Tips for the Job Interview

It’s that time of year for graduate students – the time when interview season is in full swing. In my line of work I have chaired and served on enough search committees to have seen a wide range of things happen (and not happen!). I thought I would compile my thoughts into a post and share them with you today. These tips are intended for graduate students and are meant to serve as a guide for how to make their interview experience a success.

Note: If I say something in this post and you wonder if I am talking about you – I am not. I have no one specific person in mind as I write this at any point. If you think I am talking about you then maybe you need to stop and consider if you have done any of the things I’m discussing and if those actions were good or not. These tips are also not in any specific order.

Be Prepared

be preparedThis should be a no-brainer, but I’m going to stress it anyways. You should have received a copy of the interview schedule in advanced. Read it. Look up the people who you are supposed to meet. Learn about them – not in a crazy, stalker kind of way, but be aware of who they are and what they do. Bring a notebook with you to your interview. Have questions in it in advance. You can put questions you have for specific people in here too. Have a basic understanding of the programs the place offers and where you would likely fit in.

Follow the Directions

You were told some basics for the interview. For example, where I work everyone has to give a research talk. It averages about 45 minutes, but it can run between 40-50 minutes. Whatever your parameters are, follow them. Do not be that person who leaves no time for questions and will not sit down even though I am in the back of a room waving flags at you and jumping up and down trying to signal you. I exaggerate only a tad.

Be Reasonable

Do you need a bathroom break or another bottle of water? Please let us know. We all try to be mindful of asking you if you need these things, but sometimes we forget. Do you have a favorite coffee that costs 10.00 a cup and would require someone to make a special trip for you to go get it? Yeah – don’t ask me to do that.

Do you have dietary needs or food allergies? Let us know. I always try to ask in advance, but if you don’t get asked that question and it is relevant you should tell the chair of the committee. If you are a vegan, no one wants to take you to a steakhouse for dinner. We want you to have a good time and to also give you experiences that allow you to see how you would fit into the larger community in which you would live.

Answer the Question Being Asked

You will get hit with a ton of questions during your interview. You are not perfect, but you should make every attempt to answer the question being asked. Sometimes it might help to write the question down that you are being asked. It can help to see it in writing, and it can keep you focused. We are paying attention to how you handle yourself.

Give a Good Talk

Here is where I will cut you some slack (but notice I speak only for myself). I’m interested in the content of your talk. I can put up with you being a mediocre speaker. I generally assume your public speaking will improve over time, and I assume you are pretty nervous. Your talk will make a major impression so it is worth it to put extensive time and effort into it. Practice it before you get here. Practice it a lot. Get people to give you feedback before you give it to anyone outside your home. Plus, running the talk in advance – even if you are just talking out loud to yourself – will help you identify the gaps you need to fill in.public speaking

Assistant Professors Are Where It’s At

You are applying for a job as an assistant professor. You are not applying to be friends with the doctoral students. You may meet with doctoral students during your visit (which can be a good thing), but remember you are transitioning out of this group and into a new one. When meeting with doctoral students, find out what their research interests are and get them to tell you about the program. They will provide you with a much different perspective than the tenure-line faculty. Ask them how they are supported in their work and what kinds of opportunities they have to engage in research.

Where you really want to dive in is with other assistant professors. You want to know what life is like at this place for them. Are they loaded up on committee work and administrative tasks? Are they given the space they need in order to get tenure? What is the travel allowance like for them? How are they getting it all done? These are the people who’s brain you want to pick apart.

But Don’t Forget Everyone Else

You have a bit of a line to walk. On the one hand, you want to get a clear picture of the tenure and promotion process. On the other, you don’t want to seem overly freaked out about it (and if you are freaked out about it that’s normal). Assistant professors can give you one view down the rabbit hole, and the rest of us a different one. You want to hear both. Also, keep in mind that assistant professors don’t get to make decisions about tenure and promotion. They’ve never sat in on that process in the way associates and fulls have.

What I recall running rampant in my assistant professor days was lots and lots of gossip about why someone – be it at my institution or elsewhere – didn’t get tenure. All this gossip does is get people excited – usually in a bad way – and stressed. I never found it to be helpful. Talk to associates and fulls about structures in place that will support your work. At the end of the day it’s about your work. You need to get your work done. Figure out if you can do that in this environment.

Ask The Same Question

question markOne of my favorite techniques when I was a doc student was to ask the same question to a number of people. For example, I might ask, “What are some of the challenges with implementing your new program?” or “What are some common challenges you have faced as an assistant professor and how have you tackled them?” I liked asking the same question – or a slight variation of it – to multiple people for a few reasons. First, it allowed me to gain different perspectives and learn more. Second, it allowed me to compare answers across people.  For example, if you ask a basic question such as, “What is travel support like for assistant professors?” You should get the same answer (sometimes tenured professors might not know an answer to something like this, but the answer should be consistent when asking administrators and other assistant professors). If it’s not then that’s a sign – and not a very good one.  Also, feel free to ask the same question again to anyone if you just find yourself confused. We can help you sort it out.

So there you have it. Some initial thoughts on how to make your interview go well and work for you. In my next post I’ll write about warning signs to look for when you are interviewing.