Ask the grumpies: How to covertly practice for a job interview as a tenured faculty member

Susan asks:

it looks like I may interview for [a new job] soon, so here’s a somewhat urgent question: do you have suggestions for how to sharpen up my interview skills (like the chalk talk) as an already-tenured faculty? The last time I interviewed was as a postdoc, so there were plenty of coaching opportunities, but now I need to be covert. I think I’ll be ok with the talk itself, but it’s all the other soft skills

Disclaimer:  neither of us has applied for a tenured job after being tenured.  #2 has applied for non-tenure-track jobs after, but #1 has really only done one year faculty development leave stints.  However, #1 has been through the hiring process for the other side about a bazillion times both for her department and for related interdisciplinary departments that sometimes need to call in more (female or maybe just well-behaved?) economists for their searches.

Really the job talk is probably the most important thing, so if you’re ok with that, you’re ok!  Depending where you are in your career and what they have asked you to do, you’ll either want to be presenting a new piece of research or giving them an overview of a big chunk of your research agenda (as well as how it fits into your teaching and service).  If they just want a piece of research, you should easily be able to get people to listen to your practice talk just by telling them you need to practice for your upcoming talk.  If you’re doing one that has an overview of your entire agenda, you may want to stick with folks outside your department and/or close friends if you’re keeping things on the down low.

In terms of other soft skills… honestly, I don’t think you will need to practice them.  You’re an already-tenured faculty.  You don’t *need* this other new job.  You’ve most likely been on the other side of interviews and know more about what matters and what doesn’t matter for applicants.  (I am embarrassed now by what I thought mattered but nobody actually cares about!)  Just be a polite slightly more extroverted version of yourself (if you’re an introvert) and you should be fine.  Talk about research and teaching and service.  If it’s for an administrator position, talk to people at the department in advance so you have ideas for what the issues and concerns for the unit are going forward.  It’s ok not to have ideas and to just talk about how you make decisions based on faculty input, but you should be aware of any landmines as well as being able to do some discussion of the pros and cons of major issues.  If it’s for a faculty position, just pretend you’re there to give a seminar but add some more questions about things that you care about, whatever they may be.  Senior hires give so much more power to the candidate and are so much more relaxed than junior hires.

But maybe you’re wondering what kinds of questions you should be asking?  I get a lot of questions about the public and private schools (and I volunteer that information for everyone even if they don’t ask), housing, food, restaurants, distance to the nearest city.  More senior candidates feel more comfortable asking about quality of life information than do junior candidates.  I don’t know if they realize it is important or if it actually is more important or if they feel more comfortable signaling personal information.  Additionally more senior candidates are more likely to have make-or-break things– if X isn’t met, then they don’t really want the offer, and they’re happy to let us know that.  I also get more questions about how people in the department get along and how everyone gets along with the chair and the dean and so on, though sometimes that signals that the person is coming from a more dysfunctional place which can be a bit of a red flag– it’s usually best to signal that you’re happy where you are but you’re excited about this new opportunity for some other reason (like less snow or family or it’s ranked higher or you have friends on the faculty etc.), but not always.  Other than that, talking about interesting research, yours, theirs, other people’s, is always good (unless, of course, it’s a department where nobody does research).  And it’s easier to do as a senior person when you realize you don’t have to know the minutia of every person you meet’s cv than it is when you’re junior and don’t realize it’s ok to ask about things you don’t know or understand (or maybe that was just me).

#2 notes that for the two jobs she’s gotten post-tenure, the interviews were more like conversations.  She wasn’t even really aware the one for the second job was an interview.

So, we don’t really know, but we’ll throw this up to grumpy nation, and maybe send a signal over to historiann to ask for a boost.

Grumpeteers, any advice for Susan?


observations from my new job

Whatever one may say about the red tape around here (and it is indeed very silly), this place is doing really well on the dry-erase markers. This is an honest delight. They are everywhere, in multiple colors, and they all work! Now I want a dry-erase board by my desk. Also I have a bunch of sharpies now, yay.

…Goodness! My boss said I could have some of her tea (and I brought some to share in return), but I had no idea all the stuff that was in that cabinet until just now. It’s in between our desks. In addition to lots of kinds of tea, mostly black but some green (both loose and bagged), there are also some weird old powdered drink mixes, crystal light, plastic cups, terrible plain popcorn, fiber supplements, antacids, gummy vitamins, and a lone can of beef noodle soup. I feel like my drawer is better: granola bars (somewhat crumbly), mints (from HR; a gift from our 401k company), and dark chocolate-covered espresso beans. And I keep string cheese in the office refrigerator.

