A View From the Other Side of the Table: Playing the Endgame (A Guest Post)

This is a guest post by a tenured reader at a mid-tier public university.

If you been invited for a campus visit, congratulations.  This means that you are part of an elite group of 5 or so who have been chosen over the hundred or so other applicants.   Let’s assume you gave a decent job talk, didn’t commit any major faux pas during the interviews and actually liked the school and the people that you met.   What to do next to seal the deal and get the best offer possible?  Having just served on a hiring committee for a mid-tier public university, I have some suggestions.

Be thankful: Send a brief email to EVERY faculty member and high level admin (Dean, etc.) that you had an interview or serious interaction with (you can skip those who just showed up to the job talk or for free food at the buffet).  It doesn’t have to be long, but it should have the following elements:

  1. Your appreciation for their time and hospitality
  2. Your continued interest in the position
  3. If you mention something specific to your interaction with them, you get bonus points.

Not doing 1) makes you look like an ingrate.  We know that campus visits are exhausting obstacle courses, as we all went through them ourselves.  But don’t be fooled that faculty enjoy taking time out of their schedules to listen to a series of job talks and hold interviews,  repeating the same things to a series of candidates.  Even those free restaurant meals get old after the 3rd time. If you only thank some of the faculty, the others who interviewed you (especially if they were on the hiring committee) will naturally conclude that you think that they aren’t important enough to be bothered with.  Is that the message you really want to send?  For the record we compare notes on whether and where you sent thank-yous.

Doing 1) but not 2) makes it seem like you are giving us the polite brush off. You are interviewing us as well during your visit, and we would understand if there’s something about the school or the department that made you decide “uh, not where I want to spend the next few decades of my life.”  So if you are still interested in the position, SAY SO.     You don’t need to plead, but playing ambivalent is not conducive to getting an offer. Don’t make the hiring committee sit around and second guess your interest level.

Be considerate:  If you are no longer interested in joining our faculty for whatever reason, contact us and tell us that you’d like to withdraw your application.  If you do get an offer from us and you don’t plan to accept it, reject us as soon as possible so we can contact our next choice.    Asking to have an offer extended makes it seem like you are hoping for something better elsewhere, so do that only if you are prepared for us say “sorry, no extensions will be possible.”

Be forthright: Entertaining another offer while interviewing is a wonderful, yet stressful conundrum to have, especially as most offers have firm deadlines.  Let us know what your deadline is.  Alas, we may not be able to respond in time (for example, if we are bringing in more candidates over the next 2 weeks for a single position, we cannot cancel their trips, and it would violate our HR rules to bring people out for a visit if an offer has been tendered to another).  However, if we are able to, that may light a fire under our collective posteriors, in addition to signalling that, yes, others want you.   Of course, if you do have other offers, be sure to communicate your enthusiasm for joining our faculty, or we may assume you plan to use any offer from us merely as leverage to bargain with your true love elsewhere.

Be prepared to negotiate: I’d never let my Dean see me say this, but we expect, perhaps even want, some negotiation.  If you have a better offer on the table, let us know the amount.  Even if you don’t, know that the first offer typically holds a little back.  Be realistic: we aren’t going to be able to offer $25K/year more to match that well-endowed private school, especially if that would bump your salary beyond what more senior faculty make!   Even if we can’t increase the salary, we may be able to offer additional perks like summer stipends or course releases.   In addition to getting you some goodies and showing you aren’t a pushover, it actually benefits us, too. We can go to Administration and say “School X is offering $Y more than we are for a similar position, so we need to be able to offer a higher salary than you have allotted to us.”  Likewise, if you do turn us down for another higher paid job elsewhere, our consolation prize is that we can use this information to make us more competitive in future job searches.

In conclusion:  Once we’ve weeded out the inevitable one or two obvious misfits, it’s likely that each of the remaining candidates who visited has his or her own advantages.  Perhaps one is doing more compelling research but another has a more prestigious pedigree, and the question we must consider is how to weigh these attributes in an overall ranking.  Or perhaps faculty opinion is divided as to who is the best. Even if a clear winner emerges across all categories, it’s likely these differences are minor.   So know this:  we would likely rather have any one of our remaining “A” list candidates than have to slog once again through the selection process and another round of campus visits with the “B” list.  This concern becomes more important as the hiring season progresses, with the applicant pool dwindling as more popular applicants accept offers elsewhere.     So we may select the person who we feel is the most likely to accept our offer, even if his/her publication record isn’t quite as solid or teaching experience is less established than more ambivalent candidates.   If you follow the steps above, that could earn you the edge …and the offer.

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A View From the Other Side of the Table: Playing the Endgame (A Guest Post) — 5 Comments

  1. I am in a strange situation. Had a visit, interview went well. Chair indicated offer; asked for list of equipment etc. It has been a couple of weeks since I heard from them after that… a couple of requests for response unanswered. Bad sign?

  2. I had an interesting experience with this approach but perhaps its not unusual. I recently interviewed at a university and wrote short but gracious and personal thank you notes to all those that I met and interacted with (10 or so) including the committee members and chair. The only response I got was from the one rather skeptical and pushy committee member who was seemingly out to get me. It was a friendly and encouraging response. I didn’t wind up being offered the job but was baffled by this lack of interest by the faculty. I should add that at other universities, whether or not I got the job offer, the majority of people I met with responded to my thank you notes.

    • Some institutions have rules (formal or informal) regarding contact with the candidates. In some cases, no one can respond, in some cases, just the chair. This recently happened to me, I emailed everyone, and received a response only from the chair of the committee…and the secretary, but I don’t think anyone explained the rules to her.

  3. Pingback: A Perspective From the Hiring Committee (A Guest Post) | The Professor Is In

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