By Lindsay Fallon, University of Massachusetts Boston & Bryn Harris, University of Colorado Denver
Being on the academic job market is a unique experience. It is an opportunity to share your strengths and what you might offer in your application materials. If an interview is offered, it is an opportunity to learn more about how the position will fit with your strengths and interests. Interviews are also a time when you might gather information to decide if the job is located in a place you can see yourself living. Prior to COVID-19, it was common for a phone interview to be followed by an on-campus interview. In the past year and a half, it has become increasingly common to have virtual interviews in place of campus visits. Although our past advice and resources for making the most of job talks and data gathering about potential colleagues and institutional characteristics still applies, a lot of the advice about the social dimensions of the process is complicated by reliance on Zoom and other platforms for talks, interviews, and meetings, as well as loss of much of the incidental and formal social interactions (e.g., meals with the search committee and potential colleagues). For example, the lack of spontaneous conversations with faculty, students, administrators, and others makes advanced preparation of your questions for prospective colleagues and students especially important. But what else can candidates do to prepare?
As virtual interviews are a relatively new practice, we asked three early career faculty to share their perspectives about the experience of interviewing from a distance. (To give these faculty the opportunity to speak freely about the process, we are not sharing their identities.) These early career scholars represent an array of professionals applying to diverse academic positions at various stages of their career (e.g. graduate students, assistant professors). Following their responses to our five questions, we offer additional resources to help those on the virtual job market succeed when interviews are virtual.
Please briefly describe what it was like to engage in a virtual job interview for a faculty position.
- ECF 1: The event was completely virtual. I was sent a schedule of events, similar to an in-person interview. I did all my meetings/interviews on a single day. I was also sent a small care package that had information about the city, university, college, and department, along with a small gift (coffee mug). There were separate Zoom links for each event, so the day flowed smoothly.
- ECF 2: I felt way more comfortable when I delivered my job talks because I was able to see my notes on the side and was able to be in my own room. Also because I only applied to positions overseas, it makes it so much easier for me, so that I don’t have to travel abroad for interviews. But it was also difficult for me to read other people’s reactions for me most of the time. When I gave my job talk, I had to do screen sharing and could only see my PowerPoint (rather than the audience) most of the time, which felt a little unnatural and makes me constantly wonder if the internet is still working. However, I also felt more prepared when doing a virtual job interview.
- ECF 3: I had several virtual interviews and they all were slightly different. All institutions gave me a few days to choose from so I could schedule around them. Most were over 2 days and consisted of meetings with the hiring committee, students, various stakeholders at the university, job talk, and a teaching demonstration. One institution spaced out the two days over a week apart while the rest were back to back or at the very least in the same week. Interviews were conducted using various platforms as well so I had to download and test each to make sure that I was set up and things worked properly.
What surprised you about engaging in a virtual interview?
- ECF 1: Nothing really surprised me during the interview. It felt very similar to in-person interviews, except I was at my apartment.
- ECF 2: I actually felt more comfortable with the virtual interviews. I was worried about others not being able to get to know me through virtual interviews compared to the in-person interviews when we got to be there all day. I was able to take multiple real breaks in between each interview activity by signing off from the computer. However, if it was a full-day in-person interview, I think I won’t be able to take real breaks, which could interfere with my performance in the afternoon interviews. When difficult questions were asked during the job interviews, I think I get more mental space to calm myself down and think about the answers, as I felt the audience would not be able to scrutinize my body language or my facial expressions, which made me feel calm to think through the questions.
- ECF 3: There was not much downtime during virtual interviews. Meetings were back to back and I did not have time to step away for a snack or to use the bathroom. Having the interview days spread out over a few weeks was also a surprise as generally they happen back to back. In all of my interviews, I had quite a significant turn out of other faculty and students. During in person interviews it was generally just program faculty and the students who I was directly teaching. I was unprepared for the larger turn out.
Do you feel as though you gained the information you needed to make an informed decision by engaging in a virtual interview?
- ECF 1: Yes and no. I think I gained enough information about the college and program, but I would have liked more opportunities to engage with faculty outside of the interview. I also interviewed in 2019 in-person, and a big influence on my decision-making were the interactions that occurred during meals. It was hard to understand the non-academic life at the university. I had already lived in the [region] for 5 years, which made me more comfortable accepting a position without visiting.
- ECF 2: I felt I was not able to get as much information as I would like to. For example, I want to know the collegial dynamics of the department, but it is difficult to tell when everyone is online and is in separate “boxes.” However, I feel that I had more opportunities to talk to each faculty one-on-one to gain more information about their experiences.
- ECF 3: I did not feel virtual interviews were enough for me personally. Any institutions that were contenders for me or I had an offer from, I made it clear that I needed to visit the area prior to making any decisions. It is difficult to move to a new area with no idea what it might be like and if you could make a life there. As much as we get to know people virtually it is also not the same as meeting them in person. If you are able to, I believe it is worth a visit even if it comes out of your pocket. I had help with some expenses and others were funded fully myself, but helped me make final decisions.
What advice would you give to others engaging in a virtual interview?
- ECF 1: Ask questions that will help you learn about what it is like to live in the place. All the people that are part of the interview already decided to live there. What are things about the university/city in which a new person may find difficulty to adjust?
- ECF 2: First, congrats on getting the interviews! Even though virtual interviews might not be ideal as in-person interviews as they might sound, it actually has several advantages for us as interviewees, such as being able to take multiple breaks in between and feeling more comfortable at home/in a private office. Ahead of the interviews, I would suggest having a few backup plans (e.g., providing phone number to call in, if the internet is down, etc.) and share and discuss with the administrative.
- ECF 3: I made the mistake of scheduling pieces of interviews while I was at work and I would not recommend this. It is difficult to adjust from one to the other and running to an IEP meeting or evaluation between interviews was stressful. Block those days out as if you are traveling there in person so you don’t have any added stressors. Also, make time to get time with the students away from any faculty. The students are very insightful and will be very honest about their programs and faculty.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
- ECF 3: Virtual interviews can be challenging and exhausting. Make sure to take all the time you need to ask the questions you want answered. Reach out after the interviews if need be to gather more information. Institutions also would prefer in person and I found they were very accommodating to make extra time for me when needed.
The Professor Is In provides additional recommendations for candidates while (the other) APA and Case Western Reserve University provide guidance to search committees on making these informative, productive experiences for all involved.
Happy interviewing! Have you participated in a virtual interview? What went well? What could have been improved? What additional questions do you have about virtual interviews?