This has been today’s edition of Afternoon Snax.

Networking FTW (part 2)!! Or how to get the job you really wanted in 10 short years

(See Part 1 here)

How to get the job you’ve wanted for 10 years:

Step 1:  Graduate from graduate school.  Be a lecturer for a year and some change because the job market sucks.

Step 2:  Get a faculty position.  Occasionally meet people who work for the place you will want to work because your research overlaps with theirs.  Apply to where they work a couple times when a job looks particularly interesting since your partner still lives in Paradise and you hate being without him.  Hear nothing.

Step 3:  Decide to quit your tenured faculty position.  Decide you really want to work for this other place, but it is several states away.   Apply along with a bunch of other places in Paradise.  Fail to hear back.

Step 4:  Move to Paradise, where the place you want to work is located.

Step 5:  Apply again and again as jobs come up and never hear back.

Step 6:  Get a different job where you regularly meet with people who work at the place you want to work because that is part of your job (one of the parts you like best, solidifying your desire to work there).

Step 7:  Find out that your applications for the other place never made it through the hiring screening system for reasons that nobody understands or can tell you, but the screening is automatic and very bureaucratic.

Step 8:  Do a great job at your current job, learn new skills and research areas (including writing under review papers!) that make you more attractive at the place you’ve wanted to work for several years, and as time passes, be more convincing that you’re ok with not being tenure track just by dint of not being tenure track.

Step 9:  Realize that while you value the flexibility and academic freedom aspects of your current job, you dislike the personal assistant parts of your job and you kind of wish you were still working more in your research area as part of the job that you get paid for.

Step 10:  Apply for jobs broadly.  Get a couple interviews for places that you would have enjoyed working at probably (or at least would have enjoyed the higher salaries at), but you weren’t a slam dunk fit for.  Fail to get those jobs.

Step 11:  Get an email from someone at the place you’ve wanted to work at for 10 years asking if you or your boss have any students who might be interested in a position that has opened up that looks like an even better match for you than the jobs you’ve applied for there previously.

Step 12:  Respond, “YES!  ME!!!!”  Have a conversation with the person.  Then apply, but this position also doesn’t require the full system for various bureaucratic reasons not detailed here.  Your application does not get lost.  Ace the interview which is more like a conversation because you’ve been working directly with this person off and on for the past few years and had met her even before that.   Hear from a friend that your references have been checked.  Have your boss tell you that he’s sad to lose you.  Hear the person you interviewed with tell your boss that she now owes him.  Get the job offer.  Note the salary and benefits are both better than what you have now.  Accept.  Get paperwork.  Get a start date.  Tell your boss your last day.

Step 13:  Get a terrible terrible cold because you always get sick after deciding to quit a job.  This time it better not turn into pneumonia.

Step 14:  Document and organize everything because you want to leave your previous position in a much better place than you found it!

Congratulate #1 in the comments below!

We finally got TSA-Pre

We’d been wanting TSA Pre for a while.  Where $85 once seemed like too much to pay for the privilege of keeping our shoes on and slightly shorter lines at security, with both of us traveling more and our incomes being higher, it now seems worth it.  What wasn’t worth it was trying to get an appointment.  When we were in paradise, there was an office close to us, but appointments were booked 3 months in advance, so we didn’t do it.  Where we live now, we’d have to drive into the city (1h 45 min) to get an appointment which seemed pretty ridiculous.

It turns out that most big airports have TSA-Pre walk-in sign-ups.  Last year we didn’t have our passports when we had some time to kill at a large midwestern airport.  This year, we brought our passports just in case.  As predicted, FIL got us to the airport a few hours early.  There was no line at the TSA-Pre sign-up place.  DH and I each signed up and got our fingerprints taken (now using scanning technology– no ink!).  It literally took 10 min each.  A week later we each got a letter telling us we’d been approved and giving us our confirmation numbers.  Now we just need to enter them into our existing travel plans and put them in for any new travel plans and we’re set for the next 5 years.

Children under 13 (maybe 12?) don’t need their own TSA-Pre because they’re included with the parents.  So we didn’t get them their own.  (We will probably get it for DC2 in a couple years.  Probably at the same airport.)

