Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 11)


Now that we have covered the preparation and practice of your interviewing ‘seminar’ and the chalk talk- we can spend a few minutes on the interview itself. Usually the inviting department will prepare a schedule for your visit- hopefully you will get a copy of this schedule a few days before you are to travel. Make sure you get a copy in advance… if necessary, ask nicely.

These things are usually two day affairs- with a seminar given the first day and possibly a chalk talk the second day- but again, these things vary from place to place (are you detecting a theme here?). During the day when you are not giving your presentation you will have a packed schedule of meeting with many members of the department, the search committee members and possibly one or two faculty that you have requested to meet, and there will probably be a couple of dinners with faculty as well. Some places schedule you for one-on-one meetings with faculty, while other places schedule meeting with faculty in large groups…it just depends on the place.

You will have to have the endurance of a marathoner… because these visits are long and grueling, so be prepared. Before you go, do some homework on each faculty member on your schedule– read (or skim) a couple of papers, read a couple of abstracts, look up funded projects on CRISP and read their abstracts. Come up with a couple of questions about each person’s work. If your area of work overlaps with anyone in the department- be prepared to talk about this with the person during your visit.

Do a little homework on the local area, the institution etc. There will be times when you need to make small talk- and if you are not completely comfortable doing this it is useful to give yourself a little knowledge about a couple of topics that you can use to break the ice or keep conversation going. This is especially true during dinners…where the conversation will veer away from science from time to time.

Should you talk about spouse and family during your interviewing stay? I am SURE that there will be discussion in the comments to this post about this. The faculty are not allowed to ask you first about your private life (whether you are married, whether you have children are pregnant etc.) but if YOU bring it up- then these topics can be discussed. This past summer I was at a meeting that had a session on women in science featuring several prominent senior women faculty as panelists- and they all said that you should NOT talk about your family during an interview. I guess I don’t feel so strongly about this as they did- there are lots of small-talk moments where the topic of family might come up and that’s ok- BUT DON’T OVERDO IT. A natural question in the minds of the faculty trying to recruit you will be what possibilities are available within the institution or immediate area for your spouse.

There is one (that I can think of at this minute) important circumstance where you SHOULD talk about your spouse, but you are going to have to do this under a particular set of circumstances. If you are part of a two-academic-science career couple, and you feel the interview is going very well- you should find the opportunity to mention your spouse, his/her position, and his/her field. This should be done with discreetly- perhaps during the final debriefing with the department chair, or in a meeting with a faculty member that you have pegged as in your corner. The reason to mention this now is that it takes TIME to find academic positions appropriate to hire the spouse… chairs have to talk to other chairs, positions and money have to be extracted from deans… and these things are not as straight forward as you think.  ***Something very important I neglected to mention when I posted this initially- take a printed copy of your also-seeking-academic-position-spouse’s CV with you on your interview… this comes in handy during your talk with the chairperson… if they ask you for this you are prepared…)***

Helpful hints for the visit itself- once you have prepared yourself well, the rest is pretty basic, your mum could probably come up with these. In fact I kind of feel like your mother saying them but nevertheless:

1. Good manners (please, thanks and respect for EVERYONE), remember you are a guest!

2. Be on your best behavior at ALL TIMES.

3. Absolutely no trash talking anyone…this is VERBOTEN. Do not let anyone get you involved in negative talk about anyone else. It’s just bad manners, and you would be shocked how things you say travel…

4. Two rules, no talking politics no talking religion. Just stay away from these topics for 48 hours.

5. Proper professional clothing- the HHMI book (Making the Right Moves) defines this as neither too casual nor too dressy- so as not to make your host feel uncomfortable. I myself prefer to err on the side of too formal… but that’s just me.

6. Get a good night of sleep- use sleep inducing drugs if you must- you want to be at the top of your game during the interview and making sure you sleep is really important- even if chemistry is required!

7. Eat eggs for breakfast. I know you think I’m joking but I’m not. A little protein will take you a long way. You may be giving your seminar at noon … and you don’t want to give your seminar with your stomach growling…

8. Caffeine after lunch. If you don’t have a coffee after lunch- have a caffeinated soda in your bag… this way when you reach 3 pm and feel like yawning… you have the antidote.

Ok, I think I have said quite enough- now get yourself a good haircut and a professional outfit and go knock em’ dead!

You will be exhausted when it’s done. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.


11 thoughts on “Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 11)

  1. I found that not talking about family was frankly impossible – too many conversations include mention of one of the hosting faculty’s family members, or inquiries about why I would want to move, or… it would have taken every ounce of concentration to censor myself, and I’d have come across very poorly.

