How to Negotiate a Faculty Salary

The Vetducator - coins indicate that money is the least important variable in deciding on a job.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

So you have an offer of employment- congratulations!  This is one of the most exciting experiences I have had in my professional progression (although I also enjoy interviewing).  Salary is only one piece of the negotiation package, but it is the one many people spend the most time thinking about. I would encourage you to focus less on salary, but you do need to earn a FAIR salary.  Fortunately, for most institutions, a fair salary is easy to determine.

Your goal with salary negotiations should be to get a FAIR salary.  You can always ask for the moon, but I believe it is better to be reasonable.  If you make a high salary a sticking point, you may put your future department chair and colleagues in an awkward position.  Because of salary compression, existing faculty may not make as much as incoming faculty. If you come in at a SUBSTANTIALLY higher salary than them, this may create resentment.

You should take advantage of a new offer to make your own life situation as good as possible without alienating your future colleagues.  You do this is by doing research. For most state schools, you can find the salaries for existing faculty. Find your rank (Instructor, Assistant, Associate, or Full Professor) and identify those current faculty at that rank.  Then search the salary database to get an idea of the range.

I would generally recommend choosing the median value within existing salaries, but you may adjust this up or down depending on your experience level and what else you are asking for.  For example, for my last negotiation, I came in as a Full Professor, but I am relatively young compared to many of the existing faculty. If I asked for a salary above what the highest-paid current Professor with 10 years’ more experience earns, I may have created some resentment.  And the median salary for current Professors was more than enough for me to be happy, so that is what I asked for.

Once you receive an offer of employment, you can indicate you are very interested and you need time to consider and get back to them with what you would like in your negotiation.  Many institutions will include a salary in the initial offer. In general, the first entity to give a number will set the bar for the negotiation, and it is preferable for that to be the institution.  However, I have been asked twice what I would expect to make DURING the interview, so you should have a fair number in mind. Whether they do or do not include a salary offer, do your comparative research so you can come back with either “That sounds good” or “I would like to ask for X amount.”

If you are applying to a private school or a school which does not publish salaries, you can still do the research.  Some institutions will have different salaries for different disciplines- supposedly to reflect the differences in the salaries those disciplines would make in private practice.  I personally feel that salary should be based on your rank and number of years of service and be independent of your discipline, but I don’t get to regulate the market economy. Find out approximately what others in your discipline and rank make at other institutions.  If you use those numbers, it is unlikely you will get a “Woah, that is way different than what we were expecting.” I expect most vet schools are within $10k of each other for starting salaries. Some may be dramatically lower- like Colorado State University (everyone wants to live in Fort Collins)- and some may be dramatically higher- like UC Davis (SO expensive to live there).

For most institutions, you can probably ask for a 5% increase over an initial offer without ruffling any feathers.  An administrator once told me, “Don’t lose a potential faculty member over five thousand dollars.” Some places will have a hard budget and not be able to move.  If you are asking for a LOT of other things or a high-cost item like a spousal hire, you may not be able to get any more in salary. If you have competing offers, you can share the salary information with each so they can factor that into their decision-making during negotiations.

Make sure to prioritize your requests so you will know how to respond.  It never hurts to ask, as long as it is a fair and reasonable ask. Consider if you will be happy regardless of the response.  If you ask for $120k, and they come back with $110k, is that acceptable? I think the most important question is: is that a fair salary for this institution, position, and discipline?  If it’s fair, then you need to decide how important cash money is to you.

Some people may be stressed about negotiating salary, but I don’t think you should be.  As long as you are professional, consider the impact on your future colleagues, and don’t get greedy, everything should be fine.

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