Thursday, March 3, 2011

Academic Job Search IV - Making it On Campus

For other posts in this series:
Beginning a search  Networking    First Interview           Contract       Rejections

A call for an on campus interview requires a bit of a mental shift in thinking.  It is now about a 1 in 3 chance that this could be your future employer, so for the on campus interview consider that you're checking THEM out just as much as they're continuing to check you out.  I understand that you will feel like you've got to take the job if offered because it's THE option you have but you at least need to make sure that it's a place you can make work somehow, even if it's not quite the location/job type (more teaching over research or vice versa) you're looking for.

Actually, location and job type are much easier to deal with than some other things you might encounter....

Consider the Following Examples:

School A) School A invites you for a 2 day job interview and promises to reimburse travel.  The chairperson of the hiring committee also tells you you'll be receiving a packet of helpful information in the mail.  Your on campus interview consists of a teaching presentation before an actual class and a research presentation, and the chairperson asks you to prepare your teaching presentation based on the readings the students are doing.  The research presentation will be done before a variety of faculty members and is to be on your current research.

When you arrive at school A, you are immediately greeted by the chairperson and given the full schedule.  There is someone available to walk you to and from each place you must visit, and your schedule includes meetings with the president, the dean, and a representative from human resources.  You will also meet with students at a variety of times.  On all of the nights you will be there, the department is providing meals.  One dinner is with junior faculty, and one of the lunches is with a group of women faculty so that you can ask questions particular to these groups of people. In some cases, you may even be given "housing" or "town" tours so you can get a sense of the kind of living options in the area.

This is the ideal on-campus interview (And I am happy to say, really is the norm.  The vast majority of on campus interviews I've had were like this....).  This is a school that knows you're checking them out as much as they're checking you out, and they're giving you every opportunity to find out as much as you can about them.  One of the big reasons is that they don't want to have to do another job search for your position any time soon.

So in preparation for all of this, you need to be sure you have questions set up for each available constituency you'll meet. (You will, also, always be fielding the same questions you had at your first round interview about teaching, research and how you see yourself fitting into institutional aims):

President/Provost:  Where do you see the institution in five years?  How does the department of ________ fit in to this institution's aims?  What are some of the goals you have in mind for the humanities/social sciences/sciences division of the school? (For the dean specifically: What are the tenure procedures?)

Chairperson of the Department (May or may not be the same as the chairperson of the hiring committee): What will I be expected to teach and how often?  (Very Very Important)... Will I be able to teach a course occasionally that relates to my research?  What are some of the department's goals?  What are the procedures for getting tenure?Are there opportunities for faculty to meet and share research?  How often are there department meetings?  Are there opportunities for interdepartmental collaboration? Is this a new tenure line or am I replacing someone? 

Senior Faculty:  What are the students like?  What kind of direction do you see/do you want to see the department take?  What do you like about working at this institution?

Junior Faculty (who will have been at the school 6 years or less) :  How have you liked working here?  What are the students like?  What are the housing options here?  What kinds of activities do people do here?  (If in  a small town, you might ask if people live in the nearest large city and commute, or if they travel there quite a bit....)  Do you have any advice for settling in?

Undergraduate students: What do you like about the department? What led you to come to this school?  What do you like studying?

Human Resources: (NB: Before going to your on campus interview, check out the average salary of your institution for your department and rank at the helpful AAUP website...)  What is the process for requesting a leave here? (Note the singular, non-specific leave: this covers all kinds of leaves, including family leave, short term and long term disability leave, as well as personal leave and sabbatical leave)   How often are sabbatical leaves offered?  What other benefits I can expect?  NB: You probably won't need to ask any of these questions of the HR person (because they're usually a bubbly, outgoing, cram-every-piece-of-possible-paper-in-your-hand kind of person) unless you have no meeting with a human resources person.  In that case, ask these questions of the chairperson of your department.

School B)  School B  invites you for a job interview in a far away city sot that you must take a plane to get there.  They promise to reimburse plane far but "could you possibly pick up the shuttle to the airport?"  You do so and arrive at the hotel with no one to greet you and an entire evening and morning to while away (because the interview doesn't start till noon....)  The interview itself is short: it consists of three hours with a hiring committee and a couple hours meeting with students.  You do not meet with the president, provost, or human resources person and when you ask standard questions like "What is the average salary?" they reply (rather abruptly) that you can't get that information until you've been offered a position. 

