05 Feb 2018

How to Get the Salary Package You Really Need

How to Get the Salary Package You Really Need

Department heads offer their insights on how to negotiate the best deal when offered an academic job for the first time

It usually takes a couple of tries for newly minted psychologists to get their first academic job. According to data from the National Science Foundation's Survey of Earned Doctorates, in 2015, only about 18 percent of new psychology doctorates with definite postgraduate plans landed an academic job right out of graduate school. In addition, that number represents any employment in academia—not necessarily tenure-track positions, which are even harder to come by these days.

"Academic job openings often receive hundreds of applicants for a single position," says Karen Stamm, PhD, senior research officer in APA's Center for Workforce Studies.

So, when a candidate for a junior faculty position receives an offer, they are usually experiencing only one feeling: "Relief with a capital R," says Greg Neimeyer, PhD, APA's associate executive director for continuing education in psychology. "Oftentimes, they are so grateful to get the job that they will take offers that are, frankly, ridiculously low," he says.

To help junior faculty navigate the delicate process of negotiating their first academic job offer, the Monitor asked hiring experts to share their secrets on getting the salary package they deserve.

Knowledge is power. One of the best ways to ensure a fair start-up package is to come into the negotiation process as educated as possible on current salary ranges for new psychology faculty, says Deanna Barch, PhD, chair of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and chair of the board of directors of the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology.

That information is available from APA's latest Psychology Faculty Salaries report, which breaks down psychologists' annual salaries by geographic region, degree field, type of position, sector and demo-graphic characteristics. It also behooves candidates to ask others working in academia, at the same or similar institutions, about what they were able to negotiate when they started and what they wish they would have asked for. Talking to colleagues who are a year or two further along in their careers can help candidates determine whether the salaries they have in mind are reasonable. "I am much more convinced when a person comes to me and says, ‘You didn't offer me this, but I know these six other people on the market this year all got it,' than if they just say, ‘I want this,'" Barch says. "Use as much data as you can to buttress your request."


Consult with an experienced advisor. Keep in mind, however, that smaller universities will have dramatically different salary budgets and job perks for new faculty, says Karen Kelsky, PhD, founder of the career-­consulting business The Professor Is In. "This is why I urge everyone to consult with a trusted mentor or advisor on a tenure-track offer, to ensure the approach you're taking is appropriate for that institution," she says.

It's now or never. You are in the very best, strongest position to negotiate when your initial job offer is extended, Neimeyer says. "It is a very tough sell to renegotiate a salary," he says. "So, you really want to do it coming straight in because every raise, every promotion, every special dollop of money that you get throughout your career is based on a percentage, and it all starts from your base salary."

To that end, Neimeyer recommends that candidates adopt an attitude that any extra amount they can get at this stage is worth the effort.

"I know it sounds ridiculous—almost petty—but the difference of $500 or $1,000 when it comes to your starting salary can literally amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars across the course of your career," he says. "Very rarely is a dean or department chair going to say no to a request for a salary reconsideration of $1,000 or $2,000 more. They know that if they don't spend that, they may have to go to their second-best candidate, who may at that point already be gone."

Think outside the salary box. Candidates should also consider other elements of the compensation package. For example, there may be more wiggle room in the start-up funds you receive to buy lab equipment or pay study participants, says Ruth Fassinger, PhD, former chair of the then department of counseling and personnel services at the University of Maryland.

Candidates may also want to consider requesting additional research assistants or more lab space, or even an initial reduction in course load so that they have more time to get their research program up and running.

It also may be worth asking for reimbursement for moving expenses or for additional money to travel to conferences for the first few years of your career, Neimeyer says.

"Most departments will have a policy, like every faculty gets $500 or $1,000 a year for traveling to conferences," he says. "Find out what the standard policy is, and then ask for double that amount for a two-year period, to help you begin to network and establish yourself professionally."

Department chairs are unlikely to turn down such requests because those funds come out of a different budget line item, not the salary pool, he says.

Reimbursement for professional membership dues is something else that's ripe for negotiating into a start-up package, says Amber Garcia, PhD, chair of the psychology department at the College of Wooster.

Candidates who get job offers from smaller, less research-­intensive schools may also want to ask about funds for supplementing the institution's library resources, says Dana S. Dunn, PhD, a psychology professor at Moravian College. "Requesting access to a journal or books that you need—either for you or for your students—can be important to ensure your success," he says.

Neimeyer also notes that not all elements of a position are negotiable, but that doesn't mean they aren't important. Sick leave, health insurance and retirement benefits can vary widely from university to university and are a big part of the overall compensation package, even though they are not negotiable elements.

Be confident in your ask. Candidates should be prepared to convince the hiring manager that their financial requests will help them be more successful in the long term, says Fassinger, who also serves on the executive committee of APA's Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology.

"The more you go into a situation thinking about what you honestly need to get your job done, and the more prepared you are to make strong arguments for why you want and need certain things, the more likely you are to get those things," she says. Women especially need to keep this first and foremost in their minds throughout the negotiation process. "Our natural inclination tends to be not to ask for what we want, so female candidates in particular may want to get some mentoring and coaching around that," she says.

Think locally—and holistically. Kelsky notes that salaries and costs for moving, lab support and more are local. "National averages are interesting for various purposes but are not useful in pushing for a higher salary in any individual negotiation, which must always be pegged to local institutional norms," she says.

In addition, she recommends that candidates limit themselves to focusing on a limited number of items during the negotiation process and weigh them holistically so that all of them are not massive requests. "Otherwise you're likely to alienate the department," she says.

For example, if you are asking for a tenure-track spousal hire—the largest possible job perk in most cases—it would be unseemly to also ask for a massive salary and lofty start-up costs, Kelsky explains. "You want to be sensitive to a holistic set of asks that is not going to appear excessive."

Be polite, but firm. Candidates should aim for a balance of self-assurance and pleasant collegiality. For example, Kelsky says, this type of language is ineffective and tiresome: "I am so grateful for the incredibly generous offer and consider it such an honor to be offered this prestigious position, but was wondering if I could possibly ask for a tiny bit more salary if that wouldn't be too much for the department to consider."

And this language can be arrogant and alienating: "Given my extensive publication record, I consider the offered salary inadequate and would surely expect a salary closer to $85K."

A more appropriate response would be: "Thank you for this offer. I'd like to discuss a few elements before signing the contract. The first is salary. I would like to request a salary of $75K, reflecting my extensive research and funding background, particularly my four peer-reviewed journal publications and my two NSF grants." Such language is firm, but collegial in that it provides some foundation for an increased ask, without histrionics, defensiveness, codependency or entitlement, she says.

Protect yourself. Once you and the institution have come to an agreement, be sure to get it in writing, Kelsky warns. That may not mean in the contract itself, which at many institutions includes only the salary and teaching load. But get everything you agreed upon in an email thread and print it out for your records.

"If you don't, any nonwritten agreements you reached with the department head or dean will be null and void once that head or dean retires, moves to another job or leaves the position," she says. "Writing—in the contract or email thread—is your best and only defense of your offer elements."

Beyond money

Common perks that one could consider:

  1. More lab space.
  2. Money for moving expenses.
  3. Additional research assistants.
  4. Conference travel funds.
  5. Professional membership dues.

Further reading

The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your PhD Into a Job
Kelsky, K., 2015

Women Don't Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation—and Positive Strategies for Change
Babcock, L., & Laschever, S., 2007

APA's Science Career Series

College and University Professional Association for Human Resources
Salary surveys, www.cupahr.org/surveys/results.aspx

This article was originally found in October 2017 Monitor on Psychology

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