Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Interviewing Info II

When interviewing for a faculty position, when do you bring up the issue of $$$? Do you bring up the issue of $$$?

In every interview I have had, the department chair or some other administrator such as a dean of some sort brought up the topic of money: salary and start-up. I never had to figure out the best time to ask about money; this is the responsibility of the administrators.

If for some reason you interview at a place that does not proactively mention salary or start-up and these things are critical to you at this stage -- i.e., before an offer -- then perhaps the chair or another administrator will at some point ask if you have any questions, and then you can ask the money questions. In this case, I would start with very general questions -- What is the likely starting salary? Is this a good time to discuss start-up issues?

At an interview for a faculty position in Science, I think the most important money issue that the candidate needs to think about in advance is start-up costs. I don't know about other fields, but in Science, start-up costs are so central to any hire that the topic is a normal part of an interview meeting with the chair ± deans.

Therefore, by the time you go to an interview, you should have a pretty good idea of what you want/need in terms of equipment, space, personnel, and other items that can be added to the start-up package. Know what you want and what it will cost. You may not know a final number -- e.g., setting up a lab may require some renovations, and it is up to the administrators to come up with the relevant sum for that -- but you should know an approximate amount for the things you can determine, and you should have an idea of how much space you will need.

You might want to ask around to find out what other people in your field have included in their start-up packages besides the obvious items of equipment.

I used to prepare a dream-estimate and a bare-bones estimate, and I adjusted these as I acquired more information during the interview about availability of certain shared facilities and space issues. If you get an offer, you aren't locked into the number you gave at the interview, but it's good if you at least get the order of magnitude right.

Other financial details might be more appropriate for discussion if you get an offer, although you could do some research into these issues so that you are well informed. I know that different people have different priorities, but I always think it is strange when a candidate asks about retirement benefits and moving expenses and real estate prices and so on. If you get an offer, by all means ask away, but these questions can wait (and some of it you can figure out yourself).

I realize that $$ issues can be stressful, but this should not be a major focus of anxiety at an interview. My advice to interviewees is to focus on the talks and personal interactions and, although you should certainly be well prepared to discuss your start-up requirements, don't worry that you're failing some sort of interview test if you don't know exactly what to say/when about the financial side of faculty hires.

Tomorrow: There are other resources that can answer the common and most basic questions about interviewing for a faculty position, but here's a chance to ask about more random issues that you might hesitate to ask someone you know. I have a few things lined up for tomorrow's post, but feel free to leave a comment with additional questions of the unconventional sort.

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great posts on interviews. Can I ask - is there anything different about interviewing for a post at a more senior level? Not a tenure-track entry level job, but rather a lateral or upward move at the post-tenure stage. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Here's a question: When you talk about start up during the interview, could you actually hurt your chances of getting the job if you say that you need a lot more $$$ than they can give/afford? I.e., could the committee write you off as being too expensive?

Another question: How difficult or unusual is it to try to push the start date of the job off a year or 18 months?

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Until you receive a written offer, it is best to avoid any sorts of money- or resource-related questions at all, unless they are raised by your interviewers, not by the applicant. As an applicant, every single thing you say should be directed *solely* at securing an offer. This means that every single thing you say should be crafted with the goal of convincing the interviewing department that what *you* have to offer *them* is totally fucking awesome and they must have it. Once you have a first written offer, you can then start to ask the "hard" questions and begin your negotiation. By raising these sorts of issues before receiving a written offer, you run the risk of appearing like you don't have your eye on the ball, and thus having the department favor a different applicant.

Anonymous said...

I always wanted to try the Noel Smith-Wenkle method for salary negotiation:

http://209.85.229.132/search?q=cache:ABZ2b4mdybIJ:www.nmt.edu/~shipman/org/noel.html+noel.html&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-a

Guess it could work with start up costs too if adapted.

Though last time I was interviewed a few years ago I forgot with the stress!

Anonymous said...

When I interviewed I was advised NOT to negotiate salary. It is a mistake. There is no way to get decent raises once one is in, except by getting an outside offer. I'e seen more cynical colleagues negotiate heavily for everything, and the bottomline is, the difference between our salaries in the past 5 years is enough to put a kid through college at a state school.
So don't be shy!

Anonymous said...

