So you are considering an academic job in the USA… I cannot recommend enough a visiting position. Landing a tenure track (continuing) position without stellar research, connections or being world-famous in your discipline is impossible from the other side of the world. A visiting position is a great way to scope out the US academic landscape before settling into a tenure track position.
Visiting positions are limited contract (usually 1 year but also available for 1 semester) and therefore universities are more likely to risk an unknown (aka you!). Once you have your visiting assistant professor position you need to start applying straight away for your next gig. This is due to the long job search process of the USA. heck out my post on the timing of American academic jobs for more information.
Why do universities have visiting positions?
Visiting positions are equivalent to a limited term contract elsewhere in the world. They most commonly arise due to a vacancy that happened too late to get a full-time continuing (tenure track) position approved. The process for a tenure track position can take 1.5-2 years. A retirement or somebody moving on to another job usually only give 6-12 months notice. The university will usually advertise for a tenure-track position when you start and if you like the university you can of course apply for the position.
Downsides to visiting positions
The biggest downside to being a visiting professor is that it is limited. Which means you have to spend your entire year/semester searching for a new job, writing applications and stressing about where you will be next year. You will also be teaching new courses, with new textbooks and different assessment expectations. Between your high teaching load and job applications your research will be on the back-burner and put you a year behind. If you change employer you will need to apply for a new visa which usually means an expensive trip home at the end of the year. Also, visiting professors typically get paid a less than tenure track (in my discipline about 20%). Check out my post on academic money matters.
Upsides to visiting positions
You don’t have any service, advising or committee requirements. Teach your classes and your boss is happy.
Speaking of, your boss and colleagues will be supportive of you finding a new job. That means US references! (Americans in general don’t or can’t call international references). It also means that you have colleagues to discuss and get advice from. They employed you knowing you would be leaving so there is no sneaking around applying for jobs.
I love to travel and when I got my visiting position I had never travelled around the US before. I landed a visiting position in Kansas. Even the least USA savvy person known what images are associated with Kansas. Honestly though, I had a ball there and loved it however that didn’t stop me from wanting to explore the rest of the USA. Cue the ‘flyout’.
After a successful initial interview (at a conference or video/phone) you will be invited to visit the university. They will pay all of your costs for flights, accommodation, car rental, food, etc to visit the university. You will spend 1,2 or 3 days interviewing with everyone in the department, HR, Dean, Vice-Chancellors etc. Some flyouts will include a tour of the town and even a real-estate agent connection. I landed flyouts to 3 different universities in three different cities so got to explore those places for free while learning about how other universities operated.