Next Question?

November 18, 2004

Question: Despite having a great position as a tenured faculty member at a community college, I find myself for personal reasons having to search for work on the other side of the country. I am a great teacher and really love my profession, but if I cannot secure a full-time position for next fall in my new state, am I dooming myself to the adjunct ranks?

Answer: You might be. Or you could be offered a tenure-track position and have to go through the tenure process again. There are no guarantees. So we ask, Is it absolutely necessary for you to resign your current position and move to the new state at a specific time? Instead, would you be able to take a leave of absence from your tenured post to find a job in your new state? That approach could mean delaying your permanent move, since you would probably have to return to your old job for a while after your leave ended. But at least you would have your new position already lined up.

When you interview or talk with people make sure they know that you are planning to relocate to the area. It's possible that search committees might not believe you are truly interested in a position since you already have a tenured job. If you can demonstrate why you would be a great candidate and show your enthusiasm for a new city, your experience should enhance your candidacy.

Question: When a departmental job offer includes a salary that is below your expectations, how do you go about negotiating a higher one? What do you say?

I am also perplexed by the department's request for my past salary history. I am reluctant to state what I am actually paid, because one of the reasons that I want to change universities is for a salary increase. How should I reply?

Answer: The nice thing about receiving an offer is that it puts you in a position of power. One of the best ways to open a dialogue about salary is to begin by expressing your enthusiasm for the position, the department, and the institution. Once you have demonstrated your interest, you can mention that you wondered whether compensation was open to discussion. You might want to have a list of concrete reasons that might justify a higher salary -- for example, your teaching experience, solid publishing record, and extensive university service.

Although you hesitate to give a salary history, it might help the institution understand your salary expectations.

We do have a few questions for you. First, is the offer you received from a public or private institution? If it is the former, you should be aware that the institution's salary guidelines are usually set by the state, and there is often little room for negotiation.

Second, are there other possible advantages to accepting a new position? For example, would you be moving to a more prestigious university? Would your research budget be increased? Would your teaching load be lessened? Would you be given more time to be on sabbatical? Would you be supported in the tenure process? Would you be moving to a department where relations among faculty members are more collegial and respectful? Would you be moving to an institution with better students? Does the department have a fancy coffee machine that serves excellent and free coffee? When looked at carefully, all or some of such "perks" can make up for a lower salary.

Third, have you looked carefully at how the institution compensates faculty members throughout their careers? Although the starting salary is low, the yearly rate of salary increase might be high enough to offset the scantiness of the initial offer.

You might also want to examine the difference between salaries for junior and senior professors. Some institutions pay their junior faculty members low salaries that dramatically increase once the individual is tenured. It would behoove you to get some numbers.

Question: I received my Ph.D. almost 10 years ago but have never held a tenure-track position. I've been a part-time lecturer all this time (except for some stints in academic counseling and computer programming). I stopped searching for a tenure-track job after several unsuccessful years. I had health problems that necessitated my obtaining a full-time nonacademic position that provided insurance. Since then, I have obtained some associate degrees in areas outside my field.

I am currently teaching part-time in my dream field in an interdisciplinary program, but it's for low pay and the contract is semester to semester. So I've decided to start the job hunt again and see if I can find a similar but more secure position.

I have a few questions:

  • Should I include my associate degrees on my CV?

  • Are reference letters from colleagues who are not in supervisory roles acceptable?

  • Do I have to list every college at which I have ever taught?

  • Can I safely leave old conference presentations off my CV?

Answer: In our opinion, one of the more difficult tasks in academe is conducting an academic job search as a "nontraditional" candidate. By nontraditional, we mean someone who completed his or her Ph.D. a while ago, and has worked a number of different (and even interesting) jobs, as opposed to someone coming directly from a doctoral program, a postdoc, or a visiting professorship.

In many fields, a search committee is looking for a very particular set of scholarly qualifications that have not changed to accommodate the variances in the career paths of many Ph.D.'s. With that in mind, you should structure your job-search materials to show that you are an active and engaged scholar in your field. Your CV should not include unrelated information, the way that a résumé in the business world might.

We would probably leave the associate degrees off of your CV. If you had earned them as the first step toward your bachelor's degree, you would include them, but too many degrees -- particularly in varying disciplines -- can make one look like a dilettante.

The exception to that would be in applications to community colleges, in which case you would want to make sure your associate's degrees were highlighted to show your familiarity with two-year institutions. If you feel strongly about including them, we would put them under a section called "Additional Information" and make that the last category of the CV.

We would not include references from colleagues who were not in supervisory roles. The search committee wants to hear from senior scholars who can testify to your potential as a faculty member, not from your peers.

Because you are an experienced candidate, your CV is expected to be longer than that of a recent graduate. When listing your teaching experience, you should strive to be concise. We would say that you do not have to list every college at which you've taught. However, your CV should give a search committee a clear summary of what you've been doing for the past 10 years. There should not be large gaps of time that are unaccounted for.

If you feel your list of presentations is too long, you can make it more manageable by subdividing it. You might also want to be selective in editing your CV. Keep presentations that show that you've spoken at prestigious conferences in your field, but omit presentations that are less important.

Have a question you'd like answered in Career Talk? Send it to While we are unable to answer all of your letters personally, we will consider them as material for future columns.

Confidentiality is assured.




Julie Miller Vick is associate director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania. Jennifer S. Furlong, who earned her Ph.D. in romance languages from Penn in 2003, is a graduate career counselor at the university. Vick is one of the authors of "The Academic Job Search Handbook" (University of Pennsylvania Press), along with Mary Morris Heiberger, who was associate director of career services at Penn and passed away in December 2003.