A Brief Guide to Successful Negotiation in Academia


The process of negotiation can be challenging for many especially in academia. When people seek my advice for putting a start-up package together they generally start by saying they do not want to appear too greedy.  (1) Forget greed, it is all about need. Negotiating for a start-up package is about asking for what is essential in order for you to be successful at what you are being hired to do.  Ask for the maximum of what you need.  It is not about trying to game a system to get the maximum you can or figuring out the maximum you can ask for and not appear greedy. You want the negotiation to focus on how your needs can be met not whether or not you actually need the times on your list.  Always think “need”.  (2)  You are negotiating for your team.  Often people will tell me that they are uncomfortable asking for so much for themselves. In reality start-up package negotiation is about establishing a successful research or creative activity program which means building a team.  So think “team”.  (3) Do your homework. I am often surprised that people will show me their list for a start-up package but when I ask them what they actually need they have not really thought about it. Start-up packages are not generic. They need to be targeted to what you actually need to have access to. It is important to keep track of things you use or take for granted every day and make a list. From that list you can create a list of needs. Some needs may be required for the lab, some may be satisfied by institutional shared equipment or services, but the list should be complete. Remember, this is a negotiation and part of the negotiating process is determining if your needs mandate purchasing analytical equipment or having access to it. It is also important to have determined need so that if asked you can easily and readily justify the need. Be prepared. (4) Seek advice early. I never like it when someone tells me that they need my help on a start-up package because they have to send it in the next day. These kinds of rush jobs are never fully professionally done. When you decide upon a career path, whether it be academic or corporate start forming a network of advisors – peers also seeking positions, recently hired faculty and senior mentors with experience in hiring and negotiation. Use these resources to think about your needs before you visit any institution for an interview. This will give you an idea of the match between your needs and institutional capabilities. Be informed.  Finally  (5) Don’t sweat the details. Do not obsess over the cost of items, an approximation is fine. Focusing too much on cost is bad for the psyche – it reinforces a connection of negotiation with greed rather than need.  Focus on need.