Money Matters

Psychologist Melanie Domenech-Rodriguez, PhD, knew exactly what she wanted when Utah State University offered her a job as assistant professor. She had already researched the going rate for a faculty position at her level, and, besides salary, she wanted to negotiate for lab space and equipment, research start-up funds, licensing materials, moving expenses and a reduced courseload at the start to make more time for getting her research under way.

Plus, she had a bargaining chip: As a bilingual researcher who studies the underserved Latino population, she offered an uncommon expertise that she could use as leverage.

 "They are not going to volunteer to give you things," Domenech-Rodriguez says. "You have to ask. Just assume there will be negotiations."

Many applicants, however, become so excited when they receive an offer that they accept the first pitch on impulse-only to later realize they should have done more negotiating, says Thomas Zentall, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Kentucky who lectures on negotiations.

That's why experts recommend applicants prepare for an employer's initial offer by knowing the salary and benefits they want as well as any perks that could go with the job, from parking spaces to pension funds. Not to mention, the salary and benefits you negotiate now will be the basis for building your income throughout your career-so getting a high starting salary from the beginning can really make thousands of dollars of difference later, Zentall says.


But first, you need to know what to ask for. While you should avoid talking about salary and benefits until receiving a formal offer, you can still gather information in the interview to use during the actual negotiations, suggests psychologist Steve Williams, PhD, the director of research at the Society for Human Resource Management. For example, if you're a clinician, ask about job duties; if you're in academia, ask about the lab space available. These might be up for negotiation later.

Know the typical salary for your position and experience level so that you know a fair amount to negotiate. Check the APA Research Office's latest salary data at APA Research or Web sites such as or Also, keep in mind that cost-of-living and salaries vary by geographic area. Check with the Chamber of Commerce in the city or visit Web sites such as


So, the job offer is made-now what?

Listen carefully and respond positively to the employer, advises Ben Morgan Jr., PhD, the associate dean of graduate studies at the University of Central Florida. He suggests an immediate reaction could include:

  • "I am very interested."
  • "I would like to discuss some details."
  • "I need time to consider the offer," followed by a date for your response.

Next, prioritize the salary and benefit issues that are most important to you and concentrate on those up front, Morgan says. If salary could be a potential deal breaker, for example, make it the first item you bring up, he says.


The best negotiators are cooperative problem-solvers who find options to satisfy both parties, Morgan says. Communicate using clear, simple words and appear more interested in a win-win solution than in your own needs, he says. If an employer can't meet your salary requirements, for instance, ask that your contract include travel funds to conferences or summer teaching assignments.

Be practical in your requests and don't overplay negotiations by being too demanding, Morgan says. For example, clinical applicants working at a community mental health center can't expect to command the $75,000 salary that an applied psychologist could. Starting clinician salaries usually hover around $48,000 and starting faculty positions around $44,000.

Another strategy: If you have more than one job offer, you might let an employer know what another is offering to gain more leverage, suggests Domenech-Rodriguez, who used this approach in her negotiations. As a result, Utah State mostly matched her other offer and added the benefits most critical to her-such as reconfiguring the job to be 80 percent research, 10 percent service and 10 percent teaching for the first two years.


Salary may be a sticking point in negotiations because it might be set at a fixed rate-such as in many federal government jobs-or, quite simply, many applicants may feel reluctant to address money for fear of rejection or appearing not satisfied with the offer. When negotiating salary, experts recommend that you:

  • Avoid volunteering a salary amount. If an employer requests one, respond "it's negotiable" or "competitive." Make the employer be the first to offer an amount so you don't end up short-changing yourself, says Carol Williams-Nickelson, PsyD, the associate executive director of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students.

For example, if an employer asks for your salary requirement, ask them for their normal salary range for that position. Or, if they ask whether a salary range of, say, $38,000 to $42,000 fits your requirement, place the top of their range into the bottom of yours, such as "I was thinking in terms of $42,000 to $46,000," experts suggest.

  • Be reasonable. For example, if an offer is made for $48,000, applicants might counter with $52,000-asking for 10 to 15 percent more is reasonable, Zentall notes.

  • Don't take it personally. An employer's refusal to increase your salary may be because they just can't offer more or the starting salary is a fixed rate, Zentall says.

  • Don't sweat the small stuff. If you get a counter offer that is $500 to $1,000 or 5 percent less than you were hoping, look for nonsalary benefits instead, Williams-Nickelson says.


Benefits-such as retirement, health care, professional development and travel funds-can boost your overall compensation, Williams-Nickelson explains.

For example, Utah State contributes an additional 15 percent of Domenech-Rodriguez's salary to her 401(k)-so even though Utah State offered her a lower salary, its overall compensation package ended up being greater than that of her other offer.

So what benefits can you negotiate for? For an academic position, applicants may negotiate for start-up research funds, courseload, start date, tenure schedule and expectations, office and research space, moving costs, assigned graduate assistants, secretarial assistance, lab equipment and conference or travel funds.

For a clinical job, applicants may negotiate for types of clients in their caseload (such as children or adults), moving costs, schedule flexibility for studying for the licensing exam or compensation for licensing fees, a pay increase contingent on becoming licensed and time allocated to conduct research.

Generally, health benefits and retirement are standard to an institution. Employers may offer health insurance, child-care assistance, telecommuting or flextime, tuition assistance and retirement packages-such as a 401(k), individual retirement accounts or profit-sharing plans.


How can you justify to the employer asking for more? The more research and teaching skills you possess or the more populations and assessments you've worked with, the more leverage you have in negotiations, Williams-Nickelson says.

Applicants shouldn't just ask for more, she says, but explain why they're worth at least the going rate because of their own bargaining chip-whether that's skills gained on internship, a record of published research, programs they've built or presentations they've given that establish expertise in an area.


Once the terms are settled, don't accept offers until all the details are spelled out in a new hire letter that details your job duties, the negotiated salary and other terms of your employment, suggests Nora Newcombe, PhD, a psychology professor at Temple University and The James H. Glackin Distinguished Faculty Fellow.

For Domenech-Rodriguez, these spelled-out terms that she asked for-such as funding for her research, schedule flexibility and reimbursement for licensure-helped ease her transition from postdoc to assistant professor by clearly communicating her needs to her future employer.

"I think pretty much everything is negotiable," Domenech-Rodriguez says. "A person looking for a job needs to examine their priorities and make sure those priorities are addressed during the negotiations. Anything else you can get is icing on the cake. But be sure to go for the icing!"

 For negotiating tips specifically for women and minorities, visit APA's Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs at Surviving and Thriving in Academia.


"I think pretty much everything is negotiable. A person looking for a job needs to examine their priorities and make sure those priorities are addressed during the negotiations. Anything else you can get is icing on the cake."

Melanie Domenech-Rodriguez
Utah State University