Monday, May 17, 2010

 

Ask the Administrator: Handling an Offer

A returning correspondent, in the late stages of a few interviews, writes:

If I do get that happy phone
call from any of these schools, what’s the next step on my end? I’m
obviously going to be super excited and will be holding in my screams
of joy until I get off the phone, but I won’t want to accept anything
officially until I hear from all three of these schools. How do I say
“maybe” and yet still get across the point that I’m really excited?
Is it common/acceptable to ask for a contract before I give them my
final decision? Is it appropriate to give full disclosure that I’m
also waiting to hear from other schools – or will that put the kernel
in their minds that they are not my first choice? At what point do
negotiations occur – before or after I give the official yes?

And, following up on the negotiation aspect, I know that at cc’s there
is often little room for negotiation since most of the salary is
typically formula based, and the course load is pretty much set in
stone (5/5 at each of these schools – typical for a cc), but where is
there wiggle room? Also, I’m ABD and am planning on an October
degree. Can I work into the contract that my salary goes up as soon
as I have that degree in hand?


This is a good problem to have.

It's typically fair to ask for some small amount of time to think about an offer after receiving it. In this employer's market that amount of time probably isn't very long, but a few days to a week should be easy enough. That's especially true if the job involves relocating.

If you already have an offer in hand, of course, it's much easier to bargain with the second offer. Holding one offer open while waiting to hear from someone else is tougher. My experience has been that offers come on their own schedules, and sometimes can't be rushed. Although it's tempting to read all sorts of psychological issues into that, it's frequently a function of process and/or personnel. (One oddly-timed vacation can delay an entire process.) If you have an offer in hand from College A, of course, you're entirely free to call College B and tell them that you've promised College A an answer by fill-in-the-date. Just be prepared to be told something like “well, then, you have to do what you have to do.” In this market, I'd be surprised to hear of competing offers at the entry level. It's possible, but unless you're bringing something really unusual to the table – a bilingual Nurse, say – I'd be surprised.

Salary negotiations are also pretty limited in this market. I haven't had a job candidate even attempt to bargain salary in two years. (Some could have.) That has made my job easier, but I'd expect that to fade a bit when the Great Recession recedes.

In a collective bargaining environment, salaries are usually pretty formulaic. Union contracts typically include a host of criteria that amounts to a de facto 'point' system. It's important to get the best deal you can upfront, because once you're in the system, future raises are done in increments and percentages. That means that over time, a small initial difference will compound. I wouldn't expect a lowball offer to get meaningfully adjusted after the fact unless you're in that rare setting that does “counteroffers” and you have another offer in hand. (Mine doesn't do counteroffers, mostly for fear of salary compression or inversion.) Even then, though, there's always the chance that your attempt to leverage another offer won't work, at which point you'll be left either accepting the low increment or moving.

The most effective way I've seen to get the best opening offer has been to ask if there are any criteria in the salary calculation that you didn't address in your initial application. For example, I've seen contracts that award salary points for prior military service, even if the service had nothing to do with the job for which you were hired. (In your case, I'd definitely ask about a 'bump' for doctoral completion. Don't make the mistake of baking that into the cake initially; get the best offer you can upfront, and then get the bump on top of it. Whatever you do, don't make a binding promise about a completion or defense date; I've seen too many earnest ABD's hit the wall over the years.) You have nothing to lose by asking, and even a small difference now will compound over time.

There may also be some wiggle room for non-recurring expenses, like relocation. Unlike salary bumps, relocation costs don't carry forward into future budgets, so you may sometimes be able to swing something there. It may or may not work, but you have nothing to lose by asking.

Don't give away more power than you need to. Although it's easy to feel like a peon in this market, any first-choice candidate has at least a modicum of power simply by virtue of being the first-choice candidate. If you don't take the job, they'll have to settle for the next choice, which they generally don't like to do. With late-season hires like these, that's particularly true.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers – any thoughts on salary negotiating in the current climate?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

Comments:
Depending on how the salary is calculated, you should make sure that you have the minimum number of credits required to maximize your salary. So, if you have an incomplete you were planning to let go -- finish it, even if your grade is lower than you'd like. THEN send them your official transcript.

Also, you should be ready for the "I don't know what your salary will be" answer -- because, at least in my state, salaries are not determined locally. Also be prepared for "defending your dissertation won't mean a raise", as that's the case in my state as well. I'm already in the highest salary group, so my upcoming defense won't change my salary at all.

Where there might be some room for negotiation is in how they count your "experience". They may try to take the number of courses you've taught on your own and divide by 10 (the normal CC course load). You need to argue that the normal annual, full-time load at your prior uni was lower -- say 6. It may help you out some. Also, be very clear about the courses you taught on your own. Just because you were a TA, does not entail you weren't in control of the course.
 
Our contract automatically gives a bump for attaining a degree, license, etc. It's an increase in points (and each point carries a certain monetary amount). However, at least for CCs in my state, you wouldn't earn any points for almost being done.

Three summers ago (so not quite this economic climate), I received an offer at a small, private, 4 year institution that was about 10% lower than my starting salary at my CC 2.5 years earlier. I had been teaching the equivalent of 9 years (per their calculation) and I do have my doctorate and was surprised that I'd be taking a step backward. I did some research and found that the offer was considerably lower than what faculty at comparable small, four year private schools in my state were being paid. I wrote a letter and asked for more money. I did really want to go to that school, but the salary was not only lower than what my starting salary had been a few years earlier.

