CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—These days, offers of good jobs in science are rare and precious. Many early-career researchers are so thrilled to be chosen that they overlook the importance of negotiating for the best possible terms. Some may feel that they have little power to negotiate; others may worry about sparking a conflict or leaving a bad impression with their future employer.

Negotiating a job offer is an "uncomfortable thing," in part because it's not something you practice, said Natalie Lundsteen, Director of Graduate Career Development in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UT Southwestern Medical Center, at this year’s annual meeting of AAAS (publisher of Science Careers). On Friday, she gave a workshop on "The Art (and Etiquette) of Negotiating a Job Offer."

According to Lundsteen, "it almost always is appropriate" to negotiate, even if it feels uncomfortable. During her presentation, she gave a range of tips to ease the negotiation process and use negotiation to tailor the job offer to your needs.

The first step, Lundsteen explained, is to buy time when you receive the phone call offering the job. Don't respond impulsively. Collect as much detailed information as you can—on compensation, benefits, and proposed start date. Request a few days to mull things over. Eventually you will want everything in the offer in writing. 

Assess what leverage you have in the negotiation by asking yourself what kind of person the employer needs for this job, and in which ways do you meet or exceed those needs. Remind yourself that the employer has spent a lot of time and money getting to the stage of an offer. Conversely, consider how well the position meets your needs and priorities.

Think broadly, and accept the uniqueness of your ambitions and your personal situation, Lundsteen said. Money is important, but access to a certain piece of research equipment or opportunities for further professional development may matter more. Other things for academics to consider: start-up money, tenure clock, computer equipment, relocation costs, vacation, contract length, teaching load, and administrative support. "Is someone shared in the department for administrative support? If you don’t ask, you may lose the opportunity."

Assess, as best you can, the capacity of the institution to give you what you want. Community and small colleges usually don’t have large research labs—some have none at all—so when negotiating with such institutions, "don’t ask for a lot of space." Salary range may be determined by a fixed scale—perhaps a governmental classification system—so the institution may not have much leeway on salary. Also consider what the current and local job markets are like and how flexible the timing of the offer can be. 

Try and get an insider’s perspective about the standard practices of the organization by identifying people that work there or people who can introduce you to someone. Use your current network of colleagues, online directories at your alma matter, your professional association—even LinkedIn. You must get a feel for what would be a fair salary for the offered position; the estimate should take into account the nature of the position, your education, and experience. Useful resources include university salary surveys and websites like Glassdoor and Keep in mind, though, the significant variations by region and discipline.

It is important to "[a]sk for everything at once. You don’t want to drop-feed, and come back … or you will look like a diva," Lundsteen said. Expect no more than two rounds of negotiation. Be a bit forceful but always friendly. Help your recruiters convince the organization that you should get more, by stating what you are bringing to the table—without sounding arrogant. This kind of conversation requires practice, so try it out first with a friend, colleague, or career counselor. "This is going to be hard," Lundsteen said.  One way to move forward in the negotiation is to look for commonalities and win-win situations. Be flexible.

Finally, remember that your future boss will likely be among the people you are negotiating with. "These conversations set the tone with your potential new colleagues," Lundsteen said. Endeavor to come across as a future colleague who is well informed about the job market, the institution, and his or her own worth. But be modest. "Ask for adjustments, incremental slight changes instead of asking for the moon."

Elisabeth Pain is contributing editor for Europe.