Future Faculty #2: Job Applications, Interviews, Talks and Negotiations

Due to the overwhelming response from my last post [sarcasm] I thought I’d better publish the update from this week’s Future Faculty ASAP!!! This week was all about the steps taken by search committees to seek out candidates, asses fit and make offers to the ‘right’ person, and what characteristics help candidates to stand out and make a positive first impression. The seminar was question/answer style with panellists from the faculty at Stanford University, the University of California San Francisco and De Anza community college. You’ll find this post interesting if you’re considering a faculty position, are about to start your job search or are just wondering how the process works in general.

What is the general process undertaken by a search committee for a faculty position?

1. An ad is drafted that reflects the research areas the department is trying to target.
2. Colleagues at other institutions are contacted by the search committee to ask if they know of any appropriate candidates. This is why it is so important tell everyone you know that you’re looking.
3. Once the applications are on, the committee will make a short list. Generally during the first screen just the CV is looked at, then in a second screen letters of reference of requested and references contacted.
4. Short listed candidates will be invited for interviews during which the candidate presents a seminar and meets with members of the department one-on-one.
4.5. Some departments invite select candidates back for a “chalk talk” which can be critical for demonstrating your scientific thought and potential, or community colleges may require a teaching demonstration.
5. The search committee decides upon a candidate and presents their decision to the department/faculty for approval (though this step doesn’t occur at every institution).
6. Negotiations! There’s no hard and fast rules for this but the general consensus of the panel was that at the junior level an emphasis on equity and fairness is attempted when drafting an offer. It was also advised to consider things like protected research time and what type of research you’d be doing. For instance, a project requiring extensive mouse work might require more start up money than one dealing primarily with yeast.

How long does the hiring process take?

It can vary depending on schedules and specific departmental/institutional practices but the panel seemed to agree that if a job was posted around Aug/Sept the committee would be expecting to decide on a candidate and begin negotiations around Mar/Apr.

What are some of the mistakes people make during the application/hiring process?

1. Everyone on the committee has a different opinion regarding what is the ‘most important’ part of the application process, so neglecting any aspect is a mistake! For instance, the teaching statement is often missing or unclear.
2. Often people get wrapped up with perfecting the slides for their presentation and pay less attention to what they’re saying. The search committee wants to see that you’ve got ideas to continue to progress your research.
3. Don’t let your seminar go over-time! This is a major no-no and one panellist said that if you go past 50 minutes you might as well go find yourself a job elsewhere. Leaving ample time for question is essential.
4. Don’t talk too much! Just shut up and listen sometimes.
5. Don’t approach the negotiation process with “What can I get?”, instead think “What do I need to succeed?”

Are there different types of searches?

Generally there are three main types of searches.

1) The department already has an internal candidate in mind that they think is hot stuff and are keen on hiring. They post a job ad for the sake of formality and the ad is generally worded in such a way that it is exactly tailored to the candidate already in the department. This sucks.
2) A ‘best athlete’ search in which the department has a fairly broad search criteria.
3) A very specific search, common in clinical departments and faculties in which the department is looking for someone that meets very narrow criteria, such as a pediatric cardiac surgeon, or I dunno, some job that I didn’t just make up.

How many applications does a job posting usually elicit?

For ‘best athlete’ searches both panellists from universities agreed that a job posting would get anywhere from 100-200 responses. About 50-75% of these would be considered ‘credible’ in that the candidate meets the job criteria and it is appropriate for that candidate to be applying. For very specific searches however, while many people still just throw their CV out there and see where it sticks, the list of credible candidates narrows down to just a handful of four or five. Damn you MD/PhDs! PhD hiring in clinical settings has actually been on the rise in the last decade or so. Dude from UCSF said that MD/PhDs who are actually capable of good research are in huge demand. Guess that’s because MDs aren’t capable of good research. Ooooh! Burn!

What is some advice for future applicants?

1. My favourite quote of the seminar: “Be an engaging, friendly collegial person who is a kick-ass scientist”. My favourite dumb question from the seminar “What defines a kick-ass scientist?” from someone who was clearly wanting a checklist. Like pornography, there’s no definition. You just know it when you see it. Papers and impact factors will get you in the door but you can just tell a good scientist when you meet them (vague, I know, but very true).
2. Respond to questions well. This is perhaps even more important than presenting a good seminar.  It is also a chance to express the “so what?” aspect of your research and show that you have a plan.
3. Do your research! Know the department and find out in advance with whom your one-on-one interviews will be.
4. You can leave your postdoc too early, but not too late. Ask (and listen) your mentors if you’re ready to move on to a faculty position.

Stay tuned for next week when the seminar will delve into the delicate balance between work and play, and how to make it all work for you!

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