Is it appropriate to bring up marital status/# of children during the interview?? One applicant had this information on their CV and I thought this was very odd...

Hope said...

Some questions re: salary – How does one know how much is a reasonable starting salary offer for an asst. prof? The AAUP publishes data broken out by academic rank, but the rank of asst. prof includes people just starting out to those about to get tenure. So how does one figure this out, assuming the institution is not public and such data is not openly available?

Are profs on hiring committees privy to how much a candidate is offered?

Anonymous said...

Postponing a start date is an interesting topic - I have been in a science dept at a masters-intensive university where two successive candidates chose to do this - one for a year, the next for 6 months. There was a lot of grumbling in the faculty about the person who put off the job for a full academic year. While some situations necessitate putting off a start date, I would be prepared that you may have already turned the faculty off before you've even arrived!

Ann said...

Dont negotiate for salary at your first university job. If you are successful your salary will rise. Instead you want to negotiate for some teaching release time to focus on research so you will be able to get tenure. The main criteria in your job choice should be where you will be able to do your best research. Important factors are good students, research facilities, resources, and teaching load, and colleagues. A detailed request for startup money should be prepared, and you should be able to justify how every item will help your productivity. Your request should be realistic, not inflated, but adequate. The university also wants you to succeed, and it is not in its interest to hire someone it cannot provide adequate resources for. It is not in your interest to be hired by a university which is not able to provide the resources you need to accomplish your research either.

Ann said...

Dont bring up your marital status or children. Noone should not ask you about this either; it is illegal, although it is quite common to be asked. Your marital status and children should be irrelevant. The assumption is that you will make arrangements such that having children will not interfere with your ability to do the job, beyond a reasonable maternity leave. The only exception with bringing up your marital status is if there is a two body job problem. Then, if you only would be interested in the job provided your sig other is able to obtain employment in the area, this is relevant information. Strategically, it is often better to wait until you have an offer to bring this up.

Anonymous said...

What if, hypothetically speaking of course, you were told pre-interview that the start-up packages were "competitive" but then during the interview discover that the chair's idea of competitive is 20X smaller than your own (extremely modest) barebones estimate? Do you loudly guffaw and exclaim "WHA???!?!?!" (Ok, I probably shouldn't have done that). Do you politely inform the chair that if that's the case you're no longer interested? Do you just smile and nod and deal with it if and when an offer appears?

Anonymous said...

Ann, are you a stingy dean in drag? Your advice is wrong on so many levels. Your starting salary has enormous longterm repercussions for your future financial success. Your retirement benefits are based on it. Most raises are percentages of your existing salaries. Usually the only way to get a large raise is to have a competing offer and the job market just does not make that realistic.

zed said...

"Don't negotiate for salary at your first university job. If you are successful your salary will rise."

This is very bad advice. It is absolutely true that if you don't negotiate salary you'll end up with a lower salary than if you negotiate. And as Anonymous points out, it's very hard to recover from a low initial salary with raises. Yes, your salary will rise if you do good work, but not enough to compensate for a low initial salary.

But the interview is not the time to discuss these things.

siz said...

An anecdote. When I was interviewing for TT academic positions, I was told by several older faculty to ask the recent hires in their department what ball-park their start-up was. Mainly to get a feel for what the university was willing/able to offer. I took said advice and asked a brand new female hire what ball park her start-up was in. She was cold and hostile towards me during my 30 minute interview with her and then when I finally asked her about what her start-up was she basically told me it was "none of my business"

This is also the same c*nt who proceeded to try and rip me a new a-hole during my presentation of my research. She wouldn't listen to any of my responses to her questions, proceeded to talk over me and then would not believe that she was wrong in her assertion. She was the only female in the department and I think she perceived me as a threat.

I interviewed at about 10 places, some with no females, some with one female and a few with a critical mass of females. At each interview where there was only 1 female faculty member I was treated the most harshly by the lone female.

WTF is up with that?

But back to the topic, I was always asked by the Dean or department about start-up and salary during the interview.

Anonymous said...

Ann makes a good point about two-body deals, and I'd love to hear FSP's take on it. It does sound wise to wait for an offer before bringing up spousal accommodations. But can't you also imagine a situation where a department might be frustrated not to find this out up front? How do you strike the balance of keeping marital status out of the interview process (illegal or not, conscious or not, discrimination on the basis of marital status is still alive and well) while still giving the institution sufficient time to come up with a second position?

