Help! I didn't negotiate my job offer

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Dear Evil HR Lady,

I have my Ph.D. I've been working at a big nonprofit hospital as a research postdoc (which is like half way between a real job and a student) for the last 20 months. Basically, I've been in school for the last 10 years. I'm 30 and I began my job search about 12 months ago. I was rejected by numerous places, but I've finally been offered that all-elusive "real job" at a big name university.

I undersold myself in the onsite interview and told them I would take 60K starting salary (the average starting salary is 85+K for a PhD in my field). When they sent me the offer letter, they bumped the salary to 65.5K, but only 1K in relocation costs. (Yes, after a year of searching and rejection after rejection, I am a broken woman with less confidence than ever....so I didn't bother negotiating. Yes, I'm an idiot. My thinking was "beggars can't be choosers.") I can't find a mover to do the move for less than 1.5K. I've signed the offer letter...is there anything I can do at this point? Or am I just going to have to suck it up and shell out the extra cash for the move? I know I'll get it back when it comes to tax time....but it's the upfront cost that's killing me.

First, stop beating yourself up over this. You got a real job at a big name university. This means you are awesome. And I'm not just saying this to be nice. 70 percent of university teaching is done by adjuncts (that is, non-tenure track people). Since you said yours is a "real" job, you are already one of the elites. So, pat yourself on the back!

Now, let's talk about negotiations. Yeah, you probably should have asked for a higher starting salary. The problem is, as you said, beggars can't be choosers, and right now job candidates feel like they are beggars, even when it's not true. Companies (and universities fall under this) hold the pay cards, and they know it. Often times, employers will demand your entire salary history, want to know your expectations, and quiz you about your vacation time at your previous job, without even giving a hint as to the salary range of the position.

This is not only unfair, it's stupid, because it results in people, like you, feeling depressed about an offer. Let's face it, if you knew that the salary range for this job was $55k-$65k and they offered you the identical salary, you would be over the moon! But since you think it's $85k, you feel cheated and abused -- not exactly what companies want in their new employees.

But the reality is, the time to negotiate salary is over for the time being. There is still, however, some hope on the relocation expenses. $1000 in relocation reimbursement is practically nothing. Renting your own moving man and driving it a few hundred miles will quickly rack up $1000 in costs. At this point, there is no harm in going back to HR and asking if it's possible to have an increase in relocation. They will probably say no, but you won't look foolish or have it held against you. But most likely you will have to suck up the extra costs.

However, remember that your negotiations on salary are only finished temporarily. You will get raises. You will have coworkers. There will be new hires. And you need to be on top of things. You may be able to find out the exact salaries of your coworkers on the internet. (I did a quick Google search and found this database of all Ohio State University Salaries!) If you have reliable information that you're being paid below your coworkers, you can absolutely ask for a raise to bring your salary up to theirs. 

And don't be afraid to do this. It's absolutely acceptable behavior to present evidence to your boss that you're being underpaid. (And by the way, you actually may not be! After all, the market changes.) For now, you'll just have to wait until you've been there awhile and proved how awesome you are. Which you are. Congratulations on the new job.

Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.

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