Do you have TSA-Pre?  Was it a hassle or super easy?

We’re having bad weeks

this was supposed to be a kitten post with adorable kitten pictures of #2’s adorable kittens… but…

work is hard and we’ve both been getting bad (work-related) news… so we’re gonna punt today

Friday we’ll post an ask the grumpies about college savings.

I did not get another equity raise this year

Which means I’m still making at least 7K/year less than people who were just barely tenured last year (disclaimer:  this is still a lot of money, but I am relatively underpaid).   Not only that, but I didn’t get any other raise– departments were limited at the university level to only giving merit raises to a small percent of faculty (which is ridiculous on so many levels) and apparently I didn’t make the cut-off.  Everyone I talked to about my inequitable salary (head, dean, associate dean, random full professors) agreed it’s a problem, but when push came to shove, the dean came up with a bunch of excuses to not do anything about it.

I was recruited for a targeted position last year — tenured full professor with a raise, but I declined to apply because I didn’t want to move there.  Now I’m regretting having made that decision, and perhaps regretting more that I was convinced to tell my department chair (who then told the dean) about it.  So… I guess I’ll be looking at the JOE (Jobs for Economists) this year.  I don’t know if I’ll end up applying anywhere, but maybe I will.  It’s hard to say.

On the plus side financially, DH’s next paystub is supposed to be at full pay and they’ll be reinstituting the retirement match.  So yay money.

When I get some time, I’ll write a post or two about the soul-searching and mid-life identity crisis that this lack of raise has triggered.  But for now, this just sucks.

Wanting control

Right now I’m overwhelmed with my research.  My pipeline is messed up in that there’s too many new projects and not enough in the under review or even draft stage.  I feel pulled in all different directions.  And lots of things aren’t going smoothly.  This means I’ve been having a lot of anxiety dreams (last night’s was that we’d gone on vacation and couldn’t remember if we’d left food and water out for the cats!)

So this morning I was musing, maybe we should do a no sugar challenge.  The kids got awfully sugary cereal after we decided that cereal bars was too much like having cake for breakfast.  (Cereal bars had initially been planned as a rare once in a while when they need food-to-go breakfst but soon we were going through 14 bars a week.)  There’s so much added sugar in everything.  We should stop cold-turkey just to see what we come up with.  Of course, each time I’ve been trying to get pregnant or have been pregnant we’ve had no-added-sugar in the house, so it would really be more of a reminder challenge than a voyage of discovery challenge.

Then I wandered onto Mint.  What if DH stays unemployed long term, I thought.  How are we going to handle money?  Maybe we should do a no-spend challenge to see how low we could go.  I mean, there’s the $750/mo for daycare which will be going away except for more expensive day camps in the summer, but can we still stay under my take-home pay?  What do we spend all that money on anyway?  Do we even know?  Let’s say for the sake of easy mental math, that my take-home pay is $6K, but that’s only for 9 months, which means we’d need to spend under $4.5K/month over a 12 month period.   According to mint, we’ve spent under my (actual) prorated take-home pay in January and February, but not so much the rest of the year.  But how much of the difference is reimbursed business expenses?   Let’s see, Utilities average $300, Groceries average $800 (though we could certainly cut there), restaurants $300 (could also be cut), gas $100, entertainment $100, a nebulous “shopping” category (which includes some of DH’s reimbursable work expenses) is $700, and then there’s this huge nebulous “other” which includes a jumble of insurance, work expenses, taxes, car repair, dentist, kid’s activities, yard stuff, and so much more.  I don’t even know where to start separating that stuff out.  And when we’re not spending close to my take-home pay, it doesn’t really matter.  Is it worth sorting out right now?  Probably not.  What would make the most sense would be to keep an eye on how much we have to transfer from savings to checking each month and if we never end up spending down too much of our savings or hitting the emergency fund, we can continue to not pay attention.

Of course, all of these potential challenges take time and mental energy away from the real problem, which is that I need to get a handle on my work.  I need to finish papers and get them out so they’re no longer taking up mental space and keep my head above water on everything else.

So I don’t think I’ll be doing any of these challenges.  I shouldn’t even be typing this post now.  Except I’ve done it which means it’s off my mind and I have one fewer thing for my brain to try to distract me with when it should really be trying to make sense of the work I have before me.