Two day interview survival tips
September 18, 2017 7:51 PM   Subscribe

I recently got an interview offer for what I think is my dream job at a major university. I know the area and the department as I used to live/work there, and provided the salary and workday is what I expect it is, I plan to take this job. But they just sent me the itinerary and it's a two-day behemoth where I meet/interview with 25 people. Help me not screw this up!

They are flying me down on a Thursday morning. I will be having lunch on Thursday with four of the grad students, followed by six 40 min interviews with various department members (mostly faculty, two administrators) including the former chair. Then a 40 min break before getting picked up at my hotel for dinner with 5 faculty. Friday starts bright and early at 6:45 when I meet with the director of one of the university's interdisciplinary centers (this was my request, as my research interests would likely lean on this center, and it's a pretty unique opportunity), then five faculty interviews, a job talk, lunch with a recently hired faculty member, three more interviews, a meeting with the current chair, and a short break before dinner with three more junior faculty. Saturday is unscheduled (thank god!) and I don't leave till Saturday afternoon.

On the one hand, I'm thrilled that they are having me meet with so many different people with a range of academic rank, and it's a very collegial department -- I previously worked with all but two of these people in some capacity, and am on first name terms with the vast majority, so I imagine it will be relatively chill. On the other hand, just looking at the schedule makes me tired!

I will have two suits, extra pantyhose (I'm a woman), breathmints, and low-heeled shoes. Extra copies of my CV are ready to go. What else do I need to know to help me survive this interview without going totally insane, especially before the all important chair meeting at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is standard. People will know it's exhausting and won't fault you for looking a little peaked by the end. It's the first of the endurance rituals of academic passage. Just wait til tenure :).
You should plan in advance what you might say in response to certain questions, including likely job talk questions, because it's going to be harder to think on your feet.
You shouldn't be "on" about your work at the same level all day. Remember they are trying to get a sense of your chemistry with them, how well you'll fit in, how supportive and contributory and committed you'll be as a colleague and teacher. So make sure to ask the grad students what they're interested in and working on, express a lot of interest in hearing about the work of faculty you meet with at meals. It's not just a show of how terrific your own work is (of course, during the job talk and the more formal interviews, it is.) So you can also be listening and responding, not just performing your own thing. Research in advance what the faculty work on, of course, and think in advance of questions to ask them about their work. Not only will people enjoy having you around but you'll also get some variety in your interactions and, mercifully, get to be less "on stage" a bit.
posted by flourpot at 8:11 PM on September 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

This may be elementary if you've already gone through interviews like this. It's not clear what part of this is new to you or what aspect you most want advice for, or if it's just about the size and length.

A lot of those people probably won't have much to ask you, especially in a group that large. Have a set of questions of your own ready to go, either for certain groups (i.e., ask grad students these, ask faculty these, etc.) or just general-purpose questions anyone can answer. Be prepared to just shoot the shit about whatever.

If you know any one in the set well enough, it might be worth asking them (either before or in person) if you can beg off from their slot a bit early to take a quick break. Depends on the individual and your relationship with them, of course.

At meals, order dishes that aren't messy or fussy to eat.

Seconding flourpot: Definitely plan out some answers in advance. What are they likely to want to know? E.g., if the position involves teaching, research their course offerings to know which of their courses you'd be comfortable teaching. Have some ideas on new courses/projects/initiatives you would like to develop. If it's research-focused, sure, know your research and have the elevator pitch ready to go, but also have something to say about what collaborations you might look to start, how your work could intersect with others', etc. The less you have to think on your feet, the better.

Pack some kind of snack (bar, whatever) as an emergency ration if you're losing energy and the next meal is a bit too far off.

Stay hydrated! Bring your own water if that would be appropriate (perhaps not if you want to be extra-formal). Accept any they offer. Ask for it if you need it (people know other people need water, but they may not think of it).

Business cards if you have them, just in case there's a situation where handing over a CV is a bit much.

Phone on do-not-disturb.

Have backups for when the technology setup for your talk goes on the fritz, gains sentience, and starts exterminating humans. Or at least for if it doesn't work.

