The Academic Interview: Visit, Talks, and Politics 

  The last time I had a job interview for a tenure-track job, I was successful and got the job. I had spent 2/3 of my academic career as contingent faculty and felt like I caught the golden snitch. Now, that I am several years past the job interview I am thinking more about the process. I have some points to share based on my experience as the job candidate and sitting on numerous hiring committees between two universities. 

You can never be over-prepared. Do your research about the university and the department. You need to speak to the classes you can teach and how you can add to the teaching, learning, research, and overall community in the department. Practice your job talk and teaching talks with friends, who can offer you advice about your presentation and “working” the room. Choose what you’re going to wear for the trip with special care. Be prepared for a jam packed day or days at the campus. You will be scheduled from dusk to dawn to meet everyone on campus. 

You likely will meet with students in the department. Make sure that you give them the attention that they deserve. They might not have a vote on your position, but these are the students who you might work with come the next term. Have questions for the students. Some of the student are really invested in who you are and are likely interested in who will join the department. 

When you are done with the process, send the department chair a thank you note for the opportunity. 

Odd things that happened to me during my last interview process:

1. A student came up to me and let me know that he supported my candidacy, but the student course union did not. I smiled and reminded him that the course union does not have a vote. However, I will say this. The student leaders with their closed arms during my talk was something that I remembered for the next school year, and then let go. When some of them later approached me for letters of reference, I was surprised. Their behavior was rude. 

2. Hiring brings out the best and worst in the hiring committee and you have little control over this. There is often different factions in a department and this is not about you, but perhaps your supervisor or old arguments in the department. 

3. If you work at the campus where you’re interviewing, you will see the other candidates getting escorted around campus, at lunch, and elsewhere. Roll with it. 

4. If someone falls asleep during your job talk, do not take it personally. I have seen this happen and was surprised, and felt terrible for the job candidate. If you do something silly, recover. I recall one job applicant coughing out his mint. He recovered well. I don’t remember his name, but I remember how smooth he was with the issue. 

5. Be prepared for things you cannot control, people coming to your presentation late, texting during it, and making sour faces after you answer a question. While this behavior is uncollegial, at times it is really not about you. 

Related to the five brief points: be gracious. If you get an interview, you will feel like you won the lottery. Do not lose the ticket, and prepare for the interview. 

Good Luck! 

This is the first of a few posts related to the interview process. 

Reflections: No Glares

Now that another term has almost ended, I can look over my shoulder at the previous school year and think reflect. Each year I reflect and try to learn from the previous year and then resolve to make some changes in the next year in the classroom, for my professional development or my ongoing efforts to mentor/coach students and peers. What did I do differently last year in the classroom, office hours or other interactions with my students? I resolved for more honesty. I was blunt. I was diplomatic, but more so, I was blunt. I am helpful and professional; however, I refuse to waste my students’ time with circular conversations. I do them no favors if I try to sugar-coat conversations.

What were the repercussions for me, if any? I heard more of these comments:
Thank you for being honest. I’ve never heard this before. Why am I almost done and no one has told me this? I didn’t know that this was plagiarism. Thank you for your time.

I did not have any incidents where someone stormed out of my office or a conversation escalated. If anything, I had meaningful conversations about assignments, interactions, writing, grad school, and other issues. As I have noted on numerous occasions, part of my job means that I have the good fortune to work with young people in the classroom or in my office. I love it. I would not trade this job for another as I get to teach, mentor, coach, and lead.

This last year I also thought more about my time. I strategically chose to focus my time differently. Part of it is that I had to, given a job change, but that is cause for a different post. I was not as available for extended office hours and the world did not fall apart. I expected a few day’s notice for extra appointments. What I am saying is that I established better boundaries for office houring and mentoring students. I had to protect my time thanks to the job change and I was working more. I managed my time effectively and accomplished more. And, at the same time I did not field complaints from my students. If anything, the change was better, as they commanded my full attention at times that were not pressed between meetings and I could listen.

My writing prompt for this post comes from a Swedish Proverb, “Fear less, hope more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less love more; and all good things are yours.” This last school year was filled with so much good and change. I welcome the change with a big smile and an open mind. The 2015-16 school year is half way through and I am in a great place. And, I’ll add that my little Grumpy Cat agrees and has her head on the desk!

Introspective Exercises

I am co-teaching a new course, Digital Skills for Your Career. Last night my slide deck consisted of a letter  in bullet point form to my 20 year old self. I shared with my students some regrets and points of reflection. It was blunt and at times humorous. My point was to help them with their exercises. Co-op and Career had provided them a venn diagram to fill out and for some of the students the exercise was a tough one. They needed to think about their skills, wants, and competencies. The exercise is all about introspection and self-promotion. It is not as easy as it sounds. 

And, their first assignment was due this week. We had asked them to curate a fulsome About.Me page, and in two weeks their LinkedIn URL is due. They worked away in pods chatting with one another about what is holding them back, and how to overcome self-doubt. 

Mentoring university students has taught me numerous things. One consistent issue is the uncertainty and the way it can stifle creativity, bravery, and happiness. My exercise in self-deprecation and honesty was to remind them that they are going to make mistakes and it is OK. We are three weeks into this course and I hope that they are enjoying it as much as I am. 

My photo of one of Co-op’s Slides. Thanks! 

Popular Instructors

I cannot believe that I am starting my 18th teaching year. I always start counting the years in September and this is 18. One of the things that I am mulling is what a popular instructor or popular prof means in academe. Does this reflect your enrollments? Is this term cast as a negative assuming that your course content is easy? I think the context mattters.

