Dr. Crazy, I was wondering how you (anyone) handles having a job and going on the market. I too have a job and don't really want my current department to know I'm planning to leave. (The job is fine, but like the girly girl I've become, I want to go home to my boyfriend and have a chance at playing Suzy Homemaker at least part time. Isn't that disgusting? I can't believe I'm saying this -- in public!) So how do you handle it? For example, my chair has come from Department X, where they are hiring this year in my field, but if they see where I'm at now, then they'll surely get in touch with said chair and then said chair will know I'm on the market. So I figure I won't apply, even though it's a potentially good job in a location Boyfriend and I both like. Crazy, please advise. What do you do? Does it ever seem like a problem?
I started writing a comment, but it threatened to become a mile long, and so I've decided to do a full post in response. First of all, I faced the agony of wondering how to tell or not to tell my current department last year, and I came out on the other side, so anything I say now comes out of that particular experience. Second, a lot really does depend on one's specific situation and one's personal relationship with one's colleagues, so what I say here may not be advice that all should or could take. I should also note that I perused my "on the market" posts of last year, and I didn't really write about this aspect of my search, so a full-on post rather than just a comment is probably in order. What I wrote most about last year was the "why" of my decision to go on the market generally, and about points in the process, like telling Very Supportive Colleague, but not about the how I came to the decision to tell or not to tell. But so anyway, here I go.
First things first. I think that in fields like English, where the market is impossibly over-saturated, that one can feel (rightly or wrongly) like a traitor to one's current position if one chooses to look from a job. Moreover, one can feel like a traitor to all those folks who don't have tenure-track employment and who've been on the market multiple years. I know that I had those feelings last year. The thing is, it's stupid to feel that way. It's *normal* to keep one's career options open, and it's *not* a betrayal of one's current institution or colleagues to do so. It's a job, not a marriage. Taking a job does not include making vows of lifetime commitment and fidelity. Taking a tenure-track position is not the same thing as taking religious orders.
Moreover, pretty much the only way to raise one's base salary is to get an offer from another institution. Because of the realities of salary compression, it's likely that time spent on the tenure-track will ultimately mean that after a few years one is making below the market value in one's discipline, and it makes good sense to try to up one's base salary whether by getting another offer and taking it or by getting another offer and using it to negotiate with one's current institution. This is easier to do when one is looking at the assistant professor level, because once one enters the limbo of tenured associate professordom, one doesn't have as much capital with which to get an offer that will allow for such an increase. Particularly if one is at a teaching institution, getting tenure means that one is most likely going to fall behind others at the associate level in terms of research who would be competing for the same few jobs that might appear, and so would be much less likely to be able to move or to be able to get an offer. Ultimately, it's a good thing for one's current department if people look and get offers from other places because it can better enable the department to convince those who hold the purse strings to hire people in at higher salaries, to work harder to rectify inequities that result from compression, to deal with workload issues that might be making faculty look elsewhere, etc.
Finally, it's important to recognize that given the realities of the academic job market generally that most people's first jobs don't necessarily land them in a location or type of institution of their choosing. Your colleagues know this. It's not wrong to want to be closer to family, to be in the same place as your significant other, to be in a place where it's easier to have a vibrant life outside of your job, or to teach a different student population or at a place with a different balance of teaching/research/service. Those things, ultimately, can actually help you to do your job better, because a person who's happy is likely to be a happier and more productive colleague.
But so. If it's so great to look, why do people choose to search on the down low?
1. Fear of retaliation. The culture of your institution/department is such that looking for another job makes people think that you're not committed to your current one. People are suspicious of those who keep their options open, and this (potentially) could hurt your chances of getting tenure because people see you as a "bad" colleague.
2. Fear of embarrassment. You don't want to tell your current colleagues because you don't want to look like an ass if you don't get an offer.
3. Fear that if people know you're looking that they will then believe that you hate your current job/your students/your colleagues. If you're in a snake pit filled with conflict and mutual loathing, a decision to look will be rightly read as an insult to your institution and/or your colleagues. See #1.
4. You're not really committed to leaving the job that you've got should you get an offer. In other words, you're just testing the waters even though you're totally happy in your current position, but if you got an offer you wouldn't really take it. (I'd say if this is one's position there's no point in sending materials out, but that's just me.)
5. You're applying to a "dream job" (because it's in your hometown, because it's at your alma mater, because it's the top department in your specialty according to the rankings, whatever) and you feel like it's such a long shot that you don't think it's worth mentioning. See #2.