Alex said...

So, let's say you have a faculty job already, but you're untenured and applying for jobs. What do you say to the question "So, why are you applying for this job?"? Do you just say "Because it's a great school and advertising in your field and there are great people and programs, and ignore the elephant in the room? Or do you say something about "Well, I have had a lot of success in my current teaching and research, and I feel that my style would work really well in a place with...."?

I know that trashing the current job is not an option (and I sincerely wouldn't want to even if it were an option) but I don't know if the current job is to be ignored or delicately mentioned.

amy said...

I agree with others that you should definitely negotiate your salary once you have an offer. Women don't negotiate as much as men, and it is a definite disadvantage because raises are often a percentage of your salary. (Also, summer school or evening classes are often paid as a percentage of your regular salary). On the other hand, it might be worthwhile to trade salary for a teaching reduction if you think you're really going to have trouble combining teaching and reasearch for the first year, but eventually you'll have to get used to the regular teaching load anyway.

Siz: I also had trouble a couple of times when there was one other woman in a department -- I felt absolutely flayed after those interviews. In other cases, there was one woman who was really positive and interested in my work. In the bad cases, I took it as a sign that the department did not offer a good climate for women, and the one woman there felt threatened or as if she had to show off her argument skills to the other interviewers, so I was just as glad not to get an offer at any of those places.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous at 11:21

Yep, discrimination based on marital status still exists. My particular institution discriminates against singles (especially female ones) on a regular basis. Apparently, there's a fear we'll find true love and leave.

Anonymous said...

my two cents on start-up negotiation: at my time, nobody said anything to me, the chair wasn't hepful, and I found out later that other ast prof had higher effective start-ups by asking for new instrumentation for a shared facility rather than for themselves, even when they were the main/only users. Now I amke a point of telling interviewees what is the ballpark figure people have been getting recently.
A good way from the interviewee is to be subtle- don't ask for a number, which may not be relevant to you (eg as I said mine was lower than it could have been, or right now we have a search on in a particular specialty, and the dean is prepared to disburse up to x- all of us on the committee know what x is). You obviously have your own list of toys, ranging from must have to would be nice. So simply say, in my field we have a need for xyz, so start-ups are in the order of Y. Is that reasonable at this institution?

Kim said...

I would say that, when it comes to money issues, to know what's important to you and to the career that you want. From my experience, the real negotiations happen when the offer is made, but it's worth knowing about anything that might make or break an offer for you. For some people, that might be salary (and what you can negotiate depends on the institution, especially right now, when state institutions are frantically cutting budgets all around the country). For other people, that might be start-up money. (If the institution said "your computer is your start-up package," would you take the job, or would you spend another year as a post-doc and hope to get an interview for a better job next year? I'm not kidding about the computer, by the way.) For other people, it might be the cost of housing relative to the salary.

The questions could make it harder to get an offer - if you want a huge start-up package and the school doesn't have the kind of research expectations that demand it (or money to provide it), you might come across as a bad fit. But if you really wouldn't be happy at a place, it's better if you know that so you can consider other opportunities.

SamanthaScientist said...

I've seen several seminars about negotiating start-up packages, and they have all advised candidates to do the money negotiations once the offer is made.

I've also talked to several post docs on the job market, and know that interviewers usually want some start-up estimate from the candidate before making an offer, which makes sense. If the university can't offer the kind of money necessary to do the research, the university and the candidate are not a good match.

The seminars I've seen also advise the candidate to *definitely* negotiate salary. I always thought it would be much easier (and much more admired) to negotiate for all the start-up package stuff, other than the salary. All the other stuff is all about getting great science done. The salary seems just selfish. But, it was explained to me this way: 1) the university *expects* you to negotiate the salary, so the offer is lower than they are prepared to offer, and they're surprised when you don't negotiate, and 2) negotiating to a salary that is fair and comparable makes the candidate/employee feel valued, loyal to the organization, and allows the candidate/employee to not waste time/energy worrying about salary.

ME said...