    I also think that it is either neutral or positive: almost everyone you will talk to has some form of family, they will often be interested in how you have managed competing demands in the past (that’s the neutral) and in many cases you will be talking with folks who have e.g. similar age children, compatible parenting experiences (if applicable), or whatever – that’s all hugely positive. I know that one of the reasons I *got* offers was because I made it very clear to the committee that there was either no issue with my family moving, and indeed it was (in some cases) a positive (“because there are place A and place B here that would be perfect places to move to for J..” or in the case I accepted “J’s company has a second site here, so that would work out perfectly for us..”). You want the committee to believe that if offered, you would say yes; that really matters.

    Agreed on formal attire. I don’t think that it’s possible to overdress: you may stand out, but it’s *expected* that you’ll do so and seems to convey a level of seriousness about the process. Even though I *hate* wearing ties :).

  2. Ewan-

    I’m with you – I talked about my family a some during my interviews- mostly during social times- and I don’t think it would have been possible for me to keep completely quiet about this part of my life.

    And, I can sympathize about the tie because pantyhose aren’t my favorite ….uuugh.

  3. I think that it is always better to be more formal when interviewing. When you get the job, they can see your awesome t-shirt collection.

    As far as people asking about family. Even though it is a ‘no-no’ I can say that on any interview at least one (but more often multiple) people ask about family. So always be prepared for that.

    I absolutely cannot eat eggs for breakfast…they tend to make me ill.
    but, interview days can run very long, I usually pack a cliff bar and a soda in my bag…also some gum (after drinking coffee!).

    DrDrA, I think you should take all of these columns and put together a book on successfully finding an academic position, I really find them very helpful!

  4. Pinus-

    As usual thanks for your input! In my case they are seeing my awesome collection of jeans. How I LOVE academia.

    As for writing a book- multiple people have suggested that… and maybe I will at some point. For now though, I enjoy writing in short stints in any format that I want, and getting immediate feedback on each bit.

  5. My advice: get plenty of sleep, dress comfortably (no new shoes! no heels!) but nice, and be prepared for the question (over and over) “Is there anything I can tell you about [Univ X, program Y, dept Z, geographic area Q]?” It’s extremely awkward to say, no, no questions; it’s ok to ask the same question of different people, like, what do you like best about X, Y,Z or Q, or advice like what did you find most surprising when you started your first faculty position? something with a personal perspective to it.

    I was so anxious about the two-body issue on every interview, trying to avoid the topic, that the rest of the interview was a cakewalk in comparison. And nearly EVERY place someone asked me, pretty much point blank. It’s not a problem when you can move your family, and it would be to your advantage to say so; it’s a HUGE issue when you get into needing two academic positions. Everyone advised me to keep my mouth shut about spousal accomodation until I got an offer. Not sure it’s the best strategy, depending on whether you are also fishing for an offer from your current home institution (in which case any offer is better than none, even if they can’t accomodate).
    sigh, could go on all day about this issue, but it gets so tiresome.

  6. Neurowoman-

    I think it is a REALLY bad idea to wait until after you have an offer to mention your spouse-needing-an-academic position. Oh the hoops I have seen that have to be jumped through to set up a second position, and this takes time. Now, with that said- I wouldn’t just go blabbing it about- I would mention it under the very specific circumstances that I detailed above.

    If you wait to mention it until the second visit, or until you have an offer- it can look like you weren’t serious about accepting a job in the institution in the first place and were just trying to get an offer so you could leverage other offers elsewhere… and that’s not a great impression to leave….

  7. good questions neurowoman…I always like to ask open-ended questions that make the ‘interviewer’ speak. (gives me a little break!)

    re: two-body problem – I would think that mention of such things should come up the 2nd interview, because ideally they spouse will be there and could start potentially meeting with folks.

    any tips on 2nd interview attire? as formal as the 1st interview? just curious….for a friend 🙂

  8. Pinus-

    I think you can drop the tie for visit #2 (Khakis, and a button down shirt perhaps…), but no T-shirt collection yet…

  9. I am worried to bring up a spouse to early. I know from the website of the dept where I am interviewing that there are a lot of other candidates being examined, and I can tell that my CV is weaker than theirs from simple pubmed searches. I almost wonder if I am a token woman being interviewed. Throwing out the spouse seems like a sure fire way to drop my chances from the top of the list! How bad is it to wait until they call for interview #2? Does it really look un-serious? I suppose this situation arises all the time for women since we are far more likely to have S.O.’s who also need academic appts …

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