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Friday, December 02, 2005

Advice on "Fly-Back" Interviews For Academics

This is the time of the year when finance faculties are inviting job candidates out for campus visits. Apparently, the law school hiring cycle is similar to the finance calendar. Brian Leiter has some good advice for candidates on his blog. Since most of it is applicable regardless of your discipline, I'll summarize it below and also add a few lessons I've learned over the years:
  • Don't show any hint of an attitude. Even so-called "lower-tier" schools often have people from very good schools on their faculty. And even if the faculty isn't from a top school, many are doing good work. So, lose any and all hints of an attitude -- after all, who wants a colleague that's full of themselves?
  • Work very hard on putting your presentation together. It shouldn't consist of you reading your paper to the audience (they can read for themselves). Expect interruptions during your presentation - how you handle them is important, since it gives the faculty an inkling as to how you'll be in the classroom. When you're asked a question, if you're not sure what the questioner is asking ask for more information. Remember -- in many cases, it's not so important WHAT you answer, but HOW you answer. Again, lose the attitude.
  • Assume that even lower-tier schools are interested in your scholarship. Have an answer prepared for the "what's next in your research program?" question.
  • Don't blow off the student interview - it won't get you the job if you ace it, but blowing it (again, watch the attitude) can cost you the job.
Click here for the whole thing.

In addition to Brian's points, I'll add a few practical hints I've picked up over the years:
  1. Try to get a good night's sleep two nights before the visit. You probably won't sleep much the night before, and this will keep you from getting too sleep deprived.
  2. Make sure you have a schedule for the visit as soon as possible. Carefully research the backgrounds of the people you'll be meeting with. It's o.k. to ask the department chair (or the chair of the recruitment committee) for copies of the vitas of the faculties. Remember - you're also deciding if you want THEM as colleagues.
  3. Be prepared to ask questions of the faculty you're meeting with about their research (see #1). Open-ended ones are best - some I've used are "how did you come up with that idea?" and "what are you working on now?". Getting the faculty to talk about their research is very flattering, and makes you look like a good conversationalist. After all, most people's favorite topic is themselves.
  4. Be nice to the department secretary - she often wields a lot more influence than you can imagine. I know of one candidate who got his current job in part because of the glowing recommendation of the secretary (the other candidate was a jerk, and he was very nice and appreciative).
  5. If possible, schedule breaks during the day. It's hard to look impressive when your legs are crossed because you have to go to the bathroom!
  6. When you have a spare minute, take notes on what you discussed with the various faculty. Over the course of the day, you'll forget things if you don't, and these notes will come in handy when you write your thank you notes.
  7. While you're there, make sure to ask what the department's time frame is (i.e. where are you in the order of visits, where do things go from here, etc...).
  8. If you're asked for salary requirements, don't give a direct answer. I've usually use humor and say, "I currently make $___ as a grad assistant, so my opportunity costs are pretty low. I'm sure you'll make a fair offer"
  9. If you go out for a meal, opt for things that don't take too much attention and are least likely to spill.
  10. Don't relax until you're on the plane on the way back. I once lost a job (I think) because of casual comments I made with the department chair at the airport waiting for my flight.
  11. While on the plane on the way back home, review your notes and take a few more (see #5).
  12. Get your thank you notes out as soon as you get back home. Use the info you wrote notes on, and try to personalize them if possible.
  13. Take your suit to the cleaners and shine your shoes as soon as possible. If you might be getting multiple fly-outs, this saves time, and gives you one less thing to worry about.
In summary, the faculty at the school is trying to see if you're the kind of person they'd like to have around for the next 15-20 years. So, being a good colleague counts for a lot.

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