Monday, January 20, 2014

My First Interview: Lessons from the Job Search

Over the winter break, I had my first job interview for a tenure-track position as an Assistant Professor of Composition and Rhetoric. The search committee reached out to me and asked me to do an online interview via Blackboard Collaborate (which wound up not working, and we went with Skype). This worked well for me, seeing as I was out of the country. It was quite an experience. I don't know the results of the interview yet, but I still learned some things that I thought were worth sharing with those who are about to set out on the job search.

Lessons Learned

Lesson # 1: Murphy's Law Still Applies: Things will go wrong. It happens, and you will survive. For example, I landed in Brazil, only to realize I left my professional clothing home. Then, on interview day, I couldn't find an internet connection strong enough to host video-chatting. It took me 5 different wifi locations before I succeeded. The one I finally got was in a bedroom with nowhere to sit, so I had to kneel on the floor for a half hour and finagle my tablet on the bed so that I could get my face on screen, even then I managed just my neck and above. It was an awkward angle. When I tried to access the interview session, the software wouldn't work, and through some misunderstanding, I thought I missed the interview. With all those little things going wrong, it was very tempting to just quit and say I couldn't get on. You have to be willing to be flexible. Plans will fall apart in real life, especially in the classroom. You need to show you can handle it. This takes me to lesson # 2. 

Lesson # 2: In the words of Nike-- Just do it!: Because of the last minute invitation, I was far from being as prepared as I wanted to be, and the little things Murphy threw my way were really amplifying my nerves. At some point, the Skype request came up, and I had to take a breath and go. And once I did, I was fine. All the little things I battled along the way were trivial, and in some ways, the fact that I managed to get myself online while in a foreign country on time despite being given last minute notification demonstrated my desire to take on the position and my ability to problem solve.

Lesson # 3: Be prepared as possible: I don't mean that you need to spend hours locked in a room, but do know the basics. Know who you are as a scholar and an educator. Know who you want to be as a professional. Think about service, not just teaching and researching, as well. I found that it helped me to write out the questions I thought I'd be asked and try freewriting the answers (especially since I did most of my prep on a plane and tape-recording myself talking would have creeped out the strangers sitting next to me).

As an Assistant Professor of Composition hopeful, these are the types of questions I was asked:
  1. What is your philosophy of teaching writing?
  2. What scholars have influenced your pedagogy?
  3. What textbooks would you recommend using or not using?
  4. How would you facilitate faculty development?
  5. What upper level course would you love teach?
  6. Tell us about your research.
Lesson # 4: Know what you don't know: It's an interview, not an exam. While you're expected to know your scholarship and the theoretical underpinnings of your teaching methods, as well as have some idea about the mission of the institution, no one thinks you know everything. Have some questions to ask the search committee. It's expected that you'll be curious about how things work if you're interested in being a part of the department. 

Lesson # 5: Be grateful: Whether you get the job or not, a group of people took the time to review your application, contact you, prepare interview questions, and then sit with you for a period of time to hear what you have to say. They gave you an opportunity to share your views and practice professionalism. Sending a short thank you letter after an interview shows that you are thoughtful and that you still have the job on your mind. It also gives you the opportunity to very briefly mention anything you would have liked to elaborate (very, very, very briefly).

With all that said, I can't say I nailed or bombed my first interview. As a whole, I think I came across as confident and knowledge, for the most part, and I did manage to keep a genuine smile on my face through the interview; I was happy to be there. Truthfully, I tackled my nerves much more successfully than I would have thought possible.

I do wish I slowed down and thought more about what I was going to say before I said it. I also wish I more fully developed some of my responses. Sometimes, I was too eager to fill space or show I had a ready answer. And while I probably could have asked more questions, I was happy with the ones I did ask and the responses I received. Really, whatever the outcome, I am proud of myself for getting so much together in a such a brief period and presenting my beliefs to a committee of respected professionals.

Now, I get to play the waiting game.