At conference interview help for TT faculty?
November 6, 2009 7:37 AM   Subscribe

AcademicFilter: tips/hints for at-conference interviews for TT faculty positions.

I already asked the general job search question and now I've made it to the next level: conference meet'n'greets/informal interviews. (woo).

Specific help that I need:
- What are good questions to ask of the interviewer? (I have "how will this position fit in with the department as a whole? and "Where do you see the department in 5/10 years?")

- How much "stalking" is required? If the search chair is outside of my area, will skimming through a few abstracts be sufficient to chat about his/her work? Also, skimming through his/her CV will help right? ("Oh yes, you were at Purdue a few years back, working with Bob...") And yes, I've already asked faculty at my department for help with specific people.

- Wear a suit or opt for suit pants/skirt with a sweater?

- I don't normally wear makeup (allergy) but I feel like I should possibly for this. Opinions?

- Should I not mention my partner and child? What if they ask about partner/child/childbearing plans? How do I skirt around that issue?

- Any other "trick" questions to look out for?

- I have a padfolio with a *color* print out of my dissertation model, my CV, a syllabus for a class, and possibly some hypotheses from my diss. If this weekend goes well I may even have some initial results from data analysis. Anything that I should add to this padfolio?

And general advice would be greatly appreciated!
posted by k8t to Work & Money (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
- How much "stalking" is required? If the search chair is outside of my area, will skimming through a few abstracts be sufficient to chat about his/her work? Also, skimming through his/her CV will help right?

Yes, but I wouldn't spend too much time on it. The most important thing is for you to stand out from everyone else, so spend your time figuring out how to talk about your own work in a way that is interesting, memorable, and (if possible) relevant to what your interviewers are doing. While it is important to demonstrate that you are not entirely ignorant of their work, talking about them will not set you apart from others. Think about how to get them to engage with you and your work.

- Wear a suit or opt for suit pants/skirt with a sweater?
- I don't normally wear makeup (allergy) but I feel like I should possibly for this. Opinions?

My rule of thumb is that its better to be overdressed than underdressed (though this may vary depending on the academic discipline you're in), as long as you don't feel so uncomfortable that it affects your performance. So if the makeup gives you an allergic reaction that will distract you from the task at hand, skip it.

- Should I not mention my partner and child? What if they ask about partner/child/childbearing plans? How do I skirt around that issue?

"I'm not comfortable discussing that topic so early in the interview process."
posted by googly at 8:01 AM on November 6, 2009

As in your last question, these two CHE forums might be useful. I know there are many threads on this topic if you can drag them out of the search function.

What are good questions to ask of the interviewer?

Here are a few things that come to mind. I've had seemingly decent results asking about a particular class I might want to develop, and about interaction with other departments relevant to my sub-specialty. If appropriate, there are various things you could ask about the dept's graduate students.

Should I not mention my partner and child? What if they ask about partner/child/childbearing plans?

You should not mention them, and they should not ask (in fact, it is probably illegal). Still, it does get asked occasionally.

If the search chair is outside of my area, will skimming through a few abstracts be sufficient to chat about his/her work?

Two things: (i) the search chair shouldn't necessarily be the major focus of "stalking" because the role they play in the search after this stage is probably fairly minimal. If there are people in your specialty on the committee, the chair may well be relying on those, and you want those people on your side. (ii) In my experience there won't be much time to talk about their work unless it directly relates to yours or to a question you ask. If the chair is the *only* person interviewing you then I guess my point in (i) might not apply.

posted by advil at 8:08 AM on November 6, 2009

Some questions I asked (since they were important to me):
How would you characterize your students/student body?
What opportunities are there for collaboration (intra- and inter-departmental)?
(for public universities) I try to find a tactful way of asking their opinions about how well that state supports higher education.
You can also ask about service expectations for junior faculty.

You have probably stalked them sufficiently ;-)

My observation has been that most of the grad students on the market are wearing the traditional dark suit, so you can't go wrong there. I'd say you're probably ok with the suit pants/skirt and sweater (I did have friends who went that route), particularly if the interview is less formal (like meeting over coffee or in the lobby) as opposed to a more traditional interview with multiple committee members.

I normally wear makeup for these things, but if you're allergic and it's going to cause you to be uncomfortable and/or break out, I think you're fully justified in skipping it. Not all female faculty members wear makeup themselves.

They are not allowed to ask you about partner/child issues, so it's up to you if you want to bring it up. If you open that door first, then it can become a topic of conversation, which of course can allow you to ask about university child care, tenure clock issues, etc. I think if you don't want to talk about it, then you shouldn't, and I would be a little wary of people who try to prod too much in that direction (sometimes it comes up tangentially with people talking about the schools in the area, which is sort of an implied question, but one you can often ignore).

You have plenty of stuff in your padfolio! If you're talking to people who have already received your application they probably won't want more paper. If you're going to do the rounds of the interview tables, I think you have enough material.

My other advice as someone who did the job market both as ABD and PhD in hand--be prepared to have LOTS of probing as to the likelihood that you will actually be finished when you say you are.

(on preview, advil's advice re: the search chair is very good)
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:21 AM on November 6, 2009

Makeup- if it makes you itchy and distracted, don't wear it. Your focus needs to be in the room.
Clothing- Wear the suit, with the suit jacket. Even if you never wear it again, you are demonstrating an awareness of the conventions of the academic job search, and a willingness to comply to conditions not of your choosing. A subtle but important gesture.
Partners/ children: these questions are illegal by federal law. Asking about your marital status can lead to accusations of gender, faith, or ability discrimination. If someone asks you about this, this is a person who feels that laws don't apply to him or to her. If you get this job, watch out for the person who would ask this question, because he or she is trouble.
Finally, I can't recommend Kathryn Hume's Surviving Your Academic Job Hunt highly enough. This book was my go-to resource, a port in the storm.
Good luck!
posted by Sara Anne at 8:24 AM on November 6, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks all!

