Sunday, February 17, 2013

Job Search - Polish

As we're working on coming to some decisions here at NWU, "polish" finds its way into conversations.  At the letter stage, there are so many really fine letters that clumsy letters make it into a maybe or probably not pile pretty quickly.  People who don't know the rules of job letters for their field probably don't move further, at least not in my academic area.  But at the interview and campus visit stage, we're looking at really strong candidates, and polish seems important.  But not easy to define, really.

Remember when President Obama was setting out stimulus plans, and one of the criteria used was "shovel-ready," the idea being that all the permits and such were in place, and once the money was there, people would be at work digging that first shovelful to prepare whatever foundations were needed?  In a way, polish is shovel-ready for a tenure track job, especially for our tenure track job, where new faculty members come in and teach 11 credit hours, sometimes of fairly large classes, with students who are often very different from what they'd have experienced in grad school.  They have to be ready to step in and go.   (We do try to mentor, but often our mentoring is more reactive than proactive about teaching.)

But other aspects of polish aren't necessarily about being seasoned to do the job.  In some ways, polish is about social class markers, and while we recognize that, we're imbricated in our social class and it matters.  (And here, let me say that I may recognize social class polish of folks who are way more sophisticated than I am, though I don't have that polish.  Maybe I could acquire it given the right situation and incentive.  But I'm also pretty sure that there are levels of upper class polish that I'm blind to, whose rules I'd mangle unaware were I in a situation calling for me to act.)  We're pretty middle class on our faculty, and the ways we act middle class without thinking about it, the things we recognize without thinking about why or how, those read as polish in some sense.  We're both aware of our biases, but also sometimes unaware.

I wonder if at some schools, there may be a different read on polish?  I imagine some schools value the social polish, and recognize that the teaching can come there, perhaps with a reduced first year load or something.  And there are other schools where some sorts of social behavior might be read as pretentious, while a heavy teaching load means folks strongly favor highly seasoned teachers.

Now, then, we're making offers, hoping those offers will be accepted, wondering what will happen if the first offer isn't accepted, will the second person be a good choice?  Will they turn out to be way better than we'd imagined?

So for once, for the few lucky folks with offers, the power is theirs.  I wish those of you in that situation good negotiating skills.  And deans with the ability to meet some of those negotiations in positive ways.  (I have one colleague who, zie tells me, tried to negotiate for money, and was told that it was simply impossible here.  Zie took this job anyway, for other positive aspects.  Zie is highly respected in the institution, but that didn't mean there was money to pay hir more when zie tried to negotiate.)

I'd appreciate hearing more thoughts on the final stages of the search, please.

Are there things you think are more negotiable than others?  Things you'd suggest candidates in your field negotiate?

Are there questions or issues candidates would like to talk about?


  1. Nothing on polish, so apologies if this seems to derail things . . . on negotiation, this thread at the Chron might be of interest:,128033.0.html

    My advice on negotiation is to keep in mind that there may be different "pots" available, so either ask about that or just ask for different things. As Bardiac says, there may be no way to give a higher salary, but you might be able to get a new computer or printer, or an upgrade on same; library funds; conference money; other kinds of equipment--if you're in the sciences, you probably know much more about this than I do, but even in the humanities, you might want something special like a microfilm reader, a fancy monitor for manuscript-reading, equipment for transcribing recorded interviews, or voice-activated software. Sometimes there's access to one-use money from some fund that can pay for this sort of thing even if there is no room at all for salary negotiation.

  2. We're pretty laid back, but do expect a certain level of sophistication - polish, if you will. Since we all do multiple things, the flexibility to teach outside one's speciality is essential. And do it confidently, always being open to stuff... and to not freak out when something happens. That's the polish we look for. We'd also like to have somebody who is compatible with us on many levels. As to negotiation, no clue. I have no idea how to do it, much less what the options are.

  3. EngLitProf2:30 PM

    In the humanities the best candidates will tend to be “shovel-ready.” Because of a tough job market, departments should have no need to expect less. After my department hires people, they will need guidance navigating peculiarities of our department and university, but they are ready to teach the classes we need them to teach, continue with the research they are doing, and contribute to committees. (And my university is the sort of non-flagship state school, with a commuter population, that supposedly requires heroic feats of adjustment from people accustomed to Princeton.) This is the reason I become impatient with advocacy of “mentoring,” at least in the humanities. Supply advice as needed, yes, but your new colleagues are already polished professionals if you are making good hiring decisions.

  4. Thanks for your responses, all.

    I think in some fields, there are very fine programs that give grad students limited opportunities for teaching, so students coming from those programs aren't necessarily as ready for a heavy teaching load as others. But they're very solid in their professional preparation in all sorts of ways.

  5. Polish is a funny kind of thing...I kept reminding our committee that we had to evaluate the POTENTIAL of some candidates, as it seems unfair to take applications from just-about-to-finish PhD students and then say "well, they don't have a lot of experience." Of course they don't: they're just finishing their doctoral studies and applying for a beginning position! Sometimes I think "polish" is also a function of years-of-experience (in addition to the class issues that you mention, not instead of).

  6. The polish I'd look for is like Belle's -- the ability to roll with the punches and do the basic parts of the job. Unlike EngLitProf, I think what mentoring helps people do is work out the balance in their new role. They KNOW how to do things, but they haven't always had to balance everything.
    Also, since we're a small place, we want to make sure you can help oil the wheels of our work life. That means we can have a conversation with you, we could send you to lunch with a job candidate, etc. We don't care whether you use the right fork. But we do want to want to hang out with you!

  7. When I saw your headline and started reading your post, I thought that you were writing about being Polish, not polish as in a polished candidate. (That says a lot about me and where I grew up, I guess, in the land of Polack jokes.) Needless to say, calling someone Polish was just about the opposite of calling them polished.

    My apologies to anyone of Polish heritage whom I have offended with my comment. It's really all about what an idiot I am. (As usual.)

    I think polish around our joint means pretty much what you say, Bardiac: all done and ready to roll, as well as the ability to remain professional and mature through the challenges one meets in any job. We don't tend to talk much about polish per se, but rather in the terms I described (ready to roll, professional, accomplished for her career stage, etc.)

  8. Hah, Historiann, that's great. It's a sensible misreading. Perhaps our Polish candidate will lead a new union movement! It'll be a revolution!