January 4, 2017
A delightful idiosyncrasy of tenure-track positions is the rigorous selection process, which, if you are successful in your applications, includes an invitation for a campus visit. The campus visit is more than an interview; it generally consists of a series of meals, meetings, tours, and presentations with members of the search committee, other faculty, students, and administrators over one to two days. Most campus visits involve a job talk, or colloquia, on your research agenda or a single project, and may also include a teaching demonstration or case study presentation. The campus visit provides an opportunity for the search committee to get to know you better and to solicit feedback from other stakeholders, but it is also a chance for you to determine whether you want the position, so it’s important to make the most of the trip.
Prepare for Your Visit
Take time to learn about the program, unit, and institution. You’ll encounter questions about your fit and goals relative to the unit and program, so be prepared. It’s also good to have a basic familiarity about the faculty. We’ve provided sample questions you may encounter and may ask elsewhere. I’ve been on search committees where candidates have disarmed committee members with their lack of knowledge about the program and faculty. For example, when asked with whom you might collaborate, “I don’t know” isn’t a good answer and the name of a professor at the peer institution one state over is an even worse one. Likewise, if you are asked what you are interested in teaching and you list courses incompatible with the program orientation, you’ve just provided a major red flag to the faculty. In addition, you’ll likely be offered numerous opportunities to ask questions about the positon and program, so if you have absolutely no questions about the program, unit, or department, the committee will likely infer lack of interest in the position. It’s perfectly acceptable—and expected—that you will come with a list of questions, so do so.
Know your itinerary. The search committee will generally make your travel arrangements and itinerary. You can expect the university to pick up the tab. You may have the opportunity to request specific meetings, so knowing the program is helpful there. You should also request breaks if needed if they aren’t offered (e.g., don’t be afraid to let them know you need a couple 20-30 minute breaks if you are nursing, or to ask for 15 minutes or more before your job talk). You’ll likely be involved in meetings and presentations from breakfast through dinner, so be prepared to be on all day. Plan your attire accordingly. Use the itinerary to tailor your questions to the specific groups and individuals with whom you’ll meet.
Wow Them with a Great Job Talk
For most tenure-line positions, the job talk is the highlight of the visit because it provides the opportunity for the broadest audience to get to know you (they’ll likely be surveyed afterwards to provide feedback). The talk usually last 45 minutes to an hour, including time for questions. Query the search committee chair about the type of talk expected—sometimes they’ll want a detailed overview of a single project, but other times they’ll expect a more general overview of your research program with projects highlighted. You can expect the attending faculty to inquire about the specific studies discussed, implications, future directions, and the links to their own work (which is why it helps to do your homework in advance). When posed with challenging questions, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or to say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t know that yet.” Use those tough questions to acknowledge a new angle or unanswered question.
This is the main opportunity for your potential colleagues to get to know you as a scholar; make the most of it. Structure your talk in a way that reflects your scholarship and desired trajectory. Be concise in your preparation of visual materials, avoiding wordy slides, or overly complex graphics. Keep in mind that if you aren’t required to do a teaching demo, your audience may also use your job talk to infer your potential to teach effectively. You should gear your presentation to both generalists and specialists since your audience will likely include faculty who do not have a background in school psychology or your area of concentration.
Be sure to practice your talk, preferably with an audience to ensure timely progress and clarity. You should also be familiar enough with your talk to proceed without slides or other visuals if necessary. Prepare for the near inevitability of technology mishaps by having access to your presentation in multiple places (e.g., flash drive, email, cloud) and being prepared to present without PowerPoint should hardware fail (e.g., have a hard copy of notes and handouts that can be copied last minute).
Make Every Interaction Count
You will likely engage in several meetings and meals with faculty, students, and other university stakeholders. Meals may occur in formal restaurants, campus eateries, or even a faculty member’s homes These meals are intended to provide an opportunity to evaluate applicants’ fit as a colleague— that is, beyond your potential to contribute to the field as a scholar and trainer, are you someone who others will want to have as a colleague. That is, do they want you in the office next door/down the hall for the next one to forty years?
