in a higher scale than a postdoc without such responsibilities.

In short, negotiating salary may be difficult in such a system, since the universities are bound to the collective labour agreements. In the Netherlands the situation is similar.

  • 2
    +1 for the collective agreement perspective (I'm at a Quebec university where this is the case). However, as pointed out in another answer, there are many dimensions where administration can have freedom. In my case, I was able to get a reduced course load for the first 2 years, a hiring bonus for the first year, assurance that the school would apply for a provincial 5-year income-tax waiver (a government program), etc. Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 15:42

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .