My previous post on this subject addressed the process for submitting applications for jobs. This post will address one of the most important aspects of what to do once you have landed an interview. Many of these suggestions might appear obvious or common sense, but they bear repeating. Over the past four years, I have participated on a number of hiring committees at my institution for positions in a variety of disciplines. Although most candidates comported themselves quite well, there were several who committed grave blunders that eliminated their chances of being hired. Above all, the lesson to be learned before going into an interview is BE PREPARED.
A surprising number of candidates have come to our campus uninformed about our institution. As a small liberal arts college, Carthage College emphasizes teaching. Our institution values and rewards research, but the administration is much more likely to acknowledge good teaching than it is a rigorous research agenda. I have been disappointed with the number of candidates who seem ignorant of this basic detail about our school, despite the fact that our web site and promotional materials make this obvious. A few recent candidates have seemed genuinely surprised and frustrated to learn that we require a 3-3 teaching load.
Although our college web site presents a lot of information about the institution, do not remain satisfied with a basic web search. As I said in a previous post, consider making some calls. Staff, students, and alumni can be valuable sources of information about an institution. Think about calling the institution’s library or Dean of Students Office. Simply ask the people there about what the culture is like on the campus, how they regard the administration, what is the relationship between the college and community, and what they think about the quality of the faculty. However, you must be judicious about how you go about this. It is probably not a good idea to call administrators or faculty, unless you know them personally. The reason is because these people might serve on the hiring committee or have influence in the final hiring decision. Moreover, faculty are an especially gossipy lot and you never know what the relationship is between the person to whom you are speaking and someone on the hiring committee.
In addition, you should thoroughly investigate the department that is interviewing you. Be familiar with the publications and general careers of as many people in the department as possible. Acquaint yourself with details about the history, the size, the reputation on campus, the standards, and the goals of the department. It is vital that you make yourself aware of what the department will expect from you. Certainly you want to impress a department that you are a special person, but it is more important for you to convince the department that you can do the job they want done. Remember, they wrote the job description with their own purpose and goals in mind. Generally speaking hiring committees are trying to fill the purpose and goals outlined in the job description; they are not necessarily trying to hire the “best person ever.”
Thus, you should keep in mind the job description. It might be counterproductive to stress your excellent teaching without mention of your research agenda, especially if the institution demands a rigorous publication schedule. Conversely, don’t tout your bibliography, while you ignore your teaching philosophy, at a small teaching college. There are others, yet, that require a mixture of both research and teaching. The point is that you should know exactly what type of department is interviewing you.
Whether interviewing at a research or a teaching institution, the circumstances differ, but the principle remains the same. A colleague of mine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently sat on a hiring committee for a position in the History of Twentieth-century American politics. The job description asked that candidates not only demonstrate expertise in this area, but also that they exhibit the potential to produce high quality scholarship throughout their careers. The committee ended up offering the job to a Ph.D. candidate from Georgetown University over candidates from other Big 10 schools and the Ivy League. Why? The reason, according to my colleague, was that the Georgetown candidate came more prepared than the other candidates. The other candidates had certainly demonstrated impressive publication records, but they did not seem to know where they were going next. The Georgetown candidate came to the interview able to discuss the publications she currently had in progress as well coming with a detailed proposal about her future projects. Furthermore, these appeared to have been well thought out and germane to her current research. It is interesting to add that apparently teaching formed very little portion of the interview discussions.
Recently, a candidate at Carthage for a similarly described position won the job by taking a very different strategy. The winning candidate had academic credentials and a publication record that were much the same as the other candidates. However, what distinguished this candidate from the others was how informed he was. He had closely examined the course catalog and impressed our hiring committee that his teaching would complement those of the current faculty. Some of the other candidates seemed oblivious to the fact that their ideas for course creations duplicated or overlapped with the current faculty’s courses. Curiously, many candidates were surprised that they would be expected to teach introductory courses. The winning candidate came to the interview prepared to discuss not only how he would teach courses not currently offered, but more importantly how he would teach the introductory American History courses. The committee recognized the talents of all the interviewees, but this candidate stood out as highly informed.
Do your homework before you get there and you will impress them when you get there.