Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ask the Administrator: Salary Haggling

A new correspondent writes:

With a little luck and a lot of hard work (and a long, drawn out application process), I've managed to land a job offer for one of the two full time faculty positions open in my department at the CC where I've been adjuncting for the past few semesters.  As this is my first full time job offer,  I was wondering what tips you have about negotiating the salary and benefits package.  I don't have competing job offers to force them to "sweeten the pot," and it's pretty obvious that I will take the job.  Do you or any of your readers have advice for the what and how of haggling?

First, congratulations on the job! That's wonderful!

Now for the bad news...

In the cc's I've seen, there's no wiggle room on the traditional benefits (health insurance, retirement plan, etc.). Those are standard across ranks, and often across entire institutions. For example, at my cc, every full-time employee has the same few options for health insurance, regardless of rank or title. Colleges – and sometimes entire state systems of colleges – can get better deals when they standardize the packages, since it reduces administrative overhead for the insurers and makes the colleges more desirable customers. In unionized settings, such as mine, these packages are spelled out in considerable detail in collective bargaining agreements, so everybody in the union gets the same benefit. (Sometimes newer hires have to pay more for it, but what they get is the same. It's also commonplace for non-unionized full-time employees – that is, administration – to get the same benefits as the unionized folk.) In some states the benefits packages are actually legislated.

Less obvious benefits often offer more wiggle room. These include availability of summer teaching, nicer offices, new computers (as opposed to hand-me-downs), and more desirable schedules. I'd be surprised if you got what you wanted in all of these areas, but you might be able to swing one or two of them. If you can decide which of these are most important, you could start by asking for several and then whittling down to the one or two you care about most.

Salary is tough. If you don't have one of the hot niches (nursing, say, or information security), you don't have a lot of bargaining power. In unionized settings, it's commonplace to have pre-set salary schedules in which new hires are given a number of 'points' based on degree level, years of experience, and the like, and the points you have determine the salary range to within a remarkably small degree of discretion. (At some schools, they'll actually determine the salary literally to the cent. I consider that bizarre, but there it is.) Even if they don't get as precise as I've seen, they'll still be budget-conscious both for good reasons (lack of money overall) and iffy ones (fear of 'salary compression,' or paying newbies more than those already there).

All of that said, you actually have more bargaining power now as a prospective hire than you will as a new employee. Raises are almost always given as percentages, so swinging a slightly higher starting salary will pay off with compounding returns over time, since you'll be getting bigger raises. So take a shot.

I'd suggest taking a few days, coming back with a counteroffer maybe 1500-2000 higher, and seeing what happens. Depending on their circumstances, they may meet you halfway, or they may shrug and say that the offer's the offer, and you can take it or leave it. But even if they do that, you're no worse off for asking.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers – what do you think?

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