It is very important to talk to others in your field who have recently been successful at getting faculty positions to find out what the going rate for salary and startup are in your field. You don't want to be way off the mark here. It's important to negotiate either just as the offer letter is being drafted or after the first letter. Get what you need to be successful because you won't be in a position of power again for a long time.

For startup, think about what you can share and what you need for your dedicated use. Is sharable equipment available in your building (because 15 minutes across campus doesn't work).

Salary is important and you should know what you are worth. At the same time, you can get an adjustment with promotion (tenure). Also think about what is most important to your success, more startup money, teaching release or more salary. Sometimes you need to give a little.

Also think about whether you are asking for student stipends, conference funds, teaching release, etc. This should be included. Check whether you have to pay graduate tuition this can equal stipend at many schools. Finally ask who is paying for the renovations for your lab, and if you are paying be sure to add this to your startup figures.

Science/Eng hires are expensive and they want you to succeed so ask for what you need, but be ready to justify it. Have all this information before the first interview, and be prepared. That is half the battle.

female Science Professor said...

This info about negotiating salary ± start-up is useful, but to get back to the issue of what you do during an interview, the answer is still: not much. The emphasis of the interview should not be on money, although people in fields with major start-up requirements should be prepared to discuss this issue. And you should have a general (order of magnitude) sense of what might be possible for start-up and what is a deal-breaker amount for you (see Kim's comment).

Adam said...

I'm chairing a faculty search right now. I meet with the candidates very early in their interview and tell them explicitly the ballpark figure they should consider for startup funds. That way when they later meet with the higher-ups who ask them what their needs are (and yes that's part of our interview here) they have an answer that's not too off-scale. Of course, I'm not in charge of the negotiations, so I tell the candidates they're welcome to ask for whatever they want, I just want them to have some data to work with.

Anonymous said...

You all are GREEDY!!! I would do my job for free with no start up (I may be a little spoiled though because my parents left me a large trust fund). Anyway, money should not make or break whether you take a job, whatever they give you is what you should take.

EliRabett said...

Eli rather likes the idea of saying, ok, to be successful, I need at a minimum this instrumentation, but this additional would be great, so much renovated space, support for my summer salary in the first x years, support for z graduate students, teaching relief in the first y years, etc. Let them add it up

Anonymous said...

yeah, I find that Professors are very greedy.....why is that?

Anonymous said...

I would really appreciate if some people would throw onto the table some ballpark ranges of what typical start-up packages are at various size universities.

I am putting together my application packages and while I know how much chemicals, supplies, etc cost I also feel like I have no concept if I am asking for way too little (or much).

SamanthaScientist said...

I know two tenure track profs starting up labs at state universities who got start-up packages between 900k and 1.5 million. These two both started within the last 3 years. Both fields are experimental physics.

Joshua Halpern said...

"Here we show that the sublingual administration of a single dose of testosterone in women causes a substantial increase in fair bargaining behaviour, thereby reducing bargaining conflicts and increasing the efficiency of social interactions."

Bob said...

Anon 3:03 pm is a little clueless, at least about startup funds. No startup = no preliminary data = very hard to get grants. If students want to work with you, you'd have to tell them no, you don't have any equipment yet, wait a year or two until I get a grant. And then of course that's a year or two before you have any ability to start getting the data that is supposed to get you tenure.

Joshua Halpern said...

This is about eight years out of date, but the only survey of start up costs I have ever found

Ann said...

Asking for a delayed start date is often fine. Sometimes that is even regarded as a plus, easing financial constraints.

Joshua Halpern said...

Sorry, here are the cross-tabs for the cornell survey (in the links)

Anonymous said...

similar to what the anon5:01AM is asking about interviewing not at the assistant prof level but higher up: once you get tenure at one institution, if you then want to move to a new institution would you normally expect to be given tenure there too immediately or do you have to start all over again from the bottom?? In other words, does tenure transfer from one institution to another? Or, does having tenure make it harder for you to get a new position because they would "have" to give you tenure too so the stakes are higher for the institution?

Anonymous said...

Just accepted a TT job, and I have to say that I found negotiations this year more challenging than last year. I have a two body problem that couldn't be worked out last year, so we both accepted temporary positions and we tried the search again this year. Both got offers at great schools in different locations with unfortunate timing (again), and have decided that one of us just needed a TT job so that at least one of us can start our life. For a number of reasons, I accepted first. Found very little wiggle room on start up, salary, benefits, or start date. [I've been telling myself that perhaps this is due to a large supply of good candidates and an uncertain economy, but?]

