Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Job Search - The Wait

I've been posting a bit about academic job searching, and some of these I've even remembered to label!

We're in the waiting place now, but other folks are already doing on campus interviews. 

We'll invite our candidates to come when classes are in session, but I know some departments have had candidates come before classes start.  That seems weird, because as a candidate, I'd want to see students, or at least feel like the place had students.  But as a faculty member, it means putting in time over break to help with interviews, meals, going to research presentations, and so on.

I guess the next thing to think about from my point of view is what do candidate visits look like, and what part do I play?

Our candidate visits typically take a day and a half or two days.  The important thing for the candidates to know is that at this point, we're courting you, too.  We haven't chosen you to come visit campus unless we think you're likely to be a really good fit; we've already determined (as a committee, at least) that you're qualified.

So who's got a stake in campus visits from this end?

Your potential colleagues, especially in the department
Your students, though I've never been in a department where students had much voice in hiring
The college Administration: Dean(s), provost, president, headmaster, chancellor, whatever.

You're likely to have in interview with the department or program chair.  This is a big one.  The chair often has veto power over a committee choice, or at least a great deal of influence.  And it's likely this is going to be the first time you talk to the chair.  Chair's care about sanity, money (class size, for example), qualifications, and fit.  Chairs, remember, are the university's first line of defense when a faculty member decides to leave in the middle of the fifth week of classes, or when a student complains of sexual harassment, or when the department needs someone to help cover for an ill colleague.  Chairs want people who are well qualified, and reasonably sane, and who will be more help than hindrance.  A smart chair also wants people who are critical thinkers, and not just yes men.   

If you have a campus visit, you're likely to visit with colleagues a lot, and have an opportunity to impress them with your brilliance, and more than one opportunity to impress them with your collegiality.  We tend to have candidates do some sort of teaching or research demonstration, sometimes actually teaching a given class, other times teaching faculty something.

The search committee is likely to want to talk to you and see you in action.

You're likely to visit with a dean or dean's representative, and maybe with a provost or provost's representative.  I had a meeting with a school president at one interview.  I'm guessing a lot of that depends on the size of the school: at smaller schools, you're likely to meet with bigger fish.

What does a dean want from an interview with a candidate?

Good question.  I'm guessing, only guessing, that they want a sense that you're well-qualified, a good, legal fit, and somewhat sane.  They want to know the department isn't doing something stupid, and that the new faculty members will fit in with whatever new initiative s/he has coming down the line.  Here's where reading up on AAC&U stuff or on the university's website can be helpful.  Does the university imagine itself as the premier engineering school in the state, and how are you going to teach English to engineers?  Will you be happy teaching English to engineers?  Do you have a clue about what you're getting yourself into?

Some departments have candidates meet with students, at least informally.  The students seem to want to know that you'll teach interesting classes.  And you will.

So what about all those other appointments?

I'm sure every school is a little different, and I hope people from other places will contribute, but here's how it looks at NWU.  And mostly, the good news is that these other appointments are more about courting you than you as a candidate.

Research Support: this is the office that's there to tell you about whatever research support the school has.  This is where you learn about class releases, maybe, or opportunities for travel, whatever.

Real Estate: I think some departments at NWU do this as a ride around by the chair or someone on the committee, while others ask a local real estate agent to show you around.  My caveat here is that my sense from several tours is that the people doing the tours underestimate how much it actually costs to live in the neighborhood they want to show you.  (A real Real Estate agent should know, but might show you higher end than you'll really be able to afford.)

(Gosh, this makes me think that it would be potentially useful to do a post at some point about planning realistically for your paycheck?  What do you think?)

Human Resources: these are the folks who will tell you about benefits.  You should look for health benefits, of course.  You'll also want to know about retirement (non-profits often use something called a 403B plan, which is roughly like a 401K in the for-profit world; some may have a pension plan in addition or as the whole thing).  It might be worth while thinking about what sorts of questions you should ask about benefits and such.

I'd ask about partner benefits.  Yes, even straight people should care that their co-workers are treated as fairly as possible.  For some of us, being able to insure partners is vitally important.

I'd also ask about vesting in retirement plans.  I know someone who left a job after three years, and lost all the retirement money the school had "put away" for hir because zie wasn't vested.  I left a job after 3 years, but because the plan vested me upon employment, I was able to keep that small pot of money as a retirement starter.  For folks coming out of grad school, and likely starting retirement saving in their mid-30s, a pension plan that doesn't expect you to stay employed for 40 years is really important.

For departments, campus visits are vitally important.  They're also exhausting.  Yes, the candidate is more exhausted, probably, during any one visit.  But it's worth remembering that the folks who are hosting you and probably going to your talk, watching you teach are also probably teaching a full load, dealing with beginning of the semester advising disasters, juggling all the usual things.  We often do a home reception, where we all gather at someone's house, and that adds.

What I'm trying to get at here is that even the most dedicated and caring future colleagues may not be able to make your talk or your reception.  They may be teaching at that same time.

Also, you're probably one of several candidates a department might be interviewing on campus, so there may be a lot of demands on peoples' time.  (I was hired in a group of four new faculty in my department here, all in the same fall.  Assuming everything went ideally with all the interviews, that means my department was hosting at least six campus visits that spring, all in a two or three week period.  That's a lot of hosting.)


  1. Students have had some important input into searches I've been part of; in particular, they help identify some red-flag issues. A candidate who's dismissive of students, for example, is unlikely to do well at my small college.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Bardiac. I'm keeping my fingers crossed in hopes of a few campus interviews, so this is very useful.

    The one thing I have to add is that schools with graduate programs often value graduate student input a lot (mine does). Some programs put an actual graduate student on the hiring committee; ours doesn't, but they do organize a lunch for graduate students to meet the prospective hires and ask questions. That was one of several factors that made a difference in our last hire. The interviewee who came with syllabi for graduate courses and interacted with the grad students as potential/future colleagues did much better than the one who was condescending and dismissive of grad student questions.

  3. wait, did you skip the whole MLA/phone interview thing and go straight to campus visits?

    Also, I haven't done a lot of campus visits, but I didn't ever get an HR/benefits meeting --- that was usually explained by the chair and dean, along with the housing and money stuff. So I guess these things vary.

  4. Thanks for the comments, especially about the input from students.

    Sisyphus, I talked about interview questions here: http://bardiac.blogspot.com/2012/12/job-search-other-thoughts-on-interviews.html and here: http://bardiac.blogspot.com/2012/11/job-search-interview-questions.html And a few other places between those.

    But I didn't address MLA directly.

  5. We don't do HR stops on the campus visit--that info is all up on the campus website, actually.

    One thing I would recommend is that if candidates are really interested in something outside the department, it's nice to make a connection (to help with the courting). I am setting up various of our candidates with someone who can show them around special collections or the Women's Studies program or the undergraduate research office, for example. This is about showing off our campus resources and helping them see who might be a point of contact if they get the job and they want to explore how they can maintain that interest on our campus.

    We ask for student feedback--not entirely sure how it's used (the search committee usually summarizes it as "students really liked hir" or "students thought hir idea for a course on Z was awesome." Potential red flags from students would get a lot of weight here, too.