Wednesday, January 04, 2006

 

Ask the Administrator: Preparing for the Dean's Interview

One of my favorite bloggers wrote:

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I have a couple campus visits coming up, and I'm beginning to wonder exactly what the visit with the dean is all about. I have no idea what to expect. This is the one part of the job market process that nobody really talks about. That makes no sense to me, because this part of the visit is certainly important--my understanding is that the dean talks salary. But the visit with the dean seems to be overlooked in prepping job candidates for the market.

I guess I really have two main questions:

1. What questions should I be prepared to answer--and to ask?

2. Do I begin negotiating salary during this meeting with the dean, or do I wait until I have been offered the job? My gut tells me to play it cool with the dean and take what he/she tells me as an opening number; I think I should wait to negotiate until the job has actually been offered. Given the fact that I just finished reading Women Don't Ask, a good book about how women don't negotiate enough, I am questioning my gut, however. Maybe I am just hesitant to negotiate (the thought does make me nervous). So, I thought I'd ask you when real negotiations begin: will the deans be expecting me to negotiate right then and there, or to wait until the job has been offered?
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One of the annoying little quirks of my college is that the salary negotiation occurs in HR, after the job offer has been made by the dean. It leads to frustrating moments, like the following:

DD: After a careful search, we’ve decided that you’re our first choice. I’m happy to offer you the position.

Candidate: Great! I have a few questions.

DD: Okay.

Candidate: What does it pay?

DD: I don’t know. You’ll have to discuss that with HR.

(Silence.)

Candidate: Oh.

(Sound of crickets.)

Since the cost of living in this area is orders of magnitude higher than in other parts of the country, salary matters a great deal.

I’ve asked about the strange separation of hiring from salary, and the answer I’ve received is that as a unionized campus, any incoming salary offer has to follow the criteria listed in the faculty contract, and has to be fairly consistent with people already here. To my mind, that doesn’t really answer the question, but there we are.

The rule of thumb, based on the two places I’ve managed, is that you’re allowed one refusal. Balk at the second offer, and a third one won’t be forthcoming. (Keep in mind, though, both places were teaching-oriented and not at all interested in paying extra to recruit stars. I’d imagine that the dynamic is very different at R1’s recruiting heavy hitters.) And the bumps from the first offer to the second are pretty small – a thousand or two, if that. Worth asking for, certainly, but not earth-shattering.

Either way, I’d certainly recommend waiting to negotiate salary until the job is offered, and asking for a few days to think about it. A strategic show of looking slightly underwhelmed, followed by a request to think about it, may give you the leverage for the first refusal. Although the vagaries of the job market might lead you to feel powerless, the truth is that selecting someone for a job is a difficult task for a college, and failing to land a candidate will lead to one of several less-desirable outcomes: hiring a less attractive candidate, re-opening the search (costly in both time and money), and sometimes even losing the line altogether. Once you’re the anointed one, you do have a bit of leverage.

Other than salary, I usually use the dean’s interview to give an administrative gloss on what the college values, knowing that it will often be substantially different than what a given academic department values. I discuss the tenure clock, the criteria we use, and what I particularly look for when evaluating a professor. I also give a brief account of my view of what makes the college a good place to be, and of the direction I see the college moving in the next several years.

Then there’s the all-purpose “is there anything in your background that would embarrass the college, if it were to become public knowledge after you start here?” If asked, I clarify that I’m looking for any criminal convictions, sexual harassment findings, etc. You’d be surprised at what I’ve learned with this question. Revelations here aren’t necessarily deal-breakers, depending on what they are, but they give the college an ‘out’ if something really unsavory comes up later. At that point, the issue is not simply the unsavory fact, but failure to disclose. If you do have something that falls in this category, I say, reveal it if asked. If the college hires you anyway, the issue is rendered moot; if it doesn’t, at least you’re spared moving your family only to have the sword of Damocles fall on you. As background checks have become standard operating procedure, and as Google has advanced, secrets have become harder to keep. Better to disarm them upfront.

I expect candidates to come in with questions about tenure, salary, benefits, and parking. (Parking is the one constant.) The more impressive ones ask questions about enrollment trends at the college (both overall and specific to their department), strategic direction of the college, faculty turnover rates (VERY revealing), key issues facing the college in the near future, gender balance on the faculty, student demographics, funding for both technology and faculty development (not the same thing, though they overlap), the state of outcomes assessment at the college (you don’t have to care, but it’s good form to ask), and the overall budgetary health of the college. Questions like these show me that a candidate is interested not just in being someone who teaches classes and draws a paycheck, but also in being a citizen of the college. Simply bringing them up shows a refreshing absence of provincialism.

