Saturday, February 09, 2013

Candidate dinners

So yeah: we're in the midst of a swarm of job candidate visits. Between last year and this year we're on track to have at least eleven candidates out, at least nine of whom I'll have had dinner with. I enjoy getting a chance to know our candidates better, in a lower-stakes environment, and I feel strongly that social events are one of the ways that we sell ourselves to candidates. Still, it's work, and I'm increasingly cranky about the inequities in how this work gets distributed.

I don't mind that I go to more candidate dinners than most of my colleagues. I sign up to do it, after all--and since I live in the city where we usually take candidates to dinner, and since I don't have children with bedtimes or after-school activities to negotiate, I figure that this is an easier work obligation for me to manage than it is for some of my colleagues. (Most of whom are great about stepping up in other areas, including other parts of the on-campus interview process.)

The problem is that we don't have a departmental charge account, which means that one person always puts the whole meal on his or her credit card, handles all the reimbursement paperwork--and then, for reasons both institutional and interpersonal always, always gets stiffed.

First off, since we're a state institution, alcohol isn't covered. Which is okay, but if we want the candidate to feel welcome to have a drink or two (and I do!), we have to order drinks ourselves and cover the complete bar tab. This also isn't a big deal--even at the fanciest restaurants in town, even the fanciest cocktails are relatively cheap, and I'm sure we're all happy to pitch in an extra three dollars or whatever to cover the candidate's drinks. Except that most people don't have cash on hand, and don't remember two days later. Seriously: not counting my own drinks or my share of the candidates' drinks, I'm still owed at least $60 in booze from last year.

Secondly, the state will only reimburse us for a tip of up 15%. And dude, I rarely give 15%. Fifteen percent, to me, means the service was somewhere south of mediocre. Moreover, at a candidate dinner, we have complicated paperwork that we have to explain to the server and have approved by the server's manager--and we need a special receipt, and we don't pay taxes on anything--and you know what? If I'm making a server deal with that on top of our orders, there's no way I'm paying less than 20%. The difference doesn't amount to much--maybe $5-7 a meal--and it's worth it to me to see that our server is treated right. But over several meals, it starts to add up.

And finally, I've screwed up the paperwork before and not gotten reimbursed at all.

(Oh, and don't get me started about the restaurants that won't honor our tax-exempt paperwork. Or the time the manager of a swanky restaurant came over and lectured us, in front of a candidate, about how he got audited for TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS and it's all the fault of inconsiderate people like us and our bogus claims of tax-exemption.)

The point is, I don't mind spending $20 or whatever out of pocket to see that a candidate is treated well and that our server isn't stiffed. And I don't mind having the charge sit on my card for the six weeks or however long it takes to get reimbursed. But I do mind doing this multiple times per hiring season.


I'm sure that some of my readers have departmental charge accounts and no cost restrictions--but I'd bet most of us are subject to financial or other limitations. So tell me: how do candidate dinners work at your institution? What are your restrictions, how do you work within them, and how do you spread the burden (in terms of time or money) more equitably?


life_of_a_fool said...

Yes. We have the same rules and the same inequities. Our department chair often goes to dinner and charges non-reimburseables on his card, which is generous (and often doesn't get contributions from others -- it took me years to realize he was even paying out of pocket).

But, I've also paid for parking, smaller meals (e.g., breakfast), drinks etc. and never gotten reimbursed for it. And yes, I don't mind buying my colleagues and future colleagues a drink occasionally, but it does add up over time. It also can take *forever* to get reimbursed and we don't all have the same financial ability to cover that cost while waiting for reimbursement.

Fretful Porpentine said...

First off, thank you for making sure the candidate feels welcome to have a drink! It is appreciated (or was, when I was on the market...)

My institution also does not reimburse for alcohol, and reimburses only one person's meal in addition to the candidate's, so dinner either has to be one-on-one or someone has to tag along at their own expense. (Which I don't mind doing, because hey, an excuse not to cook, but I think it's more than a bit chintzy on the university's part and doesn't make the best impression on the candidate. OTOH, I took the job even though it was dead obvious when I interviewed that the institution was cash-strapped, so maybe it doesn't matter that much.)

CattyinQueens said...

My school/department doesn't do the multiple meal thing. We eat lunch at the university club, which is so-so, and then the visit's over by late afternoon. Then I believe we send the people packing! I think when I was a candidate, I went straight to the airport after 3 or 4pm, and maybe ate fast food there before heading home. It was not so nice, and we've barely hired since then because of a hiring freeze.

