Friday, September 4, 2015

Hiring season: how the market is changing, and how you can change the market

The MLA job information list opens one week from today. Usually the number of jobs advertised on opening day is a pretty good guide to how many TT jobs will eventually be advertized. Last year, though, my prediction was way off target: I predicted 16 or 17, but there were eventually 29 jobs advertised.

That’s not a positive development. It means the market is becoming less predictable, and specifically it means that more TT jobs are being advertised later in the year. For the most part, though, hiring departments still participate in the schedule of publishing job ads in the fall, conducting initial interviews in January, bringing candidates to campus and making initial offers in February and March. The more departments are competing for a job seeker at the same time, the better her life is. The general lack of departments competing for job seekers in German is a big reason for our misery.

But that’s only how things work in the shrinking pond of TT hiring. For several years now, the number of full-time NTT jobs has been larger than the number of TT jobs. Last year, there were over twice as many contingent positions on the German jobs wiki as TT positions, and even 50% more NTT than TT jobs posted to the MLA job list.

And the timing for NTT hiring works much differently. In the good old days of TT hiring – you know, 2006 – 75% of jobs were posted by the time the job list had been open for 4 weeks. Last year, it took until week 10 to reach that same level. For NTT jobs, though, barely 25% had appeared by week 10, and it wasn’t until week 30 – some time in April – that 75% of the jobs were posted.

That means that someone applying for TT jobs will know with a high likelihood in January or February how many schools are competing for his services. (Don’t kid yourself. Usually the answer is zero.) He can make an informed decision about what to do next – to accept a TT offer, to apply for NTT jobs, to go get a real estate license, whatever.

But there is no rhyme or reason to the hiring calendar of the NTT job market that is coming to dominate our short-lived careers. A great NTT job – teaching 3-3, paying $53,000, renewable indefinitely – can be advertised at any point in the year. A lousy NTT job – a one-year position teaching 4-4 for $32,000 – can also be advertised at any point in the year. And you often won’t know which job is which until it’s been offered to you.

There are two things that you – yes, you, the person reading this – can do to nudge the scales slightly more in favor of the job applicants. The job market in German will still be a desolate hellscape, but the thermometer setting may come down a bit.

1. Post the salary information of every job advertised to the job wiki. Make departments compete on salary. A few universities publish a pay scale in the job ad or in the HR job description. At public universities, the salary (or the salary of recently-hired people in similar positions in the department) is public information that can often be discovered with a little digging. At private universities, former tenants of the advertised position will know approximately what the salary is. Put the burden on the search committee to make sure the salary published on the jobs wiki is reasonably accurate. If the salary is too low, few people will apply. If nothing else, this will let would-be grad students see how dismal the salaries are in their dream jobs, provide ammunition to people who think they’re not being paid market wages, and maybe even shame a few departments into paying their full-time faculty a decent wage.

Enough with being coy about money. Applicants reveal every detail of their professional lives on their CVs. It’s about time that departments make public the basic information about the jobs they’re trying to fill.

2. Stay on the market. Let’s say you strike out on the TT market, but in February you land a one-year replacement position with College A teaching 4-4 that pays $37,000. Then in May you see a 3-year position at University B with a 3-3 teaching in a more attractive part of the country for you, and it pays $46,000. What should you do?

Apply. Take the interview. Take the job at University B when it’s offered.

Some senior academics will screech that This is Disgraceful, it is Simply Not Done, you have Given Your Solemn Word, Your Reputation in the Field Will Be Ruined, and you have Committed a Crime with Legal Penalties.

Nonsense. Look out for yourself, because no one else will. You owe College B nothing. They haven’t paid you a cent, and won’t until mid-September. College B can pick up the phone and find some other sucker in 15 minutes. Oh, the dean at College B won’t approve another hire, so College B can’t teach their intro classes? Very sad, but the insane policies at College B are not your problem. You can’t let that stop you from getting a better shot at a sustainable career at University A.

Will your reputation be ruined? Only at College B. Your friends and your advisor’s friends won’t care. They won’t remember you as “the gal who screwed over College B.” They’ll remember you as “that rising star who picked up that awesome job at University A.”

But can’t College B sue you? Since I’m not a lawyer, let me ask: what would they sue you for? It’s just a job offer. They’ve done nothing for you. Maybe in some alternate universe you would have to return your signing bonus. In the real world, people and businesses back out of contracts all the time. It’s just part of doing business, not a crime against humanity. And what college is going to want to have its name splashed across InsideHigherEd.com or Slate for suing an impoverished humanities Ph.D. who wanted to take a better job? It's not going to happen. If you’re still concerned, go give an employment lawyer $200 and ask him yourself.

(If you’re still working in your grad department, you may want to talk things over with your advisor. You’ll need to keep your advisor for a few more years yet, and maybe your advisor is one of those senior academics. But if you’ve left the nest, your advisor barely remembers you exist. Let your advisor know where you ultimately end up once you move in August. At the most, she’ll ask, “But I thought I heard you took a job at Slowpoke State?” To which you reply, “Oh, didn’t you hear? I got a better offer at Bigtime University, so I decided to accept their offer instead.” And that will be that.)

This is how we can make the job market suck a little bit less. Use your well-honed research skills to create transparency about salaries. And keep applying for the best job you can get. Don’t rush into the first NTT job you’re offered just because someone lowballs you in February.

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