My #1 Takeaway from the Campus Interview Process

A few weeks ago, you may have seen that I shared some big news. The news? I landed a tenure-track position as an assistant professor in the Department of Classics at Randolph-Macon College – that is, of course, after preparing and submitting a slew of application materials and surviving a nerve-wracking campus interview.

Black woman with curly dark hair and glasses, wearing a black turtleneck and black cardigan, sitting in front of a wall of magazines. Hands are clasped in front of her.

Due to the timing of everything, I couldn’t benefit from what must have been an incredible series of workshops on the job search offered by the WCC.

Instead, most of what I learned about how to be successful on the job market came from two sources.

First, my incredible mentors. From drafting and revising and practicing job talks to setting up mock interviews to giving me advice on negotiating a contract, I couldn’t have done any of this without my support system.

Second, I spent a lot – and I mean a lot – of time reading posts across the internet relating to the academic job search. My Google search history can probably attest to that. I also spent an indeterminate amount of time combing through posts on Twitter, like this one:

My key takeaway from the whole experience?

Always. Ask. Questions.

It makes you seem interested in the position and the institution (even if you’re not). It’s also a great way to take a break from talking and let someone else take over.

What kinds of questions?

Now, you don’t need to prepare a hundred questions ahead of time – there’s no way you’re going to remember them all, anyway, so save yourself the stress. A good rule of thumb is to prepare at least three.

One question should be specific to the person interviewing you. The other two questions can be more general. Some examples of general questions might include:

  • Where would you like to see the college/university in five years?
  • How do you perceive the college/university in relation to other similar institutions?
  • What are some challenges I might face as a faculty member at this institution?
  • How would you characterize this institution’s culture?

In general, a campus visit can be broken down into: 5% downtime, 15% presentation (i.e., a job talk or teaching demo), and 80% meetings.

I promise I’m not exaggerating.

On my campus visit at R-MC, I met with the president of the college, the provost, the head of human resources, the DEI coordinator, the chair of faculty development, and the archaeological studies council.

I also had a meeting with students that was disguised as a casual lunch.

That’s a lot of meetings.

In every one of those interviews, I came prepared with a question that was specific to their role. Below are a few examples of questions that you could ask depending on context.

Some of the questions that I asked…

Students: What do you wish for as a student in this department? Would you recommend this program to a friend?

Provost/Dean: What are the requirements for tenure? How many courses per term is typical? What is this institution doing to enhance diversity and equity among students and faculty?

Human resources: Is it possible for relocation expenses to be reimbursed?

Department faculty: How often do you collaborate with faculty in other departments? What do students go on to do after they graduate? What do you like best about working at this institution?

You can find more questions to add to your arsenal here and here.

In case you’re wondering, I prepared 30 questions for the various meetings I had during my campus interviews. No, I probably didn’t ask any more than half of those questions.

But it gave me peace of mind to know that they were there if I got stuck.

There is a 99% chance that someone (if not everyone) you’re interviewing with will ask: “Do you have any questions?” This is when those questions you’ve prepared will come in handy.

Sometimes, you’ll find that after all your questions have been answered, there’s still a few minutes left in your meeting and they ask, “Do you have any more questions?” Don’t panic. It’s okay at this point, if you’ve already asked a few questions, to say no.

But wait –

What do you do if the questions you prepared are answered before they formally ask if you have any questions?

Again, don’t panic. You can do one of two things.

#1: Prepare general questions.

Make sure that one of your prepared questions is general enough that it probably won’t be answered during your interview.

Bad: What are the requirements for tenure?

Good: How much research productivity is typical for faculty on the tenure-track? What is considered good for annual productivity?

#2: Improvise!

No matter how prepared you are for your interviews, there’s always the possibility that something new will come up that you’ll have questions about.

When that happens, ask them! You don’t have to save all your questions up for the moment when your interviewer prompts you to ask. Your campus interviews can – and should – be more of a conversation.

The bottom line: questions are your friend during a campus visit.

Of course, asking questions can signal your interest in the position and the institution. It can also show that you care about the people within that institution (i.e., other faculty, students) and care about being a part of the wider community.

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One Reply to “My #1 Takeaway from the Campus Interview Process”

  1. From the other side of the job interview process: I agree! You (job candidate) definitely want to give the impression that you see yourself at the institution and the place where it is.

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