Karen Kelsky

Founder and President at The Professor Is In

The Professor Is in: A Second Chance?

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Look here to find previous advice columns from The Professor Is In.

Is it possible for an institution to re-offer a tenure-track position to someone who had declined it the year before, after a new advertisement for the job is posted?

That’s an interesting question, although not the most relatable one — few people will ever find themselves in that situation. But it is related to a much more common question: “Should I apply again to a place where I was shortlisted but not hired a year earlier?” I am going to deal with each question in turn.

It's possible that a candidate could end up reapplying for a position that he or she had declined during the previous job cycle. After all, life circumstances that may have dictated the decision — marriages, divorces, health factors — have a way of changing. But would a spurned department make a second offer to a candidate who had turned it down?

It can happen. First of all, if the same job is posted again, it will generally be because the search failed, and if the search failed, then you declining is part of why it failed. Maybe the department could not agree on another candidate, or maybe the other shortlisted applicants also opted out.

Because of that, a re-offer is most likely to happen with a new search committee. You’re unlikely to get a second offer if the same three people had to sift through 300 applications for the same job for a second year in a row because you punted the first time around. Even if they don't carry a grudge, there will probably be a sentiment of having been to this particular dance before, and the offer will probably go to someone who did not turn them down after 20 Skype interviews and three campus interviews. But with new people on the search committee, it's a clean slate. Your name might raise some eyebrows but other factors — like your qualifications, and the strength of the rest of the pool — will outweigh it.

How likely it is that a new set of eyes will be evaluating you the second time around?

That depends on how big the department is, how many people there are to do search-committee service on rotation, and how specialized the job description is. If it's a generalist position in a big department, you are have a better chance of a repeat offer. Of course, the field is also relevant. Certainly in some outlier fields, there are so few candidates with the right expertise that they are in a position of power — defying the social Darwinist ethos that prevails across most of the faculty job market.

In any case, if you do make the first cut in your second application for the position, then you need to be prepared to explain — in a measured, professional-sounding but convincing way — what changed in your circumstances that would allow you to take the job this time around. Don't overshare but understand that it will be an elephant in the room that you need to tackle.

A similar elephant shows up when people who were shortlisted but not hired for a position apply again to the same department. Clients often write to me with variations on this question: Should they reapply? Is there any point?

In some cases, along with a rejection, the candidate got warm feedback from the committee chair — “we strongly considered making two offers, but the dean wouldn't grant us another line.” Does that mean anything? Sure. It can mean you are a good fit for the department. So if a new position is advertised a year later, it's probably a growth area in the department, or even a multiyear cluster hire. In those cases, there is a good chance that the immediate needs of the department have shifted — thanks to the hire who beat you out for the first job — in a way that paves the road for you and what you can bring.

At the same time, you will want to be cognizant that a whiff of failure may accompany your candidacy. You are in the position of being a known quantity yet not a peer, which may set you up for an unfavorable comparison with the new shiny top candidates. That is similar to the vulnerabilities experienced by the inside candidate — read my blog post about that — and keep it in mind.

Ultimately, there is not much you can do to control that perception. The only thing you can, and should, do is prepare the most polished, well-rehearsed, professional self-presentation that you can. All of your materials should show appropriate career growth — that you have been a busy bee, producing high-value output. And don’t try recycle the job talk, it has to be a new one. Of course every candidate should always aim to be as well-prepared as possible, but it is particularly important in situations of a "do-over" — because you can't dazzle them for the first time on the second go.


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