Na na na na na na na na na na na na BATNA! It’s pretty powerful.

If you’re on the job market or about to make a big purchase, you may have heard the term BATNA.  It means Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement, and before you negotiate, you should figure out what yours is.

If you have a job offer that’s not quite where you want it to be in terms of salary, lab space, startup money, or other qualities, the best option is always to negotiate.  (If you haven’t read it already, Getting to Yes is the bible on negotiation.)  But if you can’t come to an agreement, remember your BATNA.

Your best alternative could be one of several things:

  • Another faculty job offer
  • Staying another year in your postdoc
  • Paid work on the side, such as consulting
  • Going to industry or private practice

Or, your best alternative may in fact be to take what’s on offer, depending on the strength of your BATNA.  But it is wise to carefully compare the two.  This keeps you from making a deal and signing a contract that is not, in fact, better than what you could do elsewhere.

The key to having a strong BATNA is to develop it.  Think hard about all possible alternatives, then focus your energy and resources on the strongest one.  If Dream Job at Stupendous U isn’t going to pay you enough to live on in that city, can you negotiate a more attractive package at Still Pretty Good U?  Will staying another year in your postdoc allow you to develop skills, get an F or a K, or otherwise make you a more valuable candidate?  Would a non-academic job allow you to reach other goals, like living in the city of your preference?

Without knowing these things, you may feel hemmed in by the terms being offered and less willing to negotiate for features of the deal that will make the opportunity as good or better than your BATNA.  A strong BATNA gives you something to make comparisons with and provides clarity for your decision, so that however the negotiation ends, you can feel good about it.

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