Anyway, my question for FSP: how is the time frame of a TT contract understood? The other body of my two body problem is still negotiating in locations far away from me, and is wondering if it would be worthwhile (within good practice/taste/ethics) to inquire about potential positions/shared positions for me sometime in the future (my TT contract is renewable at one year intervals). Is this "done"? If not, he'll likely have to give up his TT offers (again) for us to be together, and that's a relationship strain we have been trying to avoid for some time now!

For my institution, their position has been one of "maybe": maybe we can discuss opportunities for him at some vaguely ambiguous time in the future. Maybe. And I've heard this at a few places now, so...is this SOP for most institutions?

Any advice would be great!

Anonymous said...

I never understood the concept of universities creating positions for the spouses of candidates they want to hire. I know it's done, but it still seems strange and also an unethical hiring practice. Your two body problem is between you and your spouse only, leave your potential employer out of it. If you want your employer to give your spouse a job too, doesn't that make you look bad? (nepotism??) what about your spouse getting a reputation in his/her new job as having "only" gotten the job because the wife/husband got them the job and not on their own merits? Wouldn't that hurt their professional reputation?

that said, I find it hard to believe that a department would be THAT desperate to hire any one particular candidate (at the assistant prof level especially, someone who isn't already a Big Cheese) that they would go to the lengths to create new positions for the spouses. (heck I wish I could be given a job that way, without having to interview on my own merits!) With the oversupply of postdocs, there's more than enough candidates in the pool to choose from, including those who are less picky or make less demands.

In other words I think it's detrimental to a candidate (especially at the junior faculty level) to ask the university to create jobs for their spouse. The university may go "oh so our salary and startup package is not enough for you, you also want us to give your spouse a job?? oh well in that case we'll just cross you off the list and go with our other choice of candidate who is less high-maintenence than you are."

unexplained said...

Here's a great idea I heard recently for compiling a start-up list: Make a list of experiments you plan to carry out in the first 2 or 3 years, and write a budget to cover that - complete with justification, just as if you were writing a grant, with equipment and people and subject payment and travel.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 1/27/2010 07:16:00 PM

Like it or not, an increasing number of people are having two-body problems because women are now pursuing competitive careers too. So, if a significant number of applicants has such a problem, then the university cannot decide to hire someone who does not have it without restricting the talent pool it is choosing from.

Besides, the way it works is not that universities create a position for the spouse. They try to find creative solutions, but I've never heard of a case where the "second body" was hired without merit.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 7:16 PM:

The two body problem, I think, is more of a problem for smaller colleges than Universities. Many Universities are in large metropolitan areas. If one body gets a great tenure track job offer at University A and the other body gets another at University B, it's simply a matter for them to decide in their marriage or partnership who gets the academic job and who will go out into the workforce of the metropolitan area and change careers - most likely from academia to something else. (I say "simply" a matter of deciding who gets the dream job and who does not - of course, this is not so simple).

However, if the type of academia being considered is on a smaller scale (say, liberal arts colleges), another job may not be a real option. These colleges are often located in picturesque, charming, snowy communities in the middle of nowhere. Literally, there are no other jobs, much less jobs in the field that they have given up their 20s to receive PhD training for (training often worth upwards of $1 million in cost to the federal government).

I have a friend who works in a department in one of these schools where there are four spouses of professors sitting at home and waiting for a visiting position to open up in her department (and this is a TINY department). Apparently, these "stay at home hopefuls" (both male and female) all have incredible credentials and, had the timing been different, would have been quite qualified for an open position at the institution.

These little hamlets are often so isolated that even getting a job volunteering at a local library is competition for these folks, and the nearest opportunities for them to use their skills are often greater than 2 hours away or more. That is not a legitimate commute for a family member 5 days a week, not really.

