Home > Academic Job Market > The Media Studies Job Market, 10: The Offer

The Media Studies Job Market, 10: The Offer

October 17th, 2010 | Jonathan Gray

And so I come to the end of my journey through the hiring process with this post. Before I wrap it all up, though, let me say that I’m sure I’ve missed a lot along the way. Please feel free to post below or to email me about issues you’d like to see covered. If I can do so, I will; if not, and if I think I know someone who could provide a guest post on the issue, I’ll try to get them to do so.

Anyways, the offer, after the fold:

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(1) Offers and the Continuing Search

Later in the post, I’ll discuss components of the offer, but I’ll start by assuming that your offer comes when you don’t have resolution on other searches. By comparison, med school residencies are handled centrally in the US, so everyone ranks their favorite schools, the schools rank theirs, and then on one magic day, everyone finds out where they’ll go. There are certainly problems with that system, but one of the beauties is that you wake up the next day knowing where you’ll be, and knowing that all the other boats have sailed. Chances are, though, that in our world, when you get an offer, you may still be waiting to hear back from other schools. Which in turn raises questions about how to handle the offer itself, and how to handle the other ongoing searches.

Given the desperation with which you may have gone into the search, and the state of your nerves and mental health after enduring it for numerous months (or years?), it’s very easy to feel like agreeing to the job and signing whatever contract they offer right away. But there might be good reasons to try and delay the process. If you’re still in the mix for jobs at other schools that you’d prefer, that’s one reason to delay. If you know you want this job, but think you might be able to increase your salary and/or starting package with a competing offer from another school at which you’re still in the mix, that’s another. So hold on before jumping in head first.

If you want to delay, personally I favor honesty – tell the committee that you’re a finalist at another university and that you want resolution from there, if possible. This will require you usually to negotiate a firm deadline by which point you will provide a definitive answer. How long you can take varies from place to place. But do know, and this is a key point for this post as a whole, that once you’ve been given the offer, the power dynamics shift quite a bit – you’ve spent all this time wanting to please them, but now they’ll want to please you. A lot of time and deliberation can go into picking who gets the offer, and thus a department has hopefully talked itself into seeing you as by far the best candidate at this point, so they want you. And that may translate to them giving you some time.

Here is what won’t happen, except perhaps at the very shittiest of places – you won’t ask for something and hear the response, “actually, you know what, we’ve changed our mind, and are going to ask someone else.” So if you want a month till you decide, and the chair can only give you two weeks, s/he’ll hopefully tell you that, and then you either agree or let the job go.

There is a tightrope here, though, in terms of politeness. On one hand, you shouldn’t feel embarrassed about getting multiple offers, or about being competitive at multiple places. You have every right to take the best on offer, and therefore to make some of the others wait. On the other hand, you should remember that the longer you delay, the more you may be screwing the departments that don’t get you (who may, after all, be hemorrhaging their other finalists to other jobs while you delay), and the more that you might be creating a somewhat chilly environment with the department, and especially with the chair, that will in the end get you.

The other totally acceptable (imho) reason to wait a bit is if there is a partner issue that needs to be resolved. Indeed, it’s rude and presumptuous of a university to think that you should commit to moving your family until they’ve offered resolution on what work, if any, exists for your partner, or until your partner has had at least a modicum of time to explore possibilities (but it’s rude and presumptuous of you, remember, to assume they should wait forever till you secure something, too, so tread carefully).

As for other universities, there is debate over this advice, but personally I think you’re always wiser to let another department know if you have an offer on the table. Or, rather, do so for departments where you’ve been shortlisted, and especially for those where you’re a finalist. If they want you, they may spring into action; if they seem wholly unmoved, that might be its own answer. Of course, there may be little room for “springing into action” if their interview schedule is set. But at the very least, I think it’s entirely fair to ask for a timeline for the decision (indeed, I think it’s entirely fair to ask for that when you’re a finalist anyways, other offers or not), so that you can report back to the chair who gave you the offer.

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(2) Components of the Offer

Whether you have one offer in front of you or several, you should still get some important information before committing to anything. It’s very rare to accept the job when first notified of it. It’s more common to say you’re flattered, honored, etc., but need a little time to think it over.

But what do you need to know about the details in the offer?