But given the location of the school, I guess we get away with that! When I visited, I had just gotten back from a visit in nowhere, Indiana, so I was predisposed to just put up with no wining and dining. I got zero of the 1st, and not much of the 2nd (they didn't even take me to breakfast, though I arrived the night before--I had brought my own bagel from home, luckily!).

None of this really bears on you getting stiffed, which sucks, except in the sense that your candidates probably do really appreciate the effort!

Pantagruelle said...

I suddenly feel pretty lucky after reading your post and the previous comments. At my first job at a SLAC, I got 3 meals, breakfast in a café with 1 or 2 other profs, lunch on campus with students, and dinner out with 3 other profs. At my current R1, I got breakfast at the hotel, lunch in a decent restaurant with grad students, and a nice dinner out with 3-4 profs the night of my interview, and a nice dinner with 3-4 profs the night before when they picked me up at the airport. That's still the standard and what we went by when I was on a search a couple years ago: pick up the candidate with at least 2-3 other people along for the ride, take them out to dinner in the airport city, drop them at hotel, hotel breakfast included in room price, lunch either on campus or downtown, and a nice dinner out with 3-4 people. We have a departmental Purchasing card, so we don't have to pay out of pocket, and we've recently gotten our own P-Cards so we don't have to sign out a card from the dept secretary anymore. The secretary handles the reimbursement and reconciling the charges on the departmental credit card. We pay booze out of pocket, but I've never gotten stiffed by my colleagues.

Stacey Lee Donohue said...

Sounds like our situation with one minor difference: one of us charges the dinner, but alcohol can't even be on the bill, so that's paid for separately, making it a little easier to get colleagues to chip in--but the process is awkward in front of the candidate.

I'll never forget the candidate who ordered a $20 dollar GLASS of wine. We didn't catch it until after it was drunk, but really? What could/would we have done if we did know the cost? Not sure. S/he wasn't a top contender...

Flavia said...

Fretful & Catty:

Yikes! That's a worse deal than what we've got. As far as I know there's no dollar limit, and we do give the candidate three or four meals (the night-of dinner is usually somewhere pretty fancy, the others more casual--something like a nice brew-pub or pizzeria, if there's an arrival-night dinner, and lunch either on campus or at a sandwich shop or something like that).


Yeah, that's the other problem: even if people have cash, it feels awkward to exchange it in front of the candidate.

We had a candidate once who ordered not one, not two, but three drinks. I was surprised but not displeased when s/he ordered a second drink (the whole table had had a round of 10-ounce martinis to start, so none of the rest of us joined the candidate in the second drink--we were all driving). Good for you, candidate!, I thought. But when the candidate ordered the third drink, I knew s/he wasn't serious about the job.

And as the person who wound up paying for those drinks, I was even less pleased than I otherwise would have been.

Comrade Physioprof said...

We're a private institution, so fewer rules and regulations, and all faculty have institutional credit cards. So basically, we go out to dinner, get fucken shittefaced, spend a lot more money than our supposed limit, charge it on one of our cards, and then get yelled at the next day by our department business manager.

Ianqui said...

We're having a job search now, which I'm in charge of, so I've sadly gotten to know the limitations. We get $300 total for each candidate, and we have 2 day visits. When 6 people go to dinner in NYC, $300 doesn't come to much, especially when it's intended for 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, and a dinner. The department will cover a little extra per candidate, but not the whole thing. This year, each of the 3 members of the search committee have agreed to use some of our research funds to cover what doesn't come from the university or the department, but I'm still kind of irritated by this. Our colleagues who come to dinner don't appreciate that we're paying for a chunk out of our own (research) pockets, so I resent it when they get a second bottle of wine or the most expensive plate on the menu.

Susan said...

In the middle of search season, and as chair I help as much as possible... I have a univ charge card for dinner, but the wine goes on a separate card, usually my personal card. Some colleagues reimburse me, others don't. One colleague who doesn't drink expected ME to reimburse him for a candidates drink. Really...only rarely has anyone chipped in for the candidates drink.

But as I said to a colleague, hospitality is part of recruitment, at least if you're not in a desirable location!

QueSera said...

I am on the other end of the exchange (or was) and now I'm glad I didn't order any alcohol and followed everyone else's lead on what to order for dinner. You sound like a great colleague/host to take on so many dinners and personal expense!