1. Hearing it from some colleagues it is clear that it cheapens your pedagogy and the depth of what you teach. 

2. Hearing it from students varies, but it is mostly meant as a compliment. 

3. Some colleagues clearly mean it as a compliment. 

Overall, my sense is that the so-called popular instructors generally enjoy teaching. I think that is the difference.  

 

Participation Ribbons: Show Up

At some point in the last decade or two participation ribbons became common at sports events. I have mixed feelings about this. While I understand the need to make every kid feel good about her or his participation in a cross country meet, there is another part of me that cringes with this practice. My mixed feelings stems from not wanting my kids to think that they have to win to be their best. Perhaps this is why they both like competitive swimming? While they swim against others, ultimately they are trying to lower their swim times and it becomes self-focused. 

I know that when I watch competitve sports events I am the one in our household who always comments that it is an honor for the athletes to compete. And, I think it is. Participation ribbons, though, have another part to them. Things get more complicated when I am in the classroom. Somehow this culture of rewarding people for showing up has bled into school work. There is this equation in some students’ minds: effort = A. And, this equation is a problem. 

Yes, it is important to participate. You need to show up to class. However, that is only one part of it. There are terabytes worth of research about the correlation between student attendance and success. Part of it is that students who attend class are more likely to be prepared and feel accountable, but the other part of it is that this same group is also likely to hear annoucements, do the reading, and possibly attend office hours for clarification about assignments. My issue is that I often have to explain to a student that their gauge for effort will vary, and that some students can whip an assignment together fast and do well and others will not. 

I do not believe in participation ribbons in the classroom. A solid blog post, research design, paper or vlog is going to take some effort, and merely doing the assignment is not enough. A stronger assignment is going to have to make me pause. The pause is one of excitement–this is great work. However, most of the students will do good to fair work and this is in the B to C range. And, nothing is wrong with this. What is the saying, “Bs and Cs earn degrees.” It’s true, but the learning experience is more than grades. A new term is right around the corner for our college students. My advice: show up. I hope that your instructors entice you to learn, think, and try. You do not have to do your best, but note that you’ll benefit based on the effort you put into the class. The benefits, though, are more tangible than a grade, and you might end up taking away more than the the ability to write better and think critically. You might be moved to change your major or take more classes with that instructor.

  

Networking at Work

I am an administrator with teaching responsibilites, and at the same time I am a unionized faculty member. This role gives me the opportunity to lead a service department, and continue to teach and mentor. The department I run held our annual retreat this year and a colleague from Human Resources facilitated the event. Based on the response at the retreat and the ensuing days, I feel comfortable stating that it was a success. We did some team building and got to know one another better and this was fun. The manager and I also had a chance to speak to what is next and what our roles are in the unit. I am glad that I have taken the time to get out of my home department, Political Science, and know people throughout campus. 

Almost monthly I meet with my Human Resources consultant to chat about the unit, my team, and other issues as needed. These meetings provide me leadership coaching and human resources training. I have my advanced degrees, but none of them are in managing people or campus wide projects. The Human Resources team have been crucial to my leadership success. And, thinking back to the last year, establishing good, work relationships with others across campus has also served me well. Of course, it is not about me, but here I am thinking about the importance of face to face meetings and casual coffees to chat with people who I work with or need to work with on projects. I also have monthly meetings with others across campus, who I regularly work with and these meetings are coffees where we update one another about our projects. 

People always use the metaphor of silos for university campuses and it fits. Most tend to stick to their building or their side of campus. A new school year is upon on and I encourage academics and alt-academic types to venture out of their usual haunts on campus. Make a coffee date with a colleague who you have always wanted to collaborate with or who you know also teaches large first year courses. My point is to network with others who you might normally not take the time to get to know. 

This suggestion includes staff. It is my experience that academics tend to spend time with other academics. The campus is filled with people. Get to know others across campus in different roles. Before you know it, you have established more meaningful relationships around your campus. I realize that networking turns some people off, so think about expaning your circle at work. The photo below is one that I took at a conference where academics were the minority, but the goal was to move major projects across campus in a collaborative manner. It was a great exercise to see the numbers of staff involved in raising funds and planning for a new building or thinking about active learning environments for students. 

 

Post for My Students: Looking For Work

I have some points of advice for my current and former students looking for work. I was counting back and realize that I have sat on more than 3 dozen hiring committees in the last 15 years. In that time I have reviewed cover letters, resumes, CVs, and sat in on the interviews. I have also served as a job reference for countless people, and am a MBA Leadership Coach.

1. Proofread your resume or CV

2. Have someone else review your resume or CV. Chances are you are forgetting something about some of your skills or have missed an error with formatting or a typo.

3. Prepare for your interview. Find out information about the employer and the position that you have applied for. You can Google common interview questions and practice formulating your answers.

4. Send an email thank you to the interviewer after the interview. Be concise: thank you for the opportunity, I look forward to hearing from you.

5. If you do not get the job, it is acceptable to contact the interviewer and ask if they can offer feedback. They may respond with some, but do not expect that they will.

6. When you are in the interview, never speak ill of your current employer or any past employers.

7. Do not under any circumstance lie or inflate on your resume.

8. Be prepared for your interview and gracious to the interviewer or interview panel.

9. Be on time to your interview.

10. Dress appropriately for your interview. It is better that you are a bit overdressed, then not dressed up enough.

11. Try to relax and think positively before your interview. You do not want to be that candidate who was extremely nervous and could not answer questions.

12. Review your digital footprint. Update your LinkedIn account and make sure that you have your LinkedIn account information on your resume. 

Do not burn a bridge. If somehow you are not happy with the process, never send an email or make a phone call when frustrated. 

Overall, good luck with your job search! The Spring is busy with students looking for jobs, co-ops, and volunteer opportunities.