Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Recruiting Without Paying

A returning correspondent writes:

I'm just starting to think of the hiring season and,
while I'm at a urban high school and that's different
than a CC or 4-year SLAC, it seems that you and I face
similar questions about hiring...

I'm the math department chair. I have a relatively
small staff, but experience pretty high turn-over.

The basic question: what do you do to attract more
mid-career folks?

We have a salary schedule that puts us slightly below
average for the area.

**Money is the same huge constraint that you face (I

Are signing bonuses reasonable? They're a one-time
financial hit. What other low-cost things should we
think about?

We're a relatively new school, so there aren't many
'established' practices that we're breaking.

High school hiring is a very different animal from college hiring, since I've never heard of an adjunct high school teacher. And the folks who want to be 'teachers' often have different expectations of their employers than do the folks who want to be 'professors.' So I'll just admit upfront that some of the issues you're facing are probably pretty different from ours.

That said, there's certainly a commonality in the lack of money. In areas of relatively high employer demand, it can be a challenge to keep the staffing levels up. This is especially true in that the faculty here (and in many other places) is unionized, and the union contract sets some fairly strict guidelines for starting salaries. One-size-fits-all salary matrices protect the lowest-demand fields from the salaries that market forces would otherwise set. But they do it at the cost of underpaying the folk who have other options. When those folk consistently decamp for greener pastures, or turn down offers, it's frustrating.

(Concretely: a couple of years ago I had a revealing conversation with the dean who oversees nursing. We were talking about hiring procedures. My concerns were about getting through the huge pile of applications in a fair and aboveboard way. Her concerns were about getting any applications at all.)

I'll also admit a certain wariness. I don't want someone who's "falling back on" teaching, or who sees teaching as a low-stress job to coast until retirement. (I've dealt with some of those, and they aren't worth the hassle.) I want someone who wants to be here. If it requires heroic effort on your part to keep someone satisfied, don't.

Still, there are times when it makes sense to stress the non-pecuniary rewards of academia. (If those didn't exist, given the ratio of pay to training, the field would empty post-haste.) I wouldn't emphasize the summers off, since that tends to attract the folks you want the least. Instead, I'd point to the incredible autonomy that characterizes most of the job. This is especially true in a college setting, since standardized testing is still mostly considered a four-letter word here. The folks to whom that would appeal are likely to be the self-starters, which are precisely the ones you'd most want to hire. (Alternately, that could appeal to the slackers as well, which is why I'd phrase it as 'autonomy' rather than time off. You can work any fifty hours a week you want.)

Part of what I loved about teaching, back in my teaching days, was that I rarely felt like I had a boss. Yes, my class schedule was given to me, and once in a while I had to attend some silly event or endure an idiotic workshop. But I could go months between those things, during which time just about every non-teaching minute of the day was my own. Much of it still involved work, but it was work I could schedule according to my own needs and preferences. If I wanted to do my errands during the week and my grading on Sunday, I could. PU had an annoying dress code, but most colleges don't. So at many colleges, most of the day-to-day stuff consists of teaching -- which I assume you like, or you wouldn't do it -- and unstructured time. How many jobs are like that?

Signing bonuses can work, but they can annoy the incumbent employees unproductively, and the bloom wears off the rose pretty quick. I'd rather pump some funding into tuition reimbursement for pursuing advanced degrees, or travel funding for conferences -- something that, when used, makes them better faculty. Show that you care not only about landing them, but about developing them once they're there. That's the kind of perk that will appeal to those with a work ethic and a love of what they're doing, but leave the 'retire on the job' types cold. Which is exactly what you want.

In other circumstances, some places do spousal hiring as a way to get and keep people they otherwise couldn't. Some people are willing to trade, say, a slightly underwhelming salary for the chance to actually live with their spouse/life partner. But again, that's likelier to work in lower-demand fields, where people have fewer appealing options.

This certainly isn't an exhaustive list. I'll turn to my wise and worldly readers. Have you found an effective way to recruit without paying?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

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