  • Salary. If it’s at a public university, chances are high that the salaries are publicly available somewhere on the net, since state employees’ salaries are public information. So go see what others in your would-be department make. Many of the databases of average salaries you might find are fairly useless, since they tend to be skewed (in particular by law and business school faculty, who make huge amounts), so it’s important to know what’s a realistic amount to ask for this department. That said, bear in mind that salary structures nearly always improve from the bottom, meaning that incoming faculty should make more than they did last year or the year before, or so forth, so you should aim for a salary that’s no lower than other assistants in your dept. If the dept has social sci and humanities folk, know though that the former usually get paid more, since they often do more grant-funded work, so universities like them more. And realize that some folk are outliers, due to multiple competing offers, so you may be unable to approach their heights.
  • How salary raises are handled. Right now, I’m at a university on furlough, which means that I make less than my salary, and that there are no merit or other raises at all. But previously at Fordham my salary crept up a bit every year, and there was a pretty generous merit pay structure (before they too froze it due to the economic crisis), both of which allowed my salary to climb quite healthily while I was there. Ask how raises are handled at this university. This is important especially if you’re comparing salary offers, since X+$5000 may sound better than X, but if there’s a crappy/non-existent raise system for the former, you may eclipse X+$5000 in a couple of years at a place that offers you X but that has a better system.
  • What other benefits you have. Benefits packages vary a lot, and knowing what’s on offer is important. The best time and way to find out is during the interview, since those already in the system will likely have a better answer for you. If you’re not American, talk to an American about how social services (don’t) work in this country, since you might assume (as did I, naïve Canadian that I was) that a lot of things are standard when they’re not. If you have a same-sex partner who you’ll want to receive partner benefits, look into how this works.
  • How much conference funding is being offered, and how it works. People will often tell you how much is available but not about how easy it is to get. You may have a dedicated pot of money for you and only you, for instance, or you may need to compete with others for it. There’s a big difference. It may work if you’re merely attending a conference, or it may require that you actually present.
  • General price of living. Be prepared to scale salaries and so forth up or down relative to where the university is. Some cities cost an arm and a leg to live in, whereas others are cheap. If you get caught up on one university offering you way more than another, you might want to work out how much the difference is in real terms. For instance, if you made $10,000 more per year in New York City than Madison, I’d bet that the New York City salary is actually much worse, due to the radical difference in price of living. As a correlate of this, realize that conference funding needs to be scaled based on ease of travel: conference travel from a rural location needs to be more than from Chicago, to offer an obvious example.
  • Computer. Every faculty member should get a new computer, I believe. Many universities agree, but you should know how it works even if they do. Will this be paid out of a separate fund, or does it come out of your own startup funds? How much is available, and for what (“a new computer” may mean “$1000 towards a new computer” or “$4000 towards a new computer, software, printer, etc.)?
  • Moving fees. Again, don’t just take the “we’ll contribute to your move” as enough – find out details. Fordham required me to find three quotes, and they paid 50% of the lowest, as reimbursement. Wisconsin gave me a lump sum, as reimbursement but with the ability to get a hefty chunk as an advance. Your move will be expensive, because you’re an academic and you own books, and likely collect shit :-)
  • Startup fund. Note that not all universities offer these. The better research universities do because they want you to take the money and turn it into profile, but many teaching universities won’t bother. And if they are offering, the amount can vary vastly (in media studies, I’ve heard lows of $2000 and highs of $30,000, though I wouldn’t be surprised if social scientists got way, way more). That said, ask about the parameters of those funds. Do they preclude you from getting funding allotted to other faculty members (i.e., is this where your conference funding comes from)? Must they be spent within a certain time period? What can and can’t you use them for? (Could you buy a TiVo with it? A game console? Pay for an RA? Get summer salary?).
  • Office. Are you going to have to share with someone (very, very bad, and quite disgraceful if this is a tenure-track job), or will you get your own office (the right answer)? Will it have a window?
  • Partner hire assistance. Is the university going to do anything to help your partner, or is it up to them? Will they spring for a headhunting agency, for instance? Will they find your partner something on campus?
  • Course reduction. Starting a new job is damn hard, and you’ll be overwhelmed by it all. So it’s nice when schools offer you a course reduction in the first year (so that you teach 1/2 instead of 2/2, for instance, or 2/3 instead of 3/3).