The school I'll be working at had a departmental charge card. Too bad you couldn't get cash up front to cover most of the meal and avoid the reimbursement!

Withywindle said...

On a slightly different focus: didn't tipping use to be 10% when we were young? And when did it expand past 15%

undine said...

Our rules are like yours. We don't always do drinks, but no way am I going undertip even if it means going over the limit and arguing with the university later.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

LRU has an LRU Foundation, separately administered, to which alumni and other well-wishers contribute. They can earmark funds for the departments or areas of their choice. So when we take people to dinner, alcohol goes on a separate receipt. The meal gets reimbursed through regular channels, and the alcohol gets reimbursed by the Foundation. There's still the problem of someone fronting the money, but checks come within a month, so as long as your credit card isn't near the limit, it's fine. In your place, I think I would (a) get the separate check for alcohol and sort it out with colleagues later, and (b) see if it would be possible to set up a foundation or at least a departmental slush fund for the drinks. I bet you have some alums who'd be happy to give a little to the department so you can wine as well as dine candidates! Not sure what to do about the tipping except some version of (a). It would no doubt help to have some of this discussion before hiring season starts.

Bardiac said...

This is so interesting! My school seems to do it partly through school policy (15% max on tips, no alcohol paid for, max $18 for dinner, and so on), and partly through the department. I found out that another department pays for everyone's meal, but mine only pays for the candidate and one other person. Everyone else pays themselves.

It gets expensive even with cheap meals, to go out several times.

Flavia said...

This is a really interesting thread--thanks to everyone for sharing! I'm glad we're not alone in being hampered by certain restrictions (though it sounds like, on balance, we've got fewer than many).

It's occurred to me that I should mention, in case any job candidates are reading, that nothing in this post is intended to make job candidates feel awkward or self-conscious about what you order at a meal.

Yes, it's always a good policy to follow the lead of your hosts, and yes, it's always a good policy not to order noticeably more or noticeably more expensive items than your hosts--but other than that, there really shouldn't be any secret "tests" involved in your candidate dinner. Whether you order a glass or wine, or not, doesn't matter (or if it does, there's a much bigger problem with the people/institution you're interviewing with!). And if your hosts urge you to order an appetizer, or a dessert, or an extra drink, or whatever, you should assume that the offer is sincere--and if you want one, you should go ahead and order one.

Unless you're told up-front, you can't know what restrictions apply to a candidate dinner with a given department. Follow your hosts' lead, assume any hospitality is genuine, and you'll be fine.

Historiann said...

In case any job candidates are reading, that nothing in this post is intended to make job candidates feel awkward or self-conscious about what you order at a meal.

Unless you're the chump who ordered the $20 glass of wine! Seriously, who knew that you could even find a $20 glass of wine in your neighborhood, Flavia? I guess I should be impressed, as I've never seen a glass of wine that cost that much, like, ever, and certainly not in Colorado.

Our restrictions are much like yours, except that most of my colleagues seem to have a departmental charge card. (I was too lazy to go to the "training" and so I don't have one. Fortunately, I'm usually in the company with a colleague who has one!) Same deal with the booze, too--we have to put in on a separate check.

The inequities you raise should trouble your colleagues, or at least your Chair. What do you have to lose by approaching your chair and pointing this out to hir, and then asking for some compensation for your trouble? Emphasize that you're sure that your colleagues are not trying to stiff you, but rather that you are concerned that they're unaware of the problems your assistance with the job candidates has caused you over the years.

I think it's best to have some methods of redress in mind: an additional $100 or $200 for conference travel or research expenses for you this year?

On the colleagues who never take the candidates out for dinner: having children is not a good across-the-board excuse. Presumably there are partners, babysitters, or neighbors who could stay with the child/ren for a few hours. I really hate it when colleagues act like they don't have the same job description.

susan said...

We have a dept credit card that gets used for candidate meals--our dept admin was amazingly organized about providing us with envelopes for receipts and instructions for how the card was getting from breakfast to lunch to dinner.......I think that the fact that alcohol can't be covered is so common that none of us should feel awkward about it in front of the candidate (even if they don't know it now, they'll learn it soon enough). I've been at meals where we've had separate (individual) checks for alcohol (with someone picking up the candidate's tab) and at meals where people have thrown cash in for the alcohol (the latter being more likely to result in someone getting stiffed).