Tomorrow's Professor Msg.#47 General Principles For Responding to Academic Job Offers

 
Folks:

Martin Ford, associate dean of the Graduate School of Education, at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia, has formulated eleven general principles for responding to academic job offers. Ford's advice, which applies to a wide range of disciplines, not just education, are posted here with his permission.

Rick Reis

GENERAL PRINCIPLES FOR RESPONDING TO ACADEMIC JOB OFFERS

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(1) MAKE SURE YOU HAVE AN OFFER

If it's not from someone authorized to make an offer (e.g., a dean or department head), it's not an offer. If it's not in writing, it is not an offer. Therefore, the appropriate response to an oral "offer" of a job, salary or fringe benefit (e.g., moving expenses, research space, etc.) is to "put it in writing."

(2) KNOW WHAT YOU WANT - AND WHAT YOU DON'T WANT

Find out as much as you can about what academic jobs are like - salary, working conditions, work activities, work expectations, and lifestyle considerations. Also find out as much as you can about alternative jobs you may consider. Use this information to determine the boundary conditions of what is possible on these dimensions.

(3) CLEARLY COMMUNICATE WHAT YOU WANT - BUT ONLY TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE

Discussions with potential colleagues and students should be focused primarily on intellectual concerns. Do not discuss salary, or fringe benefits, unless you are talking to the person who will be making the offer (e.g., the dean or department head). One possible exception - often it is appropriate to communicate some of your non-monetary objectives and concerns to your "host" (typically a member of the Search Committee), especially if they involve getting your work done (e.g., space, equipment, research and teaching assistants - but not salary, moving expenses, or housing assistance).

(4) ALWAYS TRY TO USE WORK QUALITY OR PRODUCTIVITY AS THE RATIONALE IN YOU NEGOTIATIONS - ALIGN YOU GOALS WITH THOSE OF YOUR EMPLOYER

Employers will respect you even if your requests seem excessive if the underlying goal is to do a better job (e.g., seed grants, RA, computer, and a more manageable initial teaching commitment could significantly enhance productivity; a higher salary, moving expenses, or housing assistance could enable you to focus on your job rather than seek extraneous summer or consulting income).

(5) MAKE REQUESTS IN AN INFORMATIONAL MANNER RATHER THAN CONTROLLING MANNER

Psychological research clearly indicates that people are much more likely to respond positively to feedback (such as a response to a job offer) if they perceive it to be an honest attempt to inform rather than a manipulative attempt to control behavior or to gain personal resources. This principle is especially applicable to situations involving the negotiation of multiple offers.

(6) NEGOTIATE HARD ON THINGS THAT ARE "OUT OF BOUNDS," NEGOTIATE MORE GENTLY ON THINGS THAT ARE "IN BOUNDS."

Since a job offer is worthless if there are "fatal flaws" in it that put it "out of bounds," you should stand firm on requests designed to fix these flaws. On the other hand, you can probably afford to compromise (or even give in) on things that are "in bounds" (i.e., satisfactory but not ideal). Some satisfactory elements of a job offer may become "fatal flaws," however, if you are negotiating multiple offers.

(7) LEARN ABOUT THE TENURE PROFESS, BUT DON'T GET HUNG UP ON IT

Tenure decisions are too individualized to enable you to use this as a major criterion except in extreme cases. However, make sure you know whether the job being offered is tenure-track, and GET IT IN WRITING. A verbal assurance that a non-tenure-track job will eventually become tenure-track should not be trusted, so get it in writing as well.

(8) START AS HIGH AS YOU CAN IN INSTITUTIONAL PRESTIGE

You can probably move down the institutional ladder, but it's almost impossible to move up any significant distance. However, keep in mind that at some schools the ratings of one department may exceed, by a considerable degree, the ratings for the school as a whole.

In addition to knowing where a school or department is on the prestige scale, you also want to know which way it is heading. Some schools are clearly making the effort to move up and they are often willing to hire the very best young faculty by making available the necessary resources.

(9) GET AS HIGH A STARTING SALARY AS YOU CAN, BUT BE REALISTIC

A higher starting salary means that future percentage increases will be based on a higher number, thus accelerating your salary at a somewhat faster pace (all else being equal). On the other hand, assistant professor salaries fluctuate only within a very narrow range, so that there's usually not much point in pushing too hard on this component of the job offer.

You don't want to lose a lot of points with the dean by bargaining for an extra $2,000 to $3,000 in salary. Remember, what you are really negotiating is the start-up compensation package. Academic year salary is only one part of this. Summer income opportunities, consulting time, support for travel, and housing assistance, all have an impact on your standard of living.

(10) CREATE OPTIONS AND KEEP AS MAY OPEN AS YOU CAN AS LONG AS YOU CAN

Be an active, engaged job seeker - make sure all of the options you would like to have are explored. Be patient and planful - don't make any decisions you don't have to make unless you are certain that other options are closed or less attractive.

(11) IN MAKING A DECISION, COMBINE LOGIC AND EMOTION

A thorough evaluation of a job offer should combine thoughtful analysis of the degree to which it affords the attainment of desired outcomes AND an appreciation of the fact that emotions are also designed to provide this same kind of evaluative information. If these two kinds of evaluations conflict, you should work hard to try to resolve the discrepancy. In the end you have to trust your gut. If you FEEL really negative about a job, don't take it unless you can resolve why you feel this way.

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