It is likely that meals will include program faculty, departmental faculty, and at times, students. As previously noted, you will also be evaluated during informal interactions (e.g., meals, in the car on the way from and to the airport, walking from one meeting to the next with a student or faculty host, etc.). You should engage everyone who joins you. It is important that you maintain a professional, approachable, and authentic demeanor.
If It’s a Good Fit, Hope for an Offer
Ideally, the result of your visit will be a contract offer. An offer will typically be made by the department chair or dean and will include some or all of the following: title; contract term; salary; responsibilities teaching load; course assignments; probationary period; terms of performance evaluation; allowances for travel, research, professional development, graduate/research assistants; relocation expenses; equipment and office space. If you’ve not yet completed your dissertation, it may also include the terms of a conditional appointment until your degree is completed which may include an alternate title, reduced salary, and a deadline to defend. In many institutions, many of the terms of an offer are negotiable, so you should be strategic, yet honorable, in requesting modifications. If any of these items are not included in the offer letter and are of concern to you, you should inquire through the person who delivered the offer.
Your requests should be based on your short and long-term goals and what you think you need in order to be effective in your position. In some instances, this will largely be informed by the circumstances most conducive to your research productivity. Some of the items you request will be essential (e.g., critical materials or funds to initiate your research program at the institution) and others preferred but not necessary (e.g., summer salary, course releases). This is another area in which doing your homework is important because it can provide information regarding the types and amount of resources you can procure. For instance, salary requests should generally be within a range typical of that position at the institution and peer institutions based on your qualifications and accomplishments. Likewise, start up requests should reflect actual needs. Typically, stronger qualifications and accomplishments give you more bargaining power.
If you have applied for multiple positions, you might find yourself choosing between multiple offers. Both the data gathered during the campus visit and contract terms will inform your decision. You should also consider promotion and tenure criteria, workload, institutional resources, professional development opportunities, research support, teaching supporting, mentoring opportunities, collegiality, faculty governance, community characteristics and resources, location, and anything else that may be germane to your professional development, lifestyle, and general satisfaction.
When faced with two or more attractive positions in which you could envision yourself, your decision may be decided by the terms of the contract. In these cases, you may ask a school to change their offer to match or trump what you have been offered elsewhere. If you have no intention of accepting a position, you should let them know promptly so that the search committee can move forward with other options. Because many programs are hiring simultaneously and may share candidates, you cost a program their other candidates if you keep them on the line even when you know you won’t accept. In general, you should be discreet and forthright with all parties since your behavior in this process will contribute to your professional reputation. Whether you accept a given position or not, the faculty on the search committee are now part of your professional community.
If At First You Don’t Succeed, Regroup, Reflect, and Reapply
There may be times when your job search is unproductive or you are not offered the position for which you hoped. If you are not invited for any phone interviews or campus visits, you may ask a mentor or other trusted colleague to review your materials to identify potential improvements. Poorly presented application materials can lead to negative evaluations of your appropriateness for a position. Even when your credentials and experience are strong, failure to follow directions or conform to expectations in your field can undermine the success of your application. Conversely, you may not be a competitive candidate for the positions you seek, so additional research, teaching, or field experience may be needed.
If you participated in screenings or campus interviews and didn’t garner an offer, it could be that there was nothing wrong with your qualifications or fit per se, but that there was simply a stronger candidate. It will often be difficult to determine why you were not offered a position since multiple factors inform the decision. If you have a trusted colleague at the institution(s) you visited, you may seek feedback regarding your performance during the research talk and other activities. After each visit, you should also have reflected on what worked and didn’t; what questions or interactions you struggled with; and what information you needed but didn’t get so that you can do better the next time. You can use this information to fine-tune your efforts when a new position becomes available.
Do you still have questions about what to expect or how to navigate the process? Post your questions here and we’ll respond ASAP.
This post is a short form of: Sullivan, A. L., Proctor, S., & Clemens, N. (2012). So you want to be a professor? Perspectives on the academic job search process – Part II – Interviewing and beyond.The School Psychologist, 67(1), 74-83.