Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Ask the Administrator: Preparing for the Dean's Interview

One of my favorite bloggers wrote:


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?

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.


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.