What Mindset Should You Have When Applying to Faculty Jobs?

Opinions on this may differ, but I wanted to share with you my philosophical approach to applying to faculty jobs.  It can be summarized pretty easily: don’t bluff and be genuine. This can be harder to do than it sounds.

Academic institutions have interesting, but fairly consistent approaches to salaries and raises.  There is usually more money available for new hires than for existing hires. Existing hires have had to get raises through lean years and when the legislature (if a public school) is more conservative with education than other years.  As a result, salary compression occurs

Salary compression is when people who have been working at an institution for a while end up making less than a new hire.  Although uncommon, you can have a situation where a full professor makes less than a new assistant professor.  While you don’t need to make a lot of money to be happy, you DO need to make a fair amount of money to be happy.  Studies indicate that employees are generally happy with their salary if it is fair.  Unfortunately, salary compression can result in salaries not being fair among faculty members

The ‘solution’ to this problem in academia is, unfortunately, applying for other jobs, getting an offer, and then using that to negotiate with your home institution.  I put the solution in quotes because I hate this solution. I believe it is disingenuous. This may be where my sense of an idealized world conflicts with reality: you shouldn’t HAVE to resort to this, the institution should keep your salary at pace with others over time.  But I understand that isn’t always reality and this is how some people manage it

I had one colleague who was grossly underpaid at a large state school.  He was a full professor, had asked for an adjustment, and been told ‘no’.  As a consequence he began applying elsewhere. Once he got an offer from another institution, his home school was suddenly able to find money and pay enough to keep him.  Would he have actually left if he hadn’t gotten a retention offer? Maybe yes, maybe no.

What I would prefer to advise people instead is this: if salary means that much to you (I sure wish it wouldn’t), and you are genuinely unhappy because of the lack of fairness, then you should genuinely look for a job elsewhere.  It should not be a ploy or a bluff. If you are unhappy, you SHOULD look for a different job. But I believe you should only look for jobs you may seriously consider taking.

I feel that it is a disservice to the institution and, potentially, your reputation to interview somewhere you absolutely know you will not go.  Most schools dedicate significant time and energy to faculty interviews- you don’t want to waste those resources. Also, maybe there is another candidate who would LOVE to go there but doesn’t get an interview because you take up one of the slots.  We routinely interview only about 3 people on average for many faculty positions. If you know you won’t go somewhere, don’t take someone else’s spot.

On the other hand, if you believe you COULD go there, even if you’re not sure, then it is fair to apply and interview.  I have applied to institutions I wasn’t sure about and, after visiting, was favorably impressed and willing to consider moving if given an offer.  Some places I have interviewed and decided it wasn’t a good fit for me, but I didn’t know that before visiting.

My wife went on numerous interviews and got several offers, which helped refine her understanding of what she wanted from her career.  So I’m not saying don’t interview unless you’re certain you will accept an offer. You may need to go through an interview to decide if the institution or job is right for you.  I am saying: don’t interview if you’re certain you wouldn’t accept an offer. To do so is not being genuine.

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