Be On the Look Out

Recently, I provided some of my thoughts about what you can do as a doctoral student to make your interviews work for you. Today, I want to talk to you about things you should look out for when you are on those interviews. The things I highlight in this post are all real – meaning I remember experiencing them back in the day or they are stories that have found their way to me. The point is – these things are not made up. If you encounter one or more of these things sit up and take notice. It doesn’t mean a place is bad and that you shouldn’t accept a job there, but it does mean that you should dig in and look around a bit more closely. These are some signs that things might be a little, well, off where you are at.

You Don’t Meet the Dean

I don’t think I have to stress that it is important to meet the dean on your visit as well as any other major administrative people. At the very least, you should be meeting the dean and the department chair. Of course emergencies happen that cannot be controlled so if these people do not make it on to your schedule – or get taken off – be sure and ask why. These are important people that can help you understand the policies of the institution. Additionally, they set the tone in terms of leadership and the direction your school is going in. You want to hear from them what their vision is, how they see it unfolding, and where you fit into it all.

You Don’t Get An Offer in Writing 

Believe it or not, this happened to me. When I was a doc student I had an interview early on and then I never heard anything from the place for awhile. Eventually, I got a call from the department chair’s administrative assistant asking me if I wanted the job. I explained I didn’t know I was being offered the job and asked to get the offer emailed to me. I never received anything, but I did get at least one more phone call asking if I wanted the job!

in writingIt’s fine if someone calls you and gives you a verbal offer, but you want that to be followed up with that same offer in writing. This protects you and makes clear the expectations of the job as well as what you will/will not be receiving. You can also use this a a starter for negotiations. And remember, anytime you ask for something different from the original offer (and it’s given to you), make sure you always get it in writing. Never say yes to a job unless everything is in writing to your satisfaction.

Your Interactions with Faculty Are Limited

It’s important to meet a variety of faculty on your interview. Of course you can’t meet everyone, but you should be seeing a range of people at your talk, at meals, and having some individual meetings in between. If not, then why not? If the place is small then there might not be anyone to meet – and that’s ok. But if it is a large place then you should be seeing people and spending time with them. This gives you a chance to see how you fit in with a range of people, and they also learn a bit about you. It’s important to make these connections so you can get a better sense of what it would mean to work at a given place.

People Don’t Seem to Know Who You Are

I once had a meeting with a department chair who did not know who I was at all. For all this person knew, I just walked in off the streetwho are you and decided to come into her/his office and have a chat. This person was very nice but barely knew my name or what position I was interviewing for! It did not leave a good impression.  If you have meetings with people and they don’t seem to know who you are or why they are there then you should take a good hard look at where you are interviewing. Is the place that unorganized? Or are some of the key players that out of the loop?

Nobody Gets Tenure

I put this on here, but I do so with a word of caution. There are some places out there that have a reputation of being very difficult to get tenure at and where it might make sense to take a job after you have gotten tenure somewhere else. I know folks at some of these places, and they say they are very honest with assistant professors about the near impossibility of getting tenure at their institution so that if they do take the job they do so with eyes wide open. Are you interviewing at a place like this? You’ll know if you are. Just have a hard conversation with yourself and be honest with the idea that you might have to move sooner rather than later.

Now, there are other places where you might hear people talking about how difficult it is to get tenure. This is a tricky spot, and try not to let it get too much into your head. What I have found – when I have really dug into it – is that the truth is that, yes, getting tenure has its challenges but it is not impossible at most places. When people do not get tenure it is often because they did not do the work necessary to get tenure. There is a difference in saying:

(a) people here do such great work but can’t get tenure


(b) few people get tenure because most of them don’t do the work

Make sure that assistant profs aren’t being overloaded with administrative responsibilities and are being given the space they need to do the work to get tenure. If they are, but they are not getting tenure, consider that it may be the person and not the institution that’s resulting in people not getting tenure.

What you really want to ask is: If you do the work (in terms of quality and quantity) can you expect to get tenure? And does the institution make it possible for you to get this work done?

If you can answer yes to both those questions then relax.

So there you have it….some of the things I think you should be on the look out for when you are on the job market. Of course there are many other things that are bound to pop up that can sway you on way or another. What stories do you have? What are some things you think should send someone running for the hills?