Why Candidates Should Negotiate

As I mentioned in the previous post, there's some flap here about candidates negotiating. While I won't go into the gruesome details of it all, I did think, as I was responding to my colleague, that there are some pretty important reasons (from both sides of the table) why candidates should negotiate.

Reason 1: Sometimes Opportunity Only Knocks Once
Not so far back, just after this blog started, I mentioned negotiations for the faculty contract here. One of the things that I uniformly heard from older faculty when they talked about their distresses with pay scale was that they only had one real moment to influence their salaries: the moment of negotiation. After that, raises came and went, but there wasn't the ability to push for more beyond whatever system the university had in place without getting an outside offer.

Reason 2: Give a Little, Get a Little
This is going to sound needlessly Machiavellian, but it's true. When I did hiring in the corporate world, one of the things my mentor told me was to always be prepared to let someone we were recruiting win a bit. His reasoning was that someone who came in and who saw that the place they were being employed could be reasonable and that wanted them badly enough to give in a little, would be a happier employee in the long run. If the interview is the first chance for someone to meet faculty, negotiation is their first chance to meet the University. That's an impression that will last.

Academic searches are often reluctant to try this logic out, but I bet if you surveyed faculty who didn't get to negotiate - or who got nothing from them - you'd find a pretty high occurrence of faculty who were prepared to leave their jobs. If keeping faculty is really the priority of your university, be prepared to not just negotiate, but to "lose" a bit.

Reason 3: Where the School Negotiates Says a Lot About Its Priorities
One of the things I've learned in my academic interviewing time is that a school that truly sticks to its priorities will be prepared to back up those commitments if a candidate can offer a connection to them. If a school claims it wants research but can't spring for a little extra research money, be wary. If they value teaching but won't find some ways to help you integrate better, then you know they're blowing smoke.

Reason 4: There Are Two Kinds of Attention - Negotiations Are the Right Kind
Here's the thing: if a candidate is trying to negotiate with you, it means they're interested in you. If they just take your first offer, it likely means they're desperate. Which one they are will tell you a lot about where you might be headed. Academic hiring is, as noted here, there, and everywhere, ridiculously problematic. A person who negotiates, though, has to be taking some level of interest in you, and that means if you get them, they're likely coming in with a different energy and commitment to what you want.

Certainly, it's not always the case that the candidate is interested in you, but if the Prisoner's Dilemma taught us anything, it's that we're better off entering a negotiation with some sense of faith in the person and their motives than we are if we start by doubting them.

On some level, the negotiation process has to be seen as a testing of university resources and commitment. Done correctly, it's a chance for both sides of the table to emerge happier and stronger from the process.


4 Responses to “Why Candidates Should Negotiate”
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life_of_a_fool said...

So, I'm delurking to say this is insane. Your department (or university, or whoever is objecting to negotiation) is crazy. It just makes no sense. I can't imagine what their reasoning is.

My department was pretty quick to jump to the worse possible conclusion while waiting to negotiate from our first choice candidate person. I kept telling them that their suspicions would be the first evidence of anything less than professional from this person, but. . .It's amazing. I'm also surprised to hear from faculty who didn't even try negotiate. (I'm also annoyed at my U. to know how much better this year's hire did in negotiating than I did - partly on my own advice - but more power to this person, as she/he did exactly what he/she should have done!).

March 2, 2008 at 11:08 PM
Brigindo said...

It kind of blows my mind that there are people who think a candidate shouldn't (or has no right?) to negotiate. I've always seen job interviews as a test of fit on both sides of the table. The subsequent offer and negotiation is just a continuation of the fit process.

March 2, 2008 at 11:38 PM
Dr. Crazy said...

Other reasons why *all* candidates should negotiate:

1) It's important that people have a fair playing field upon entering. A lot of times, it would be seen as "understandable," say, if a guy who was married with kids, who had to provide for a family, attempted to negotiate, and even if nothing could be done, his request would be taken seriously and wouldn't be seen as an affront. Negotiation upon getting a job shouldn't be about that - it should be about giving the candidate what he or she is worth in the broader market, a show of good faith on the part of the hiring department that they really do want the candidate that they've chosen. One of the reasons that pay inequities persist in academia is because there are inequities in the hiring process - and one of those inequities is about who has the "right" to negotiate.

2) Assisting candidates in negotiating for more reasonable salaries can often be a first step in making a compelling case to try to get all faculties a raise in their base salary. I think one reason why some "old guard" faculty resist is because they are angered by salary compression. Now, compression is a problem, but the solution is not to hire in new people at a pittance. The solution is to hire people in at a decent wage and then to make a case for giving everybody a bump up.

Also, everything you said :)

March 2, 2008 at 11:45 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

Great points, all. I'm glad some of the points came across. I'm having one of those days where everything I write seems superbly unclear when I reread it. That said...

LoaF: thanks for the delurk. I agree that the person is nuts (though there does seem to have been, at least, some institutional tradition about this as well). What's truly funny is that the person objecting is otherwise very critically engaged.

Brigindo: that's exactly the point I tried to make with the person who objected: that negotiation is a good process and that it is one more way to test the fit between a department and a candidate.

And, Dr. C, those are two more great reasons that I'll have to mention. The fear of salary compression here has been a major point of contention amongst faculty. Part of the negotiation difficulty seems to be about getting people on this side of the table to see ways it benefits them.

March 3, 2008 at 12:44 PM