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And then of course there are all the things that the university can’t control, such as the town it’s in, the cultural and political vibe in that town, how long commutes are, whether schools are good or shitty there (even if you don’t have kids, it couldn’t hurt to be aware of such things if you’re planning to have kids one day), how far it is to your friends and family, whether the university has a religious affiliation that works for or against you, prospects for partner’s employment, and many other quality of life issues. I’m not gonna tell you what matters in your life, though, so I’ll move on now.

First, though, do be realistic: a top research university may give you all of the above, but you should expect less at other places (especially vis-à-vis startup funds, as you may get none, and a course reduction). For non-tenure-track jobs, expect a lot less.

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(3) Negotiating

I’m a lousy person to be giving advice here, since I hardly struck killer deals with any of my jobs. For two of them, I had no counter-offer to use, while for the third, I wasn’t prepared to wait forever to see if I’d have a counter-offer. But if you want to negotiate, first you should learn what’s possible. Find out, if you can, what people make in the dept as a whole, and what comparable institutions offer. Talk openly with the chair about your desires: my experience is that chairs usually want to get you a good deal, for a variety of reasons.

But negotiation works best when you have more than one offer on the table, since you can then get some bidding going. If you only have the one offer, you’ll need a reason for why you’re asking for something. Saying, “I want $10,000 more because I think I rock” isn’t a compelling argument – you’ll need to present good reasons.

As noted above, remember on one hand that you can always ask for something, be told no, and revise your request accordingly, so don’t be too timid. But on the other hand, remember that the chair has little incentive to screw you over (it’s not his or her money, most of the time – it’s the Dean’s, and s/he’s just an intermediary), so don’t treat him or her as the enemy, and don’t sacrifice your future relationship with your chair by being super-pushy.

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And with that, we end. I wish you the best of luck and sanity.

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  1. Matt Sini
    October 20th, 2010 at 23:26 | #1

    Hi Jonathan. These posts have been immensely helpful to this PhD student nearing the end of his candidature! Thanks! :-)

    I’m wondering what you think of postdoctoral fellowships though? Are they worth applying for? Or is it better to go out looking for a proper job right away? I’m currently debating this choice at the moment. Some postdocs look like a good opportunity to get some more research under your belt, but then some of them also require you to have an extensive publication record (sometimes even a book!), so I am not at all clear on what is a better option.

  2. October 22nd, 2010 at 20:13 | #2

    @Matt Sini
    I have very little experience with postdocs, Matt. But I’d say that the market simply isn’t generous enough for any ABD to really decide to apply only for postdocs or not for them at all. You need to apply for everything that makes sense for you, and then weigh whatever options you get later.

    Postdocs can be great for giving you a chance to really knuckle down and get some publications out, in theory, but in practice, remember that if it’s only a year, you’ll be on the market with whatever’s on your CV at the end of your first week or two at the place (ie, when new jobs get posted), so functionally I’m not sure how much they help your CV unless they’re two year postdocs. Personally, I’d always opt for the actual job over the postdoc if they’re at comparable places, since you never know what the market will be like when you’re done with the postdoc. If the postdoc’s at a much better place, though, and if you know you’ll only want to leave the job at a crappier place anyway, then the postdoc seems much smarter, especially if it lets you do research that the crappier place won’t. Also, a warning: if you get a postdoc, work your ass off and make it pay, since search committees will be skeptical of your capacity to produce in their university if you couldn’t do so with less classes and a nice postdoc.

  3. Matt Sini
    October 25th, 2010 at 00:41 | #3

    @Jonathan Gray
    Thanks very much. That helps a lot.

  4. December 7th, 2010 at 11:04 | #4

    “I want $10,000 more because I think I rock” haha that made me laugh. And it’s true, that is not the best argument. I have seen a tremendous increase in my selfestemm and thus in my negotiation skills when I have more than one offer. People feel when you are not “needy” and things are more likely to work out your way. :)

  5. January 23rd, 2011 at 14:35 | #5

    i think “I want $10,000 more because I am worth it” is more accepted by bosses and it works better than then “I rock”

    But this “because I rock” is pretty funny.

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