The assumption that the spouse isn't "good" or isn't "qualified" has some flaws. It is my understanding that there is no actual pressure to take on a spouse unless the department would actually want them (i.e., they'd actually have to be qualified and they'd actually have to be good). A lot of spousal hires are only half-time positions or shared positions, and so the spouse is often "volunteering" the rest of his or her time to the university - doing the work of a tenured faculty member but only being compensated for 1/2 of that time without the guarantee of tenure. If the University is operating as a business, it makes sense to have as many of these "whole"-professors-for-half-price as possible.

As I see it, it's not that these "spouses" are taking full time tenure track positions away from others. Would the plethora of single postdocs yearning for an academic job be willing to move to a hamlet in the middle of nowhere to be untenured, half-time faculty, unable to get start-up money or lab space? Think about what a half time salary would be at one of these places, we're not talking about half of a University R1 salary here.

Would you do this as a single person? I wouldn't. I would definitely go into an "industrial" job before I would take an academic job under those terms. But I may give up my awesome, reasonably paid tenure track job where I have opportunity to do research that I love to go and do this at my husband's institution. And, believe me, this is after year after year of separation, joint job searching, and heartbreakingly-almost-perfectly-but-not-quite-worked out situations.

Anonymous said...

The solution to the two body problem is to not marry a fellow academic in the first place. Choose someone else who has a more common and transferable job or try to get your spouse to switch careers (or you switch yours).

Anonymous said...

In response to Anon 10:31 PM (it's Anon 7:06 PM again):

If only we could turn back the clock to those more innocent, optimistic days and change the course of our personal lives for the sake of our careers! [Though, I must admit that not dating/marrying somebody because of inappropriate, potentially ill-defined career aspirations that may or may not present obstacles in the future way-back-when would be a little tricky to gauge and perhaps a tad too calculating for most.]

As to switching careers, it's more likely for those of us whose career opportunities exist in tiny, sparsely populated hamlets that both bodies would need to give up dream careers in order to move to a city and actually use degrees elsewhere (in not-dream careers).

For instance, in these tiny towns, what would a science PhD do? Companies are not an option. Going back to professional school is not an option (say, law school) to later open your own professional practice in some other field. The place is often overrun with overqualified people for high school and other kinds of teaching, though this may be an option if one is lucky. If none of these things are available, the option for the other body is then to reinvent themselves with a career that can be done from home, often requiring a BA or less, pushing 30 or older, potentially without any background or experience. How satisfying to those who love experimental science would it be to, say, try to open a small business (say, a B&B)? How likely would such a venture be to succeed given the educational and experiential background? In reality, this other body will most likely be limited to working several low-paying, part-time jobs, necessary because the salary of the actual tenure track (tenured) person is not enough to support an entire family. [These types of problems also exist for two bodies when the other body isn't an academic as well, a non-academic two-body problem, if you will. In these cases, one can hope there's a chance that the other body has some practical life-skills to know how to deal with such things, or perhaps does have the desire to become a craftsman or farmer or something else valued in the local economy.]

Really, unless the other body strikes gold in one of these as yet unthought-of careers, it's highly unlikely that our couple will either (a) stay in the hamlet for 35+ years or (b) stay together.

Retention of professors can be a real problem for some of these schools, and that is why they make positions for spouses within the administration OR faculty of the school. Otherwise, what continuity would they have, and how could they attract people for a lifetime of teaching, learning, and scholarship? As a single person, it can also be very difficult to meet a life partner in such an environment, and sometimes there are retention issues from that end of the spectrum as well. In any case, it's likely that these kinds of spousal hires may be here to stay with the current model of the tenure system.

Anonymous said...

"...pushing 30 or older..."

so it's all downhill by the time you hit 30?

What I keep hearing in the laments here are excuses....Two body problems in academia don't suddenly sneak up on you unexpectedly without warning, thus it's about unwise life choices. It's like seeing but refusing to heed the warning signs and then bemoaning the problems that result and expecting someone else to solve the problem for you (the university).

Admit it - if one REALLY wanted to, one could resolve the two body problem much more quickly by doing any of those things already mentioned. They are not impossible nor are they untenable, just that no one WANTS to do that. There are so many excuses - I will not be as satisfied doing something new (how do you know if you dont' even try?), I'm too old to retrain for a new career ... (yeah by 30 your life is over, right...)... I'm just hearing so much fear and close-mindedness and pessimism about life's possibilities in these posts. No wonder so many academics I know are such an unhappy and angst-ridden bunch!