I had the pleasure of speaking with one of my former students about her recent negotiation experience. Leah works at a large private university in New England. The position she applied for was internal. She was the Assistant Director for the Center of Academic Success and Transition and applied for the vacant Associate Director position in the same office. After an open search she was offered the position.
Leah and I were talking about this because during the tail end of the search when she thought she might get the offer, she reached out to me with some negotiation questions. After answering her questions, I asked her if I could interview her about her experience afterwards to see what things she learned that could help others in the same position. She agreed.
Based on conversations and workshops during her grad program, Leah said she knew to do her homework ahead of time. During the phone interview early in the process they informed her that the position would start at $55,000 and that they would want the person to start July 1. At her institution every position is graded. Leah looked at other positions with similar titles and responsibilities and discovered that most were grade 9, but the one she was interviewing for was a grade 8. The grade 9 positions were up to $10,000 more per year than the grade 8s. She would use that in her salary negotiation.
Here was Leah’s thinking as she awaited the decision. She already knew that the benefits were solid and that there was plenty of support for professional development and there was also tuition remission for her, her wife, and her kids. As one would expect, her initial focus was on salary. She planned to ask for $62,000, hoping for $58,000. If she didn’t get the salary she hoped for, she would ask for a meal plan. Also, given the time in the year she was applying (mid-spring), she wanted to be sure that her very strong evaluations in her current position would be considered in the departmental merit process.
She got the offer and, as expected, her potential new boss offered $55,000. She was appropriately excited, thanked him for the offer, got all the necessary information, and asked for a few days to think about it. I asked if she was tempted to accept right then. She laughed and said, “No, I did that in my first position and swore I’d never do that again.”
She said that on the second phone call, “I felt more confident than nervous. The offer validated the good work I had been doing. I wanted to sound reasonable but confident. I thanked him again for the offer and asked him if the salary could be $62,000.”
His response? “He clarified what I asked for and certainly didn’t sound upset or surprised. It was a very reasonable conversation. He said he would get back to me as soon as he had an answer.” Leah continued, “He called me a day later and offered $56,000. I thanked him and then asked if a meal plan could be added. He immediately said I would be granted flexibility with my budget to allow me to meet with students in the dining hall. That was a reasonable response. I also explained that I had a vacation already planned for early July, so he shifted the start date to later in July. Finally, he agreed that my current evaluations would be used in the merit process, so it is possible that my salary will be increased soon after I start my new job.”
I asked Leah what advice she would have for other new professionals applying for promotions. She replied, “Be confident when applying for internal jobs. it is easy to make yourself smaller. Act like you want and deserve it. In fact, I learned that the interview process reminded others of the good work I had been doing, even though it is a vulnerable experience to put myself out there. Also, be sure to do your research. That made it easier for me to ask for a salary $7,000 more than they were offering. I knew there were people at my institution in similar jobs making that and more.”
In my negotiation workshops, I especially recommend to women (whose tendency is to be more concerned for others than themselves) to have pictures of significant others on display when negotiating and then negotiating for THEM. I asked Leah if she had done that. She laughed, “No, I didn’t need to. I was holding my new baby in my arms when I took the phone call!”
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