To make a long story short, they did counter, but the salary was still not close to what I was currently making and while I was willing to take a slight pay cut in order to move to this school, their final offer was still not quite what I needed for my family. I talked with the VP and his hands were essentially tied due to their contract.

It definitely can't hurt to ask, but many times the contract is the deciding factor.

Good luck to you.
 
There is nothing to be lost by asking, but don't look foolish by asking about things that were already explained to you during your interview. If you get an offer from a place like my CC, the main thing is to be sure you and they agree about what is being considered in the pay formula. (There is a reason it is called a "formula". There is no wiggle room, and HR determines what counts as suitable service.) The only variable would be if they might help with relocation with only a few months to move.

However, my reason for commenting concerns ABD in October. October? Really? Will your dissertation be complete by August? Are your syllabus and first exams ready now, so you won't have to worry about them in August and September?
 
Some hard-headed and hard-hearted advice:

Take any and all offers you get. If you accept more than one (and count yourself very, VERY lucky), you'll have to tell someone you've changed your mind. They won't like it.

Don't worry about it. Community colleges--at least out here in California--often make offers "contingent upon funding." If the money falls through, so does the job offer.

If a cc can make an offering that's "contingent," there's nothing unethical about your doing the same. You found a better-paying job. Period.

Check out the salary schedule--especially where you'll be placed initially--very carefully. The law out here in California requires that you be given service credit for teaching experience. But the law also specifies that it's FULL-time teaching experience.

In other words, even though someone has years and years of experience as an adjunct, s/he may be placed on the lowest step of the salary schedule.

Some CA cc's do this, others don't. You need to find this out because where you're placed initially will make tens of thousands of dollars of difference in your earnings over 20 years.

Finally (and, again, out here in California), the Ph.D. bump for community college teachers doesn't amount to much. At my school, it's only $2K/year--which is nothing compared to your initial placement on the salary schedule.

--Philip
 
You gotjokes! IF you get an offer, TAKE IT! rofl
 
Spouse accepted 2 CC jobs last year (both in CA). The one he really wanted kept hinting it was coming but they were in a slightly worse financial position and a little behind (about a month) in the process. He strung out the first one for about 2 weeks (that was all they gave him), verbally accepted the job, 3 weeks later (a couple of days before the board meeting confirming the offer) called and declined. There was still one week of craziness where he had declined the first job but wasn't 100% sure if second job would come through (see below regarding board meetings).

Asking for the contractual language for how your salary is calculated is good advice. Often the person offering the job won't want to deal with it. Tell them its ok, but you need all info to make a decision and have them refer you to HR. If nothing else, it buys you time.

It is true that, at least in CA, offers are contingent on the institution's board approval/funding. In the past, this was a rubber stamp. Now, it is real - only about a third of the offered jobs at the school he really wanted were actually approved. With the rest, offers were rescinded and/or put off a year. That is just the financial reality. The school he ended up at was able to tell him he was in the first tier of priorities about a week before the board meeting(these days, most CC's are handing a priority list to boards - replacement hires generally rank higher than expansion lines) thus why we were confident enough to let the first job go.

Some people may really have an ethical problem with accepting both jobs, but it isn't terribly inappropriate given the info above. If a school can't commit to you, why should you have to close all doors?
 
The ethics of accepting a job you later decline aside, keep in mind that if you do that, you've burned--incinerated--your bridges with that institution. Maybe it will never matter, but . . . if you accept and then decline, at the very best Pick 2 gets the job, and everyone, including the candidate, knows that Pick 2 wasn't the first choice. At worst, the remaining finalists have found other work and the whole hire is lost. That will be remembered.
 
Yes it will indeed be remembered. I had a candidate accept a job and only discovered that she had TAKEN another job through the grapevine. When I called and confronted her, she was initially evasive, then finally admitted that she, "needed to look out for Number One". So, we lost her, and by then our 2nd and 3rd choices had taken other positions, and we ended up losing the full-time slot to another department. We used adjunct faculty for three years before we were able to re-advertise this position.

So, there are ethics, and then there are ethics. This candidate then had the cojones to use me as a reference for an NSF grant! She is still mystified at why our faculty shun her at professional meetings.
 
See?

I said people wouldn't like it. Tough shit.

If you accept a job at college A, turn down a job at college B because you have another offer so it's the ethical thing to do, and then college A tells you there's no funding, then you're out of luck.

Maybe they'll remember you for your honesty, but I don't think anon 2:01 or Al will be writing checks to help you pay the rent.

--Philip
 
This is Anon@2:01 again.

Philip, it may never matter to the person accepting then rejecting the job that he or she has left carnage behind at the offering institution. But this is a small world, and people in the same discipline have a way of coming in contact again in later days. My point is that behaving this way just might come back to bite the candidate in the ass, and the OP should be aware of that. Obviously the person in Al's anecdote wasn't aware of the effect her actions had--but I'm guessing she didn't get a super-fantastic reference from Al.
 
What Anonymous@2:01 and Al said. I'm not familiar with situations where appointments are contingent, but I know that if you accept a budgeted appointment, and subsequently back out, you are understood to be, in this business, unworthy of respect. The consequence of your behavior is, frequently, a failed search, and that is a burden that people do not forget nor forgive.
 
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