Also, I have my data already. I've worked with previous years of this data set extensively. I'll probably have my data fully analyzed before January interviews. How can I state this in a polite way. :)
posted by k8t at 8:26 AM on November 6, 2009

Seconding what everyone else said above re: clothes and makeup.

If asked an illegal/inappropriate question, you could choose not to answer, and you would be right to do so, but you may also make a bad impression with the asker of the question by calling them out. There is no non-confrontational way to refuse to answer a question. You may want to think about if, in the unfortunate event of an inappropriate question, which would damage your chances more: answering or refusing to answer.

Also, one thing that helped me out is that we academics tend to be socially awkward people. While interviewing, I would search for any little cue as to how the interview was going, and there were a lot of strange interactions: odd looks, jokes from interviewers that no one laughed at, bizarre remarks, staring. Most times, this had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the everyday idiosyncrasies of my would-be colleagues.
posted by reverend cuttle at 8:37 AM on November 6, 2009

I can pretty much guarantee that very early on they will ask you a question about the status of your dissertation. I think you just state, with confidence "I have completed data collection and have worked with previous years of this data set extensively. I am on track to have my data fully analyzed by January." I was sometimes asked follow-ups about any tentative findings or conclusions I had reached, so you should be prepared to talk about that. If you can talk about your data in a clear and confident way I think that is a big bonus.

Also--always have a bottle of water with you. All that talking mixed with the hotel air systems is pretty much guaranteed to suck the moisture from your lungs & throat!
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:57 AM on November 6, 2009

Combination of good questions & stalking:

I've seen that [something about student body or mission]. What are the undergraduates like? [if it's Directional State U, ask about preparation and such; at an elite, something different; at a Big State U with a phd program, ask about grad students first]

How is the department run? What are relations between the department and the dean of the college of arts & sciences [change as appropriate]? With the provost?

Other stuff:

I agree that the right answer is to dress up until and unless it starts making you uncomfortable and so throwing you off your game.

Kids and partner:

Respectfully, I don't think "I'm not comfortable discussing this so early" or otherwise refusing to answer is going to be helpful to you. While the questions are illegal they are also commonly asked. Sometimes, they're asked as weedouts because people don't want to deal with a two-body problem or because the person you're talking to is the department's Crazy Uncle Neanderthal who doesn't approve of maternity leave and such. In these cases, answering in those ways will only cause people to assume the "worst," or make it less likely that the sensible people in the department get an indirect good impression of you.

On the other hand, it's also quite common for people to ask The Illegal Questions not because they give a shit whether you have kids or a partner or want to have nine billion progeny but because they want to offer you useful information about the university and community. Oh, you've got a little boy -- let me tell you about the award winning elementary school in Schoolville. Oh, you have two teenagers; let me tell you that if it all works out, you should look in this part of town that feeds into this middle school. You want (more) kids? Let me tell you about the university's parental leave policy and how supportive the department has been here.

Now, clearly, these last people have very misplaced good intentions, and what they should be doing is just telling you "Look, I don't know what your situation is and I'm not asking. But here's some information about our university and community that many young assistants find useful..." But it's still the case that if someone is trying to be helpful to you, and you go all cold-fish on them and refuse to answer even though you have every right to, that's not going to endear you to them.

So anyway, what to do with the partner/kid depends on what your situation really is. If your partner is NOT an academic and is portable, you shouldn't just be willing to reveal this, you should scream it at the people interviewing you.

Otherwise, I'd suggest dealing with questions honestly when they're about verifiable things that are already done (I have a young girl; can you tell me about child care at the university or in the community?).

If people ask about potential future things like more kids, I would answer, but give them whatever answer you think they want to hear. No, I'm not having any more kids; I'm going full-tilt on research. If they're asking because they want to give helpful information, then they'll just ask about something else or give you information about something else. If they're asking as a weedout, then they're troglodytes who don't deserve any better than to be spoon-fed pablum, and if you took a position there and then had nine more kids their ability to strike back would be dramatically lower.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:23 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Regarding clothing and makeup, know the prevailing style in your field. What do the best-respected women in your discipline wear to major conferences? That's often a good guide.

My department offered mock interviews for job candidates the year I was on the market. I wore an interview-quality suit for mine, and was told it was too formal, so I did my conference interviews in a skirt and sweater-set. I never wear makeup; it's a non-issue in my field, but again, this might not be the case in particularly stylish disciplines.

About interview questions - nthing the advice to mine the CHE boards. Also, one thing that surprised me was the emphasis on teaching, even in the R1 interviews. Everyone asked "what textbook would you prefer for Course101 and why?" along with some variant of "can you teach the kind of students we have?" Have some idea what you might be teaching, if hired, and be ready to talk specifics about how you'd run the course.
posted by philokalia at 10:16 AM on November 6, 2009

Illegal questions are often asked in elliptical ways. Not "how many kids do you have?" but rather "would you like me to tell you about schools?" -- there's sometimes a lot of coded language in the air, on both your part and theirs. And the other way illegal information gets asked is via spouses, students, or other people not on the search committee itself. Sometimes they have no idea they are asking illegal questions; sometimes they have been told to try and ask those questions to maintain deniability for the committee members.

If any of this information is actually in your favor, then it might be good to go ahead and mention it loudly and often. For example, if you can say something like "My partner is not an academic, but he/she is super excited about the possibility of moving to East Bumblefuck U," then you've reassured them that there is no two-body problem and no unhappy partner who will veto any move away from their home state.
posted by Forktine at 10:34 AM on November 6, 2009

Mod note: comment removed - save the drama for elsewhere please
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:38 AM on November 6, 2009

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