Plan out the bad-ass pose you'll strike for yourself in the mirror before leaving any bathroom.
posted by whatnotever at 8:37 PM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Before you start your interviews look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself: they don't schedule 25 people to spend time with you unless they're already pretty interested. They obviously like something about you already, probably quite a bit to go to so much trouble. Be the best version of yourself that you can be and remember that they think you're worth a considerable amount of effort to get to know.
posted by Nerd of the North at 9:19 PM on September 18, 2017 [12 favorites]

Also prepare some questions to ask, if you don't ask questions they will think that you are not interested. This means asking these question to each group, even if you already had the answer earlier. I once had a colleague (who was at the end of one of these two day schedules) say to me about an interviewee "I don't think he's interested in the position, he didn't ask what the schools are like or what it's like to live here...", but the interviewee had asked me those questions (I was lunch on the first day). Don't be flip when they ask you how you are going to fund your research (if this is a research position), they want a plan - they will have wasted a bunch of money if you can't make tenure and they have to go through this again.
posted by 445supermag at 9:39 PM on September 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

Apologies if some of this is remedial - not clear if you've done a lot of these? Also, please be aware I'm an anxious-type person - I like to bulletproof myself for university visits. So these suggestions work for me, but ignore any that make you feel more stressed rather than more calm!

My emergency kit for visit days fits in a tiny pouch and comes into the bathroom with me every time. It includes :
- safety pin
- floss (mints are good, but if you're doing meals, then floss is critical. Toothpicks are ok in a pinch)
- one or two doses of ibuprofen (or your painkiller of choice)
- chapstick or a lightly tinted lipstick (you'll be talking and eating)
- bandaid (not just for cuts, also good for blisters)
- tiny tissue pack
- travel sized comb
- Individually wrapped Shout wipe or travel Tide stick (I have used one to clean an entire espresso out of a jacket in in 10 minutes in a bathroom at a conference).

Physical self care : To ward off exhaustion, yes, hydrate like hell. It is FINE to ask to go to the restroom. Ask right when you get to a new person's office, OR while you're in the hall being walked to your next meeting (in an academic building, you'll very likely pass a bathroom anyway). DEFINITELY make sure you go after lunch - grad students should be friendly and sympathetic. Try and stick with the same amount of caffeine you have in a normal day - now is not the time to jiggle your routine. It will also help your throat a bit if you can shoot for room temperature or warm water/drinks. Foodwise, I order high fat/high protein meals, since I know that I'll need lasting energy, but carbs make me sleepy. If I were you, I'd also be planning room service in the morning before that first meeting on the second day, but YMMV. And you know to try and get as much sleep as possible, right?

Mental self care : The more prep you do in advance, the less you have to mentally juggle during the event. Inevitably, someone will ask "who do you go to next?" after a meeting. Have a copy of your schedule, ideally on a phone or tablet, so you're not messing with keeping random papers smooth all day. I think of at least one question for each person on my schedule in advance (regarding them or their research), so that if conversation lags, I have something to discuss. (This may be less helpful for you if you already know everyone well!!) I bring all my own connectors, power cables etc for my laptop, but I ALSO bring a copy of my talk on USB, and keep a copy on dropbox or in my email. You probably have a host or liason - program that person's phone number and the phone number of your lodging into your phone.

Hope some of this helps - knock 'em dead!
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 10:14 PM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

You can do this! As others have noted, this is standard for a tenure track position.

One specific piece of advice, combining the "look up people's research interests" and "have your schedule handy" advice above: on your schedule, have a cheat sheet. So, when you have meeting with professor X on your schedule, write on it "Professor X works on Y."

(If you really want the grad students to rave about you, you can also do that for them, depending on the department/field. I was assigned to walk an interview-ee from their hotel to the department. He looked up my research interests, which happened to overlap with his, and talked with me about it. The fact that he did so came up in the hiring meeting as a positive, and he ended up getting hired.)

Inevitably, somebody will ask you if you want a break to compose yourself--maybe your meeting with them will end early, and they'll offer their office space or the conference room to you to "prep your talk". Say yes! Like others noted above: everyone knows this is a ridiculous process, and will not judge you for taking some time to yourself.

Also, The Professor Is In has a ton of advice; take anything that seems off for your field with a grain of salt. Also seeking out the faculty who have most recently been on the market in your department is a good idea.
posted by damayanti at 4:40 AM on September 19, 2017

You may already be fully on this, but have a strategy in mind for dealing with illegal questions ("Do you plan to have kids?") and the questions that hint around at those things ("So, if you happen to have any questions about schools, I'd be happy to answer them.") and how to answer in ways that protect you while signaling your interest in the place.

To the point of the long interview days, it's a weird format and often some of the key meetings are late in the process, so as much as anything it is a test of stamina to see if you are still alert and engaged when you finally meet with the dean on the second day. I'd suggest packing snacks, because even though meals are scheduled, you may be so busy answering questions that you don't actually get much of a chance to eat.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:06 AM on September 19, 2017

My interviews like this were grueling. I suggest bringing a change of clothes for the plane ride home (true story, on one interview I literally pulled off my suit on the way to the airport in the Air Train and changed, I was so Over It).