Now, all of these are real concerns, and they shouldn't be taken lightly. That said, the reality is that even if you try to search under the radar, if you get to the interview stage, people at your current institution may find out that you're looking anyway. My initial feeling when I decided to put myself on the market last year was that I didn't want anybody to know, mainly because of Reason #2. After discussing it with Job Search Mentor, though, and realizing that if I had any success that I'd ultimately have to come clean and that it might look even worse if I waited until later in the process, I decided that I'd rather be embarrassed than spring the fact that I'd been searching for months on them later in the process. For me, being up front meant not feeling like I had to live a double-life or fear being "found out" before I told. Now, I didn't stand up in a department meeting and announce my search to all and sundry, but I told the administrators in my department, and it gave me a sense of calm, and I think that they took my directness about my intentions as a sign of my professionalism. Also, telling meant that I could get a letter from a person in a position of power in my current department, which is really helpful if one is looking as an advanced assistant professor.
So, I've addressed some of this in the previous paragraph, but to be parallel, I should probably list the reasons to tell:
1. Being direct about your intentions can reflect positively on you. It shows that you trust your colleagues, it shows that you are professional, and it means that you get to control who finds out, when they find out, and how they find out.
2. A letter from your current institution will help in your success on the market. Especially if you've been out of graduate school for a few years, the people who can best speak to your collegiality and your teaching and service record are not your grad school mentors. Moreover, such a letter can alleviate search committee fears that the reason that you are looking is because you won't receive tenure at your current institution or that everybody in your department hates you.
3. You aren't unhappy at your current institution. This may seem counterintuitive, but I feel like if you're not desperately trying to get out then it makes it easier to tell. Everybody has reasons why they might want to send out a few applications. If those reasons are personal (relocation issues) or if those reasons are professional (hey, I do a lot of research and I'd like more support for that, for example), then you might as well just say, "look, I'm totally happy here, but jobs x, y, and z would be great jobs for me and so I feel like I should give it a shot." If your colleagues are reasonable, then they should be able to grasp the fact that looking doesn't mean that you don't enjoy your current position.
Now, this year, I haven't done any Grand Reveal about my intentions to look. I asked my colleague to update his letter, and that's all I'll do until I get further in the process (if, indeed, I do get further in the process). I'm pretty relaxed about looking in part because I am not using this search to do soul-searching about the state of my life in the way that I was last year. If nothing pans out, I know that I can be happy getting tenure and remaining at my current institution. I have great colleagues, I do valuable work, I feel like I have a great deal of autonomy that I might not have in another position, and I have been able to achieve everything I've wanted to achieve in this career right where I am. I'm looking because while I'm content here, I am not bound to this place. I don't have roots here, I don't have a family, and I don't have a reason to stay. And I'm ambitious. And hell yes if I can get a job that would allow me to do more in this profession, I want to see if I can make that happen.
But I don't care about the affiliation on my nametag, and I'm not just trying to get higher up on the food chain, not really. I don't think that any job at any "better" university or any more researched-focused university would necessarily be a better fit for me. My priorities right now are more about trying to find the best possible balance between what I want professionally and what I want personally. The personal in this location hasn't been exactly stellar, and so that's as much a reason that I'm looking as anything. The professional is ok in this location, but I wonder what I could do at a place that had higher expectations for me and more support directed at those higher expectations.
But to answer EE's specific question, I'll venture the following. Assuming that you're in a department without a lot of crazy political maneuvering and vitriol, I'd think that it would be ok to have a talk with your chair about the job opening that you describe. You might say something about having noticed the job ad and that you're thinking of pursuing it, but you want advice about what the chair thinks. Your chair might actually be an advocate for you and help further you in the process. I wouldn't couch the revelation that you might apply for a job or two as "I'm planning on leaving this job." I would say, "I'm keeping my options open, and one thing is that I would like to be in the same location as my S.O. and this job could potentially allow for that, but I'm very committed to this job and happy with this job should that not come to pass." Don't make your chair think you've checked out of your current position, if that makes sense. Not knowing more about your specific situation, though, means that I might be offering you bad advice. Is there a colleague in your department with whom you are friends and whom you can trust not to gossip with whom you can discuss your quandary? Ideally somebody who's been there a few years and has some historical knowledge about what's gone on in the past? You also might talk to other mentors that you've had from grad school about your options. I know that helped me a lot with my decision last year to tell. Basically, I needed somebody to tell me that it's ok to look and that I wasn't committing some sort of crime by doing so. Also, I should probably mention that I was a bit more confident about going to VSC about it last year because he had mentioned a year before that people shouldn't hesitate to ask for letters if they needed them, which did give me a sense of how he'd respond if I told him. You may not be in such a great position as I was regarding that.
The thing is, there's no formula for this stuff. Honestly, if I were in a different place in my personal life, I might not even consider sending applications out right now. If I were in a different and less supportive department, I might not be so open about the fact that I am sending applications out. The reality is that I really think it's most likely that I'll end up staying here. I feel like I'm applying out of my league this year, and I'm in no way confident I'll even make it past the first round of cuts. But you know what? That doesn't matter. It's not wrong to apply. It's not wrong to leave oneself open to possibility. And if people can't deal with that? Well, then that's really about them, and it's not about anything I'm doing.