How to Negotiate Tenure-Track Academic Job Offers

You did it! You got your first academic tenure-track job offer. Now what? Well, hopefully you didn’t say yes on the phone, because there’s plenty to negotiate. This post will teach you most of what you need to know to learn how to negotiate tenure-track academic job offers.

General Advice for How to Negotiate Tenure-Track Academic Job Offers

Negotiating Tenure-Track Academic Job Offers is Expected.

Lots of academics seem to think that negotiating, especially for more salary, is somehow gauche or needlessly adversarial. Too many soon-to-be Ph.D.s and postdocs shout “YES!!!” on the phone before they take the time to think about their situation. After all, they got a tenure-track job — that thing everyone told them they would never get when they started their Ph.D. program in underwater basketweaving or whatnot. Why look a gift horse in the mouth?

Because it’s expected, that’s why. Your first offer is given to you with the expectation that you’ll ask for more of whatever is on the table. The numbers they are offering you are often lower than what they’re able and perfectly content to give you. Or sometimes they aren’t — usually they’ll try to be clear about this upfront with apologies if so. Regardless, your job now is to try to collegially find the ceiling on whatever resources are most important to you.

You Should Ask for What You Need.

Every tenure-track academic job comes with expectations for success, in terms of research, grant support, teaching, mentoring, institutional and professional service, etc. Sometimes the only input needed to accomplish these goals is your time — which is very valuable, but you can only negotiate for it indirectly (see course releases section below). Sometimes, however, you need specific resources to meet the position’s expectations. If you’re seriously considering a position, you should first make sure you have a clear idea of what the expectations for success are.

Now, often the department chair or dean won’t want to tell you this, because that gets into publication counting or minimum student ratings or other hard thresholds they would rather avoid. Often the most they’ll do is gently signal the relative importance of research, grants, teaching, mentoring, and service. In these cases, hopefully you have a departmental ally who will give you the inside scoop — either someone who’s friendly with your advisor or who you’re otherwise connected to, or else the person who went out of their way to emphasize that they’re happy to answer any questions you might have. (I would be slightly more cautious with that last category, but often it’s someone who remembers what it’s like to be in your position and genuinely wants to help.) You should also talk to your advisor to see if they have a sense of how things are done where you have your job offer.

If you can’t get the inside scoop, review the CVs of the current faculty who were tenured in the department and see what would have been on there when they put in their promotion packet. Even more importantly, if you learn of anyone who didn’t get tenure in that department, try to find their CV and do the same exercise. The ‘line’ is somewhere between the two.

Once you’ve ballparked the tenure line, work backwards to what sort of track record you’ll need in 6-8 years to earn promotion. What resources (equipment, software, travel to archives, support for research assistants, etc.) will you need to do your intended research? Do you need additional time for that research to maximize your publication and impact prospects? Do you have experience teaching the courses they expect you to teach, or could you benefit from early course releases to prep them for maximum efficacy? You won’t always get everything you could benefit from, but be sure to at minimum ask for (and justify) what you need.

You Should Ask for What Would Get You to Yes.

You always have other options than the offer in front of you. If you’re lucky enough to have multiple job offers at the same time, that’s especially obvious. In this scenario, you may or may not prefer one position over the other on the merits (course load, institution type, location, colleagues, etc). In that case, just take the best offer, after playing them against each other to the reasonable limit. But if you do prefer School A to School B, there’s probably an offer package level School B could offer to change your mind. If you’re going to accept School A’s offer otherwise and you have time, it wouldn’t hurt to tell School B what would make you change your mind, then see what they can do. Perhaps this is not worthwhile if the numbers are completely outside the non-preferred option’s range or if they have already signaled their hard limits. But if not, it wouldn’t hurt to politely inquire whether something along those lines is possible. (If they give it to you, you should then repeat with School A until you find your ceiling and make your final decision.)

But more and more Ph.D.s in all fields are working outside of academia — in government, in tech, in consulting, in non-profits, and many other industries. Perhaps you prefer an academic position to these options all else equal, but all else is often not equal. So you should educate yourself about the non-academic options available to you, then ask yourself: How much is my preference for academic employment worth compared to this realistic option set? You probably wouldn’t do the academic job for $20,000, and you probably would do it for $200,000. Somewhere in the middle is your threshold below which academia is no longer worth it to you. Try to estimate where it is, and don’t accept any offers below that threshold except in desperate circumstances. (See my guide to non-academic positions for social scientists *when I get around to writing it.)

What Can You Negotiate for in an Tenure-Track Academic Job Offer?

For ~Every Institution:

Potentially, lots of things. Here’s the list that applies to almost every TT job and prospective professor:

  1. Salary
  2. Summer Salary
  3. Spouse/Partner Hire (if applicable)

But the devil is in the details, so lets get into those before proceeding to the things that may or may not apply to your situation.


The number one thing that will apply to workers at most non-unionized schools is salary. I know that financial riches are probably not why you got into this business, but listen carefully: This is one of the few chances you will ever get in even a successful academic career to determine your standard of living. Not taking advantage of this leverage point is a huge mistake that can cumulatively cost you $100,000s.

The reason is that once they have you in the door, they know it’s tough to leave. They don’t want a failed search, and they prefer you to whoever is further down the list, so you have some leverage. Once you’ve moved into town and maybe bought a house and sent your kids to the local schools, they know your chances of leaving are much lower. And I promise you they will mercilessly take advantage of that, balancing their budget on your back while hiring another 5 overpaid assistant vice deans for cafeteria culinary compliance. Market rates for starting assistant professors in your field may trend upward, but your salary likely won’t unless you leave or credibly threaten to (*see my post on salary compression and outside offers when I get around to writing it). So you’d better make the most of the leverage you have now.

How much can you ask for? It depends on the school, your field, and your leverage.

  • School: You have more room to negotiate at rich privates and flagship state schools; at non-elite liberal arts colleges, public directionals, and community college, you may have very little.
  • Field: One key factor in professor pay by field is how much outside competition there is for professors’ services. Some of this has come to all fields with the rise of tech and UX research, but fields with a broader outside specialized market will generally have a higher salary ceiling.
  • Leverage: Basically I mean other job offers here. If you have another offer in your pocket or in the works, now (after they’ve given you their offer — NOT before) is the time to tell them. Hopefully this school will beat the other offer (or at least sweeten theirs); after, you can take the new offer back to the other school and ask them to beat it (while strongly hinting that you will accept if they do). Repeat until the department chairs / deans tell you that’s as high as they’ll go or your deadline is upon you.

Ok, but what if your school isn’t rich, your field’s outside job prospects aren’t great, and you don’t have any other offers? Well, you should still ask for a little more — generally, I counsel asking for an extra 10% (but expect to settle on +5%). Even if you don’t have leverage, remember that they probably low balled you to begin with. Just ask.

Sometimes department chairs or deans will tell you when they communicate the offer that this is not a low ball offer, that they are making their best good faith offer, and they aren’t looking to or able to negotiate on top of that. I think it’s best to assume that they’re telling the truth in these instances. It might be that they can increase the offer at least a smidge if you have a competing offer or you tell them that you can’t accept at that number, but don’t play chicken or try to call their bluff unless you’re prepared to walk away (hopefully into another at least equally good situation). It’s a small world, and if you go around telling people you can’t negotiate an offer but then do sometimes, that information will get around.

Summer salary

For 9-10 month appointments, it is sometimes possible to negotiate for summer salary for your first few years at your position. I haven’t seen this extend past the first three, but maybe it covers throughout the tenure track for the particularly fortunate, but probably not beyond that anywhere. This isn’t as important as your base salary, but it’s also generally easier to get because it’s short-term rather than the baseline for all your future raises. But it’s still important to negotiate for! Many starting assistant professors find they need to professionalize their wardrobe, buy more furniture, make a down payment on a house, or just start accruing the life-changing compound interest from early career summer salary. One way or the other, it can make a huge difference when you’re just starting out, so ask for it.

As ever, what’s reasonable to ask for here depends on the institution type, your field, and your leverage. Generally, you won’t be laughed out the door at a research university if you ask for 1-2 months of summer per year for your first 2-3 years. You probably won’t get it, but it won’t be unreasonable. If you can’t negotiate for it upfront, at many schools there are pots of money to support research that are prioritized for early-career scholars, so that may be another route. Finally, at more teaching-oriented institutions, you may be able to pick up summer classes (pre-prepped online courses are especially cushy depending on enrollment and tech support levels) to help you get to close to the same place.

Spouse/partner hire

Obviously this doesn’t apply to everyone. If you don’t have a spouse or partner, or they don’t work, or have an established remote work career, or they don’t work in an occupation with cross-over applicability to academia, it’s obviously not relevant. But if it is relevant, it’s probably the highest return-on-negotiation issue you can work on. If you’re in a stable, committed relationship with another academic (AKA the “two-body problem”) and you’re the one that gets the TT offer, I would rank negotiating a fulfilling position for your spouse/partner as the #1 financial and life satisfaction negotiation priority. Here’s a few things to keep in mind as you work through your options.

Not every school can or will play ball.

Lots of schools have dedicated pots of money to facilitate spousal hires, or at least a culture of working to figure something out when it’s needed to hire the person they want. Some don’t, for two reasons that I’ve heard of:

  1. They don’t have the resources. Lots of colleges and universities are barely scraping by, especially as they confront the demographic cliff of permanently lower domestic student enrollments. They just don’t have the excess funds. In this case, expect that your best shot is if they happen to have an opening for which your spouse/partner is a fit. Otherwise you may have to look outside the school where you have an offer to make things work for both of you.
  2. They think they’re too good for it. Some schools don’t do spousal hires for the same reason some schools give no priority to their assistant professors for tenured associate professor positions: Their opinion of themselves is high enough that they think they don’t have to. Without extensive crowdsourcing I can’t give you a list of these schools, but the ones I’ve heard about are snooty $80k tuition type of places in desirable areas to live. If you got an offer from one of these places, congratulations! But face the fact that either you or your partner may have to make some major career sacrifices if this is in your option set.
Typical spouse/partner hiring options

If your school does play ball on spousal hiring, it can play out in a few different ways, in part depending on your spouse/partner’s desired employment.

Academic spouses/partners

This is the classic case. Basically there are seven options:

  1. Tenure-track job in their desired field. This is obviously the dream scenario! And it certainly happens sometimes, but it’s probably the minority of cases that I’ve seen. How likely it is depends on the school’s resources, your partner’s CV, how over/understaffed the desired department’s faculty is in your spouse’s/partner’s specialty, and all manner of inter-collegiate/departmental and internal budgetary politics completely beyond your control. If you do get this highly-desirable outcome, it will likely be after at least a couple months of additional interviews (for your spouse/partner) and negotiations after you received your offer. Buckle up.
  2. Research Professor / Associate. The availability and applicability of this position will depend on institution type and field, but at research universities in fields primarily funded through external grants, this can be a good option. These positions are typically soft money (which means a lot of different things all having to do with the expectation that you will bring in a portion of your own salary — see my post on the different types of soft money positions *when I get around to writing it).
  3. Teaching Professor. These positions are probably available at most school types. Typically these are paid less than TT positions (50-70% of TT salaries seems standard from the few I’ve seen), and have shorter contracts lasting 2-5 years. They will also have a higher teaching load than is typical for a TT position at the same institution. These faculty often do continue their research programs, but it’s a much smaller part of their evaluations and continued employment reviews, and obviously they have less time to do it. Still, this can be a rewarding career path — at research universities, these are often the faculty that your department’s majors know best.
  4. Postdoc (then we’ll see). As you likely know, postdocs are short-term (1-4 year) research fellowships, funded by external grants (either training programs or research grants) or by institutional funds. Training program grants like NIH T32s often allow a high degree of research independence under a mentor’s oversight, while research grant-based postdocs typically come with the expectation that you will primarily work on the funded project. Sometimes a postdoc will be paired with a subsequent position like a TT or research/teaching professorship, but sometimes they will offer the postdoc with no guarantee of subsequent employment (but the tacit promise that they’ll try to find something). This can sometimes work out well, but obviously it’s uncertain.
  5. Administration. This is more likely for mid- and advanced-career spouses/partners than those just starting out. Often your department, research institute, college, or university have an administrative role that needs filling that none of their established faculty want to take. If your spouse/partner is a good fit for that position, sometimes they’ll be happy to get two birds with one stone. These positions vary widely in their prestige, administrative responsibilities, and pay, but at the high end this can be a fairly lucrative and career-advancing option for resolving the two-body problem.
  6. Adjunct. This isn’t the best option, but sometimes it’s all you’ll have available. These positions are typically paid on a per-course basis (an American Federation of Teachers 2020 report cites $2,000-7,000 per course, with a median of about $3,500) with no guarantees beyond the current academic year or semester. You can make a career like this, and sometimes it leads to better options down the road, but in the meantime it will be a poorly-paid, stressful career that can lock you out of other appealing employment trajectories. I would only consider this if my family had no other realistic options to all work in our fields and live together with sufficient resources to thrive. So if you’re asking your partner to take this kind of position, you’d better either have no other options or be making bank, and you’d both better be really committed to one another. Just remember that as academics, we have lots of marketable skills — staying in academia under these kinds of conditions won’t be worth it for many (most?) people.
  7. Any of the above position types at a nearby school. Sometimes schools that are clustered in the same geographic area (typically major cities) have established practices of hiring each other’s faculty spouses when needed/possible. This can take any of the forms described above. This obviously won’t apply in isolated college towns or one-school cities, but it can sometimes work in your favor.
Non-academic spouses/partners

It’s hard to make a definitive list of the options here because they’re so much more varied. Sometimes your spouse/partners have worked outside of academia in the past, but there’s a faculty or administrative position at your hiring institution that is a good fit for them. I’ve seen this work out spectacularly well, giving both partners fulfilling, remunerative careers that they both love. Other times, they can help your spouse/partner find a position at affiliated research institutes or non-academic businesses, non-profits, and governmental institutions in the surrounding area. The key is for your spouse/partner to know what they’re ideally looking for (and what they’re willing to accept), then ask the administrative liaison to help them find it.

Probably Research University-Specific Negotiation Points

Some things probably only apply to research universities and/or those with graduate programs in your field:

  1. Start-up / Research Funds (if 9-10 month appointment)
  2. Course releases
  3. Graduate student, postdoc, and lab staff support
  4. Salary guarantee period (for soft money positions)

Start-up / research funds

The importance and potential ceiling on this category varies enormously by field and school type. In schools with minimal research expectations, you’re unlikely to get much regardless of field. But if you’re negotiating with a school with at least moderate research expectations and your field requires expensive equipment and/or armies of paid research assistants and staff, then this number can easily go into the millions. In mine, it’s generally $5,000-$50,000. In a field with minimal research costs, this may be the last thing you negotiate on; in a field where can’t do your work without multiple pieces of 6-figure equipment, it might be the most important thing to negotiate.

What’s more, what’s expected to be covered in the startup package varies widely across schools. I’ve heard of schools where you were expected to buy your own office furniture with it along with computers, software, laser pointers, and anything else you’ll definitely need. Sometimes this covers travel to conferences and archives. Other times all of that is covered independent of the startup fund. So before you can negotiate on this issue, you need to know what you don’t need to negotiate for — ask the chair / dean thoughtful questions here and you’ll be well-positioned to better highlight your remaining needs. Make a list of what you’ll need to meet and hopefully exceed the position’s expectations, see what isn’t already covered, and then ask for sufficient startup funds to make sure all of that is covered. The bonus here is that by being specific, you’re much more likely to get your requests granted!

Course releases

You can often negotiate contractual course releases over the first few years of your employment. This is most feasible at research universities, but you may be able to get this at teaching-focused schools too with proper justification. First, here are a few things to know:

  1. Not every school offers course releases. Sometimes this is because they’re a teaching-focused institution (or this is a teaching position) and they have a certain number of course offerings they need filled with this position and that’s that. Sometimes it’s because it’s an elite research university or liberal arts college where a big part of the sales pitch to justify sky-high tuition is undergraduates’ access to academia’s leading scholars. Often in the latter case though the course load will be sub-2/2 levels.
  2. It can be risky to ask for them at the wrong institution. Just about every Ph.D. holder graduates from a research university, but most of them don’t end up working at one. The faculty at the teaching-focused institution where you’re interviewing are often keenly aware of where they are in the perceived academic hierarchy and how different their job is from their grad school professors’. They are also keenly aware that many newly-minted Ph.D.s will view their positions as a backup plan or stepping stone at best, and are looking to sniff those out during the hiring process. They want to hire someone who gets the institution’s mission, what the job will be like, and wants to be there. Asking for more than at most 1-2 course releases (justified by saying it will help you prep even better versions of the courses they need filled) at such an institution will often send the wrong signal.
  3. They can set you up for success early in your career. If you are negotiating a position at a school where they offer course releases and it’s appropriate to ask for them, they can be huge for your career. Since I’ve been at my current institution where the standard appointment is 2/2, I’ve never taught a full 2/2 load. At first this was due to contractual course releases, but over time that’s been replaced by course buy-outs from internal and external grants. Many service positions can also come bundled with course releases. By negotiating for these early, you can spend more time perfecting the courses you do teach, publishing your dissertation, developing your research agenda, and seeking external funding, all of which are subject to significant cumulative advantages.

Graduate student, postdoc, and lab staff support

If your tenure-track job offer is at a research university and you are expected to support your own graduate students and postdocs, you can and should negotiate for the level of support you’ll need to get your research lab off the ground. Sometimes this will be part of the start-up package described above, and sometimes it will be a separate item. Make sure you’re clear on which is the case for your tenure-track job offer, then negotiate accordingly.

Salary guarantee period (for soft money positions)

If you’re at the beginning of your career and are interviewing for soft money positions where you’re expected to fund a significant portion of your own salary, nobody expects that you’ll come in with the grant support you’ll need on day 1. So these positions typically come with a salary guarantee period of around 2-4 years. During that time you’ll be expected to apply for a lot of grant money, which takes a lot of time and effort and often has low success rates. Research the success rates for funding in your field and typical times from idea to funding when successful, then estimate a timeline on which you have a good chance of putting together a successful externally funded research program. Then ask for a salary guarantee for that long, and see what they say.

What You Probably Can’t Negotiate For in a Tenure-Track Academic Job Offer

As you can see, there are lots of things you may be able to negotiate for in your tenure-track academic job offer. However, there are lots of things you can’t negotiate, or circumstances under which you can’t negotiate for some of the things above.

Unionized Faculty or Other Graduated Salary Tables

At schools with unionized faculty (about 25% of all faculty, especially adjuncts and lecturers) or at employers with step-based promotion/compensation systems like the University of California’s for tenure-track faculty, you’ll have less leeway to negotiate the terms of your employment in terms of compensation and promotion. This is almost certainly a good thing for most faculty and promotes much greater equity than what you see at more common free-for-all-negotiation institutions, but for those with lots of leverage from other offers, it probably lowers the salary ceiling. Be sure to educate yourself about the terms of the faculty’s employment policies before negotiating to avoid wasting energy and non-negotiable points.


Most university benefits for faculty are non-negotiable. The retirement plan, health / dental / vision insurance plan, life and disability insurance options, and other HR policies apply the same university-wide, at least for faculty in the same employment class. So these benefits can vary significantly across universities or even within universities between faculty hired at different time points, but for faculty hired in the same year, they’ll all be the same.

How Should You Prioritize Requests When Negotiating Tenure-Track Academic Job Offers?

You won’t be able to negotiate effectively on all of the issues listed above. You’re going to need to prioritize. A good guideline is to ask for no more than three big things when negotiating your tenure-track academic job offer. Big things include salary increases, spouse/partner hires, major course release or summer salary requests, and significant adjustments to the start-up package. Figure out what your big requests are and how you rank them in importance, and you have the major outlines of your counterproposal. As you decide how much to ask for on each of these things, remember that without another offer to bid things up, they will not offer you more than you ask for. Ask for more than you would be willing to accept within reason, then prepare to meet in the middle.

Your counterproposal is also your chance to ask for small things. I didn’t list all of these above because this post is already quite long, but this might include assurances of how many new course preps you’ll be expected to do while on the tenure-track, what sorts of service obligations you’ll be expected to undertake, and other job- and life-enhancing matters within your department’s control that would be nice to have. It’s good to ask for these things while you have leverage (remember, they prefer you to the next person!), and it often costs them very little to grant them. Just be reasonable about it and you’ll probably get a lot of yeses on these. However, you should be aware that these often will not be part of the offer letter (which is a legal document subject to approval from the top reaches of the university and thus not infinitely malleable) — instead, ask for a written assurance from the department chair of their intention to honor these requests.

That’s a lot to process, but the takeaway is all up front:

  1. Just negotiate. It’s expected!
  2. Ask for what you need.
  3. Ask for what would get you to yes.

The rest are details of issues to think about when following this takeaway advice. If you’re unclear how to proceed, be sure to talk to your advisor, or ask questions in the comments. You got this!

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