Tag Archives: negotiating

I Forgot About That TT Offer

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Pic: waiting for your career to ‘take off.’

I sat in our grad seminar a few weeks ago and the topic was about job hunting and interviewing. I have some experience and wanted to share my journey.

As I sat chatting with our great grad students, I had forgot about the tenure track position I was offered and TURNED DOWN when I was finishing grad school. I had forgot all about it until that day.

I know people will argue that sometimes we should go for the job, the money, or the happiness. Other’s will say to never sell out, to wait.

And that’s what I did.

I had forgot about this offer and then quickly realized the next thing:

I COULD BE TENURED RIGHT NOW

But I don’t think I would have made it to tenure. The job was marginal (to me), the location was less favorable (to me), the quality of life looked dreadful (to me), and to sum it up: it wasn’t for me.

I burst into tears after that interview as soon as I boarded the plane. A mix of exhaustion, fear, and “holy crap” over came me. My flight was later grounded due to lightning and I was never so happy for an overpriced hotel room that I paid for. The department head called me four days later, offered me the job, and I said I had to think about it. I called him back to turn him down and he upped the salary but I still said no. I really NEVER LOOKED BACK (until a few weeks ago).

If hindsight is 20/20, then here’s the take away: I held out. I took a lower paying position, without any hope of tenure because it’s the kind of work I wanted to do. I took another position that was soft-funded with negotiations that performance would turn it into something better. I negotiated other benefits that were important to me instead of money when I maxed out the dollar signs. I was never unemployed and I didn’t even have a long enough memory to remember I turned down a TT job until seminar a few weeks ago. That’s how forgettable the “steady” job was, even at the end of graduate school. I was under employed but it never felt like it until I looked at my pay stubs because I wanted to see the long game.

Not everyone has the luxury of holding out like I did. It was just me. No partner, no kids, not huge bills hanging over my head. I could be tenured but I don’t know if I would have been happy.

I then said the thing that I felt was the most important, “leaving the profession was the best thing I ever did.” You can always go home, you can always go back, but you cannot waste the opportunity that plops itself in front of you, even if it’s not the “safe” bet. By saying no, my career took off. It took a while to see the tangible benefits and it was frustrating. I can recall many conversations with my family about how hard the struggle was. IT WAS HARD FREAKING WORK.

Be BOLD. Be UNCOMFORTABLE. My most formative growth has happened when I’ve been uncomfortable, pushed, and smack dab in the middle of some cognitive dissonance. If I wasn’t uncomfortable, I wasn’t learning. So get uncomfortable, get bold, and see where it takes you.

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Negotiating: prioritizing your wants vs. needs

Now, before we go any farther I will be clear; I’m funded through a large grant *soft money* and many tenure track positions are funded through university, departmental, or other funds *hard money* with *soft money* supplemented after the faculty member receives grants.

So, you’re thinking: she’s not tenure track? (TT). No, I’m not. But, I’m doing the exact same things that a TT person would be doing except teaching a full load. Research, scholarship, service, long hours, etc…I also hope to parle this as a stepping stone to a TT position.  This is a good step for me, the job is great, it’s applicable, and quite frankly, I’m having a great time working hard. I will also admit that while I miss teaching, I’m working with a class full of undergrads three days a week and in public schools three days a week as well.  Don’t worry, I’m not looking for more to do right now!  In all seriousness, the jobs aren’t ‘there’ still and I view this as a good stepping stone for my career.  I’m designated as research faculty and while I wish I was teaching, I also know that I’ve got my hands full right now, making this an excellent ‘middle step’ for me.  It is allowing me to hone my research skills, keep up with scholarship, and I still get to work with students from grades 5-college students most of the week. For more information on negotiating TT offers, the professor is in has some great words of advice.  Things like spousal hiring, start up dollars, funding for grad students, travel, even office equipment are all on the table, and this is your chance so negotiate well!  Get the facts, know what your options are. I negotiated a calendar year salary so I wouldn’t go unpaid, lots of technology perks, an office to myself (you’d be surprised now-a-days w/ shrinking resources), and full university benefits.

Since Akon wasn’t part of my negotiation (shucks), the term “right now” was the bit of language my negotiator used when discussing my salary.  Now, my salary is low for a phd. But I will refer back to the “i’m so grateful to have a job and benefits again” statement.

But, if we’re being honest: it’s the money talking.  And talk it does. During my negotiations, I asked what the options were for salary increases and while the grant was steady and the starting salary had been approved by the funding agency, my supervisor said, “we can’t pay you more right now.”  Right now. Now, depending on which way the glass is for you today, half full or half empty, you may have thought, “well this is junk, it’s not a promise.”  Believe me, I thought this. But, after sitting on it for a day, I also got to the half full mindset, “he said right now, that means there’s wiggle room.”

Please remember: you have time from your offer letter being sent/mailed/delivered to making a decision.  Usually several weeks.  TAKE THEM. Keep going back and forth. Make a list of priorities of what you really want out of the negotiation. And for Pete’s sake, don’t sell yourself short.  YOU ARE VALUABLE. This is the time when the ball is in your court so make the most of it.  I followed up about salary and it was discussed again.  I referred to people I trusted, I even had another interview during that time to get a feel for how the result would be. I didn’t get a good vibe from the other interview, they liked someone else better and the dept. head was honest and open, sharing that it would be wise to pursue other offers.  I was glad he was candid with me and glad I had done the interview.  Keep on learning….

The last day about two hours before the deadline on the offer letter, I accepted.  I had negotiated every other detail I had deemed important except a huge starting salary.  “Right now,” I’m happy with this.  Why?  After only a few months of hard work, my supervisor has seen my hard work pay off and the funding agency has agreed to move some of the money around, giving me a nice raise in salary.

I was receiving a compliment b/c the project is turning into a good and huge monster. My supervisor initiated the conversation of money and I professionally added that more money would keep me on the project for the duration of the funding.  He came back saying that he hoped to retain me.  I countered with the fact that it would be necessary as my student loan grace period would soon end. You get the picture.

Had I not played my hand and not ended up w/ the raise, I’d still be ok.  But, I had waited for key moments to bring up money and while I know I’m valued and respected, I also understand I am disposable.  Working between that fine line has been a learning experience.  When do you think the “right” moments are to discuss salary?  When isn’t it the “right” moment?  What might other deal breakers be? What can you forgo to take a job where you’ll know you’ll be valued and respected?

Up next: balancing responsibilities from a previous position or other professional interests.  Also on tap: bringing back the busy signal–learning to stop answering everyone and everything immediately.

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