What do we know about this school from reading between the lines?
1. It may have some financial difficulties, evidenced by the fact that they've not really been hosting you beyond the barest requirements and this is really quite a short on campus interview for a tenure track line.   (If it were a temporary or adjuncting position, this is more standard.)  You should therefore wonder if there will be leaves available at all, or whether you'll have to ration copies or other office supplies.  You should also wonder if you'll be overworked: will your contract require more of you than salary or time allow?  Will you be viewed as mostly a working person with no outside life?

2. This kind of interview should make you wonder what faculty collaboration is really like.   Is your department kind of a pariah at this school?  The lack of access to human resource personnel or to faculty in other departments should make you wonder, in a negative way.

3.  They're not thinking about you and your needs.  They're not giving you enough information to make an informed decision about the school.  Will you therefore be seen as a number, as insignificant?  Too hard to tell.

If School B ends up being your only offer, you will want to consider carefully how to negotiate your contract to make this as liveable a situation as possible for you in the long term.  This is the kind of school you may be plotting to get as far away from as soon as possible, but if that proves difficult, the initial contract negotiations will be imperative.

School C)  School C invites you for a fully paid on campus interview much like School A's.  One of the key differences that is immediately apparent, though, is that School C asks for an on campus interview in an email - to ALL the other candidates as well.

When you arrive on campus, you are met by wonderful people - who immediately apologize for the town, the school and the people. In the course of the interview questions you ask, you discover that WHILE having a 4-4 course load, the school also expects the person in this new position to do plenty of research ("to lead us toward R1 status) and to run a new "institute" on campus that is newly funded by an anonymous donor.

What do we know about this school?
1)  It is characterized by unprofessionalism.  This is not necessarily a deal breaker, but you might wonder whether the way things get done at this school is by round about means, via old boy networks. 

2) There is a lack of good administration at this school. The administration is clueless about faculty needs and abilities.  They are expecting quite a lot out of their candidate, and especially one that they know comes straight from graduate school.  This is going to be information that comes in especially handily when it comes to negotiating a contract.

3) We might also wonder about financial difficulties, instead of or in addition to administrative problems.  While this institution is not clearly in dire straits, the fact that they're already piling on duties (4-4 course load along with running an institute) suggests that they do not have the ability to hire the personnel they need.  You'll probably be overworked at this school.

To Sum it Up....

The questions asked of you are similar to the ones from the first round, though you will have time to deepen your answers.  Where your real work is, however, is in the questions you ask and the things you intuit.  This will help you immeasurably in determining what to do when it comes time for contract negotiations should they offer you a job.

Special for Women and Moms:

1. I have gotten mixed advice over the years on whether to ask directly about maternity leave, or whether to just be vague: "What is your leave policy?"  These days, I would probably ask directly, but depending on the situation, might ask it more of women faculty themselves.  Alternatively, do an internet search to see if you can find a copy of the maternity leave policy and if you can't find one, be prepared to ask for that in contract negotiations.

2. If the hiring committee doesn't arrange a meeting with faculty women for you, you might request a coffee with someone if there's down time at all.  (There usually isn't down time in these things, but if they ask you what you want, you might think about this.)  Such a meeting is a good time to ask questions about women to men ratio, whether they feel like they're "always" being asked to be on committees because they're women (an important clue to how overworked you may or may not feel) and whether the campus is mom-friendly.

3.  What if you're pregnant?  I think the same applies as in the first round interviews.  If you're past the time you can travel, I'm not sure what you might do.  There is always an option for virtual conferencing.  Anyone out there had the experience of being pregnant while on campus?

4.  What if you're breastfeeding?  Ah, well, I have a story about this. Having given birth to a premature baby who had JUST transitioned to breastfeeding from bottle feeding, I did not think I could leave my baby at home during a two day interview.  So I discussed it with the hiring committee chairperson and opted to bring the baby, PLUS my husband (at my expense) so that he could keep an eye on her.  I also petitioned for time to pump/breastfeed in between interview activities, which is very important.  (See here for a totally different story about breastfeeding and the on campus interview.)   The fact of my baby and her needs made me more direct at this point than I would have been at other times in the interview process, but this is partly to point out how distinctive the on campus round really is.  At this point, they really want to get to know you better, so you have a bit more leeway, PERHAPS

I think that you have think about the situation as a whole - recognize that having family there at the interview is not ideal by a long shot, but it MAY be necessary at points.  Most of the time, though, I'd not bring the family and ask about "down time" on the schedule - then use that time to pump.

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