I didn't do anything the first night but take a hot bath in the hotel. Do not plan to interview prep while you are there.

I read (ok, skimmed) the most recent paper of every faculty member I was meeting so I knew what they were working on (three years ago, thanks academic publishing).

Don't eat messy food. Don't be the person who brings a food scale and orders lettuce and then weighs it and puts her own vegetables from her purse onto it after weighing them (yes, I have seen this from a candidate; why didn't she weigh them before she put them in her purse, no one knows, but we all talked about it).

Drink cold water to keep you awake, not coffee. Remember that all academics like to talk about themselves. Let them. This is an opportunity to show how well you will fit in there (which in itself is a horrible quagmire that we don't have to get into), not as much of an opportunity to show them how brilliant you are. They already know you are brilliant.

Someone may want to drive you around town to look at neighborhoods to live on Saturday. Take them up on it.

Oh, practice your job talk and make sure you spend some time talking about what is NEXT in your research trajectory, and make sure you frame it so that the institution where you're talking is obviously the best place for the next phase of the work. Don't be pushy about it and show don't tell. The biggest problem we have with candidates is the people who come in and (1) don't have plans for the future and (2) who want any faculty job, not our faculty job specifically.

Good luck!!!
posted by sockermom at 5:34 AM on September 19, 2017

A couple of folks have mentioned neighborhoods and such, and since you've lived and worked in this place before, this should be easy, but be prepared to happily and enthusiastically answer "What interests you about X location?", because we can ask that. I work in an academic department at a good school in a liberal city in a state that does not have a good political rep right now, and we try to ascertain (without asking anything illegal), that yes, people are going to be happy here (even if they're just applying to every faculty job they can), because you're not a good fit if you're going to be miserable (one of my newest colleague's spouses's announced, loudly, at a departmental function that they did not want to raise their children in the south. Colleague got tenure but yes, we all still talk about it.)

If they include non-tenure track folks on the schedule, make sure to be as attentive with those folks are you with everyone else (which I know you would, since you asked the question, but for future readers...) A department that actually includes NTT folks in their hiring process cares about those folks' reads on the candidates (and hey, if the department doesn't even tell their NTT folks that they're interviewing people, then that tells you a lot about the health of the departmental culture, but that's another story for another day.)
posted by joycehealy at 6:34 AM on September 19, 2017

As part of your interview prep, you should also be thinking about the areas in which you are a little weak (or in which they might perceive you as weak) and have some answers ready for questions that lean towards those areas. If you are a younger candidate, talk about your experience. If you are an older candidate, talk about your energy and your focus on the cutting edge. If you are from a different type of institution (state vs private, small vs large, etc) talk about how your personal style and philosophy actually align better with their type of organization than your previous organization.

They already like you because they are having you interview, now they are looking for bullet points to take back to the committee to address any concerns they might have.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:36 AM on September 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Congrats on your interview! I've done more of these two-day marathons than I can remember, and once it was even four days (don't ask, and no, I didn't take the job there).

Make sure to have a plan for your research over the next few years. What would you need to execute that plan in terms of assistance (staff, students) and resources (startup or grant funding). How would you get grant funding, if that's something done in your field? You need to know specific grant programs not just agencies.

Know what you would be interested in teaching.

Finish your talk on time, even if you start late for reasons out of your control. Make sure there is some time in your schedule to set up for your talk. If you're using slides, have a backup means of presenting slides.

If you really want to nail the interview, the most impressive candidates know a bit about the research of the people they're meeting with and can describe how it connects with their own research. Doing this research can be extremely time-consuming and is rarely expected but when it happens the results can be very good for the candidate.
posted by grouse at 11:15 AM on September 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

At the end of a long day, you may want to have a drink at one of those dinners.
Don't do that.
posted by SLC Mom at 12:20 PM on September 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Having one drink at dinner is not necessarily a bad idea, and can be a good idea.
posted by grouse at 12:41 PM on September 19, 2017

Congratulations on the interview!

I work at a large university and we often see interview schedules like this. I've witnessed a few interpersonal things that can trip up interviewees. Here are a few basic tips. Read the bios of those you are meeting. Know how to pronounce the names of those with who you are interviewing. Be aware/appreciative of the support team who gets you from point A to point B, they are often asked about the demeanor of those they interact with. If you go out to eat, you're being evaluated on how you treat those around you, from dining companions, to wait staff and bussers.

You've got this!
posted by jennstra at 1:21 PM on September 19, 2017

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