Etiquette & Strategy for Switching Jobs and Outside Offers

A philosophy professor writes in with questions about when to let one’s current institution know one may be pursuing employment elsewhere, being recruited by other schools, and fielding offers.

He writes:

For a tenured faculty member who is either applying to other jobs, or being recruited by another university, at what point should one let
others at one’s current department know? It seems there are early stages at which it might not be appropriate to mention because there
is as yet nothing concrete. It seems that there might be somewhat different answers depending on the reason one is considering a move,
and whether one is more inclined towards taking the offer or looking for a retention package. Are there norms when it’s too late to talk to
the chair or dean?

Readers, please share your experiences with and thoughts on this. Thanks.

Kerri Harding, “Murmuration”

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4 years ago

Assume you like your current job, have a good relationship with your chair/dean… theb I would say an informal note to your chair makes sense as soon as you take action—i.e. sending a letter of interest or making an official campus visit. For one, your candidacy is not as secret as you think it is at any point where you start pursuing it. Out of respect, it is probably good that they hear about it from you. Second there is no need to phrase this information as a demand or even a negotiation. Its just a “heads up”, the same way you would give a heads up if you apply for externally funded leave. It gives your chair a chance to prepare for a negotiation… or for the situation in which you resign and the teaching/service schedule needs to be reshuffled. It also gives her/him enough time to think about how to make staying possible/attractive given your reasons for applying out.

Situation is different if you are very unhappy or don’t trust your chair/dean.

Chris Surprenant
4 years ago

I’ve always thought it’s best to let people know that you’re looking and why, especially if there’s something that can be done about it. When it comes to senior hires, if it gets to the point where there’s an offer on paper, that’s because the back and forth has already taken place, people have spent political capital, and an offer that meets all of your demands. At that point it strikes me as a bad faith operation if that offer isn’t accepted (unless there’s some sort of unexpected personal situation that arises).

Two experiences
Two experiences
4 years ago

I’m assuming this is a case in which you’re seriously considering the new job but aren’t absolutely certain that you’d take it. I was in that situation once, and I know one other person who was as well. Based on that I’d say: tell your chair and dean only when you’ve been offered a flyout. Before that, things are too uncertain.

4 years ago

This would have been a good time to bring back Ought Experiment.

Dale Miller
4 years ago

I have a different perspective on this, I guess. In general, I don’t think that there’s any need to say anything until pretty late in the process: until you have an offer, assuming that you’re open to a counteroffer, or at least until the point where you expect them to call your chair or dean. (I’m assuming here that these weren’t among your listed references, in which case you would obviously have said something earlier.) A lot depends on who you work with, of course, but telling people that you’re looking can be read as trying to get a counteroffer before you’ve gotten an offer. It can make people take your voice less seriously if they see you as being on your way out the door. And if you tell people that you’re looking but an offer never comes then they may conclude that you aren’t really that good. Of course, every case is different. Sometimes you can be really happy where you are but have strong personal reasons for wanting to apply for one specific job. In that sort of case, if the people you work with are minimally decent, telling them what you’re doing shouldn’t do you any harm.

Jon Light
Jon Light
4 years ago

I would definitely not say anything until you have an offer in hand. I think it can easily compromise your standing within the university, its ongoing commitment to you, etc. if they (= dean, chair, colleagues in decreasing order of compromise) think you’re on the market. And then what, you don’t get an offer and are like “yeah, j/k I love it here and would never leave.”?

Just because you have a Skype (or even a fly-out) doesn’t mean you’re in imminent danger of going anywhere. Other people get the offer, searches get canceled, etc. (Another etc. is the offer sheet not being plausible for you, for any number of reasons: salary, teaching, they won’t hire your partner, or whatever else you couldn’t have known up till that stage.) So slow your roll, and play the long game.