Thursday, December 13, 2012

Job Search - Other Thoughts on Interviews

Reading the comment from Susan, and after the practice interview, I was thinking about interviews, and I thought about interviews as a cooperative venture.  If I'm a reasonably sane interviewer, then what I want out of the interview is to get a really good sense of the candidate I'm interviewing, to get a sense of how that person will be as a teacher, colleague, researcher.  It's in my interest to give each candidate my attention and thoughtful responses.

That is, interviews aren't us vs them, or they shouldn't be.  They should be more along the lines of a dance, where you want to have a mutually fun time, to communicate with the people you're dancing with, to get out without smashed toes. 

I think phone interviews are difficult for cooperative dancing, so to speak, because we can't see each other, can't nod appreciatively, can't make eye contact, can't read body position.  And as an interviewer, I tend to feel awkward making verbal comments in response because it's weird to say "uh huh" in a room with an interview committee and I don't want the candidate to feel that I'm cutting him/her off.

I was also thinking about some other stuff.  When I ask a question, I want to hear the answer.  The candidate can redirect it, and if s/he does this skillfully, I'll feel answered.  But if the candidate just doesn't answer, I may ask a follow up (or someone else might), or I may let it go and feel unsatisfied.

So, for example, as a candidate, you should be expecting a question about how you teach some class in your field, or where you scholarly work is going now that you've finished the dissertation or MFA.  But listen to the question and make sure you answer it, and don't just give a canned response. 

Maybe, for example, I'll ask how you approach a lower division class in your field.  But maybe the question will be which texts you choose for a lower division class in your field.  The first question asks for bigger information, more theoretical, perhaps, more philosophical.  The second asks for specific information.  Now, you may give some examples of specific texts you teach in the first response, but if you don't give those examples in the second response, it's not as good.  (Then you might want to redirect to talk more theoretically about why you choose those texts, of course.)

If you're interviewing at a teaching oriented school, mock up some basic class syllabi.  You don't have to do it by date or anything, but if I ask how you would teach a basic basketweaving class, be ready to talk about which forms of basketweaving you start with and why, and how you get students to move into different water types in weaving, whatever.

If we ask you about your dream class, first, be enthusiastic.  It's your dream class, for gosh sakes.  And choose one class and go to town, and then maybe add another class for a someday.  But if I don't get a sense that you have a deep sense of pleasure about your dream class, and if it has no connection with anything else you've done ever before, I'm going to be unconvinced. 

And that leads me to thinking about connections.  It's not like I think everything should always have a deep connection, but I'm smart enough to realize that it's really, really hard to teach 12 credits a semester of deepwater basketweaving and have a research agenda that's totally focused on reed cultivation.  So, say your research agenda includes some multicultural reed cultivation, specifically reed cultivation practices in Asia and Africa; maybe one of your dream courses would be on multicultural reed cultivation practices, which (you'd mention) would also help you develop your research interests, so your teaching and research would support each other somewhat.  Of course, that's got to fit with what the ad says the department's looking for.  So if they're looking for deepwater basketweaving, hopefully they're interviewing you because that's your field and that's where your dream teaching and research work will lead.

Finally, unless you've got 10 interviews, take some time and look up the basic structure of the curriculum for the places that are interviewing you.  Is the Intro a one semester theoretical approach to deepwater basketweaving?  A survey of basketweaving?  A combo of reed cultivation and basketweaving?  Should your approaches for these different structures change?  Probably.

I'm wondering what candidates are experiencing re interviews?  Are most interviews still happening at national conventions?  Are some happening by phone?  by skype?  I'd be really interested to learn about your experiences on the other sides of these interviews, too.

It's the season to wish all job candidates good things on the market and a TT job for the new year.


  1. We're interviewing at the convention, although one interview will be by phone because the candidate isn't attending the convention (and one of my colleagues had the brilliant thought that we could just skype or phone interview during the same convention time period).

  2. I think you're absolutely right about the collaborative nature of interviews. It's a nice way to put it, and when people don't think you're involved in give and take, they will make judgments about the kind of colleague you'll be -- just as we judge teaching by job talks.

    I'd add that my colleagues and I routinely have discussions about weaknesses we see in an interview and agree that interview anxiety may have contributed. If you don't answer one question, we'll give you a pass. If you answer no questions, then it's a problem.