How to prepare for an on campus faculty interview

The faculty job market today is tougher than it has been in a generation. Fewer positions and more doctoral graduates in nearly every discipline have ratcheted up the difficulty in successfully landing a faculty position. Just securing a campus interview is a often a reason for celebration as it means you’ve made it through rounds of reviews and Skype or phone interviews. But how to prepare for an on campus faculty interview? In today’s post, I will provide tips and suggestions to successfully navigate the grueling on campus interview.

Photo credit: Flickr Matse A

My first on campus interview was taxing. I can’t think of a time where I have been more exhausted. Two days of talking, networking, and selling myself took a toll.

Fortunately, I got good advice from advisers and mentors and was able to land an offer.

Over the years, I’ve seen candidates doom their chances while others hit a home run securing the job.

In most cases, the quality of a candidate’s training, experience, or expertise is not the deciding factor. The biggest variable in a successful interview is the right amount of preparation.

As with so many things in life, preparation is the key. But how to prepare? The faculty interview process is so different from almost any other tope of interview.

The typical on campus visit will last between one and two days.

During this time, you will meet with faculty, current students, and the relevant administrators such as the dean or department chair. You will be asked to present your research and/or teaching (i.e. teach a sample class topic).

Different institutions will have their own spin and expectations, but most colleges and universities will have a comparable on campus interview protocol to what I’ve outlined here.

To prepare for two days of meetings, I recommend the following five strategies to set yourself up for success.

1.  Know your schedule

As soon as possible, try to get a copy of the interview schedule and agenda. This will be helpful as you begin to think about your preparation. Are you presenting your research for an hour or two hours? Are you meeting with faculty individually or in groups? These little details are important for your other preparation strategies.

2.  Know the background of everyone you’re meeting

After you get a copy of the schedule, look up the background, interests, and experience of the people you’re meeting with during your visit. Depending on the amount of time you have to prepare and how many people you’re meeting, spend a significant amount of time on this step. Read research articles. Look at their CVs. Get to know the people you’re meeting so that you come across prepared, able to draw connections between the person and your own work, and help with making small talk. For example, a candidate who knows the background and research of faculty colleagues comes across as sincere, interested, and well-prepared. This makes a significant impression on everyone you meet.

3.  Know the parameters of the job talk.

One of the most important things you will do during your visit is the job talk. Typically, a presentation of your research and/or teaching. The emphasis on research and teaching varies to some extent based on the mission of the institution where you’re interviewing. The audience for the talk can vary dramatically. You could have only a few people or 30-40. Ask about what audience size and make up (faculty, graduate students, staff, etc) to expect. After you get all this information, practice your talk. Repeatedly. Beg friends, colleagues, and advisers if you must. So many candidates get derailed with the job talk. Practice, practice, practice.

4.  Read, read, read.

The beauty for candidates today is the amount of information available online. This dramatically eases the effort needed to learn about a place. Read everything you can on the institution, school, and department websites. This will benefit you in multiple ways. First, you will be able to ask better questions and learn more during your visit. Second, as with knowing the background of who you’re meeting with, this research will show that you’re serious about the institution. Finally, this background information will help put you at ease during the visit. You won’t be trying to figure out easy details, but will be comfortable discussing the department, curriculum, and other issues that come up during the course of the visit.

5.  Decide what you need to learn on your visit

While you’re being interviewed, you should also be interviewing the department and campus. The campus climate, environment, resources, and expectations will drive much of your professional life while you’re at the institution. Before you arrive, figure out what you need to learn and ask multiple people. If you need support for a specialized research agenda, you better figure out if the institution can support this. If you need know about local schools for your kids, ask. There will be multiple opportunities to ask questions during your visit so you need to be prepared to have a response when asked, “Do you have any questions for us?”

Knowing is half the battle

As I learned from GI Joe as a kid, knowing is half the battle.  Hopefully these tips will help you prepare for your on campus interview. In addition, talk to colleagues who have been on the market recently, ask your advisers for suggestions, or anyone else with experience in your field. Get the most information you can at this stage to know how to prepare for an on campus faculty interview. Preparation will lead to success!