The Campus Interview: Hitting the Home Stretch

Once again, in solidarity and with encouragement for all of my friends and acquaintances out there on the job market this year. Hang in there.

Last time I weighed in on the job market I feel like I mostly reinforced a number of clichés passing as advice based on my own anecdotal experience. For the most part I probably do the same down below, but nonetheless hope that they are useful in some small way.

1) Control what you can control. Again, no surprises here. Go prepared. Have a great job talk. Read up on the department. Have solid answers to all the “typical questions.” Read a publication or two by people on the search committee, if not also things written by most of the folks you might be working with. If nothing else asking a polite question about someone’s research takes the pressure off of you and let’s you take a bite or two at dinner. It also shows a bit of genuine interest on your part, as in, “Not only do I really want this job, but I’m also interested in you as a potential colleague.” If interviewing in an inhospitable part of the country, take extra underwear (at former post a candidate was snowed in for an extra 3 DAYS, so this is not a joke!).

2) Don’t sweat what you can’t control. The initial committee provides you with a near limitless number of variables as to why you might/might not get  campus invite. Once an entire department is involved, these explode geometrically towards infinity.

At one teaching institution your great job talk was universally applauded. At another teaching institution people thought you sounded “too research focused,” and therefore unlikely to remain there more than a year. Consensus at an R1 was that the  talk was brilliant. Several members of a department at a competing R1 openly wondered how you even finished your dissertation. Take it all with lots (and LOTS of salt), and none of it as personal.

I’ve only been post-degree for 7 years or so, but trust me when I say that these situations aren’t terribly removed from how things actually happen. Go prepared, do your best. You have no control over how others will receive your effort, so don’t let worrying about that enter your field of vision.

3) Have fun (though not too much). In a vacuum these things are an absolute slog, and I’ve often wondered why any number of hiring committees don’t taking that into account when considering, say, a fairly undynamic teaching demo or a job talk where you lose your place once or twice. But again: control what you can control Among other things, I’ve flown from one on-campus directly to another with nothing more than a glass of wine and a powdered donut in the Minneapolis airport in between.  I’ve done three in 10 days. Expediency demands all sorts of things of the candidate as she/he negotiates the final stretch of the search.

That said, try to keep things light and fun. It’s a challenge to adjust a teaching demo in turbulence at 10,000 feet, and the majority of committees do try to see to the candidate’s needs and make him/her feel at home during this grueling process. People are generally professional if  not also warm and inviting. And if they aren’t effusive about having you on campus, remember that this is a grueling process on their end, too. The committee will vet between 150 and 300 applications in many cases, go through 10-20 first round interviews, and organize another 2-4 on-campus interviews which consist of several meals, a talk, a teaching demo, meetings with various campus figures,  the committee itself, etc. So if you are candidate number three or if there are multiple searches, keep in mind that they might be running on fumes, too.

So stay in good spirits (even if someone is 10 minutes late grabbing you after the library tour!) Relax and, if folks are having wine with dinner, feel free to have a glass. Maybe have two if everyone else re-ups, but do NOT dance on the table or get overly talky about “insane things you’ve done in your life.” It’s still an interview.

4) Once you are done interviewing, go home and start working on an article. This will help pass the time and keep your mind occupied. Trust me.

Good luck.

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