Campus Visit Confessions from the Search Committee
I recently wrote about my experiences during campus visits here. I have also had the experience of helping with many faculty searches from grad school through my employed years. Here are some anecdotes from these trials that you might want to remember (and avoid) while you are interviewing. Most of them may not be what you think.
A candidate did not dress appropriately for the weather. Yes, they looked spiffy and professional otherwise, but they traveled to a snowy city from a southern state without an appropriate winter coat. You might be grad school poor, and the interviewers know this, but you cannot let this show. As much as they might be able to remember what it was like to be broke, there is an unspoken view of what an academic should look like. This person is prepared and can afford to dress for the weather appropriately, even if it means forking out money for a nice coat you will only wear for three days. The search committee is unsympathetic to your financial problems.
A candidate can’t hang. OK. I struggle with this a bit because it is so pronounced in the academy, wherein other career paths you need to learn to work with people who are vastly different from you to be successful. So, when you are in the “hanging” situations, read the room. I feel that this can work against people who are a bit more reserved. For example, some disciplines take pride in their drinking abilities, which is an odd thing to brag about when you think of it. Sometimes it might go beyond drinking. If you are early pregnant or a teetotaler, you might want to google “fake drinking” before your campus visit.
A candidate was a sloppy eater. When they take you out to meals on your campus visit, people will be watching you eat. Don’t order something that is sloppy. Stick to bite-sized food that you can eat with utensils. Not everyone cares about this, but some do, and it can be an odd turn-off.
A candidate’s hair was “crazy.” What they really meant was too curly and not controlled. If it is long, tie it back or wear it up in a professional, adult style. Some interviewers might like your hair as it is, but others will find longer hair distracting (to put it nicely). These interviews are hellishly long, so make sure that you bring what you need during the day to keep your hair in place.
A candidate’s shoes and socks sparked a long conversation. When I was in grad school and working on a hiring committee, I ended up listening to a bizarre, long discussion about the shoes that a male candidate was wearing. Luckily for him, they liked his shoes (they were nothing special, just brown wingtip shoes, but they were well polished). I don’t know that this made any difference in the ultimate hiring of the person – he now has tenure at that school – but fifteen years later, I still remember the shoes and the conversation.
A candidate was too expensive. If they reimburse you for any of your travel or food, don’t go overboard and take advantage of the situation. They will think that you will do the same with everything that is reimbursed over the next forty years. Be reasonable. If a lab is part of your startup package, don’t get overly excited about creating the perfect lab. If they perceive you as too expensive, either because of your expectations or experience, it might work against you. Sometimes the department will use the interviewees as a tool for getting money from the Dean, and they will tell you/suggest what to ask for. Be prepared for this.
Don’t sweat your job talk. By the time you have made it to this point, the campus visit is more about soft skills, like those listed above, than you think. Yes, be prepared, proofread slides, have a digital and analog backup, and all of that. That said, I don’t remember any technology snafus, and any typos or errors in PowerPoint slides are long forgotten/forgiven (at least by me). We also expect you to be somewhat nervous.
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