I’ll ask my readers: what came up in your dean’s interview?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.

Comments:
I would say that my results have varied quite a bit.

At my first tenure-track position, which was at a small public university, I had a meeting with the dean and with the provost, but both of those were just chats. The decision was made by the department, and I found out about the salary from the department head.

That same year, I had an interview at a very small (less than 1,000 students) Catholic college that involved a lengthy interview with the president of the school, a very bright and interesting nun. Surprisingly, there was only one question about my religion, and she didn't seem concerned that I was (and am) a fallen Catholic and not particularly religious. As I recall it though, the money/logistics discussion was handled by another administrator (a dean or a provost, I think).

For my current job at a large (24,000 or so students) public regional university, I didn't speak with the dean at all-- he was too busy when I was on campus for my visit. All the money-type discussions were handled by the department head. That same year, I interviewed for a similar school in a different part of the country. As I recall it, the money-type discussions were again handled by the department head, and when I met with the dean (or it might have been the associate dean, I'm not sure now), this person wondered aloud why she was meeting with me in the first place.

Now, on the other hand, I had an interview for a job last year, and at that school, the dean brought up the issue of money and quoted me the salary range. I had lunch with the department head and a faculty member after this meeting with the dean, and when I told them the salary range and other deals with the job, they were both genuinely surprised. And you'd think that the department head would be in on that loop.

I could go on, but you get the idea.
 
If Spouse met with the Dean when he interviewed for the t-t job he has now, he didn't tell me about it. Apparently it was that memorable.

I'm commenting to say that, yes, you should definitely ask for more, if you're offered the position. Spouse was offered the position and given the salary by his department head. He thought about the offer, asked for more, was cheerfully given $3,000 more (nothing to sneeze at, IMHO), and happily accepted the job.

Everybody won!:)
 
Heh, my most memorable dean interview was when a dean asked me something like, "If your friends had to use one word to describe you, what would it be?" Not quite as bad as "If you were a tree...", but up there.

Otherwise, it was pretty much the stuff you mentioned. Faculty development, what directions the college is headed, etc.

However, never once in any of my interviews have I or anyone else brought up parking!
 
I did not feel comfortable with dean interviews. Once the dean's pet peeve seemed to be high school students taking college level courses -- and I'd just committed myself to how much those highly motivated students seem to add to the intellectual level in my cc classes (it was for a cc position).

Or when a dean took me to dinner since that was the only open slot in my day and she'd be gone the next day - her take on English teachers was that if there's plagiarism then obviously the teacher hasn't done his/her job of teaching. too many teachers are apparently just trying to trap students. whew. (this was the dean who interviewed me a year later for a different position and didn't remember that we'd met previously).

I guess with other deans the details were more mundane.
 
Dean Dad, thanks for your wonderfully prompt and informative response! And thanks to all who are commenting--I am learning so much from this!

I just found out one of my campus visits will involve meetings with multiple deans (eek!), so this information is just so timely and helpful. Thanks!

PS: I have no skeletons in my closet, other than my blog, so I should be OK on that front. :)
 
I've been lurking here for a while. I have no idea how I found your site, but I am so happy that I have. Great info especially about the unseen work of administrators. It is so true.
 
One piece of advice to job candidates who are negotiating their salaries is to give the college that's interviewing you a figure that you would like for your salary there, and to base it on sound financial and numerical research. I did this when I moved from my first tenure-track job to my second (and current) one and it made the salary negotiation process basically painless and satisfying for everybody.

What I did was, once I knew I was a finalist, I took the salary I was currently making as a baseline figure. Then I added in things like cost of living adjustments (i.e. if you make $x in your current city, that's equivalent to making $y in the target city), average salaries of comparable employees in peer/aspirant institutions, the estimated value of your particular skills to the college, and so forth. Some of those parameters are objective and some are subjective. When I interviewed with the dean and he asked me what my preferred starting salary would be, I was able to say "I think $x is appropriate based on the following considerations...." and it wasn't just a figure pulled out of a hat.

Having since been on search committees at this school, it's my impression that administrators like known quantities when it comes to human resources, and semi-objective criteria for salaries sort of falls under that.

The other piece of advice i'd give is what my mentor gave me when I was switching jobs, and that's to shoot high. Be realistic and research-based about your salary but take the high side of any estimate. It's a negotiation after all.
 
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