Interviewing Do’s and Don’ts (from Those Who’ve Seen It All)
Interviewing for faculty positions is riddled with potential missteps. Two department chairs and a vice chair for faculty affairs share how to put your best foot forward.
Prepare Your Elevator Pitch
Draft a brief, pithy statement of purpose (“elevator pitch”). Give a compelling snapshot of what you’re about and what you’re aiming for professionally. This exercise forces one to prioritize goals and be specific about them, and focuses the meeting with an interviewer who may not have really understood what you’re about from your multi-page CV.
Keep it brief. Brevity is the mark of polish; if someone has to cut you off, it looks unprofessional.
Practice and re-practice stating your statement of purpose until it feels right. It must be authentic and sincere.
Talk about yourself, but remember that this is an interview. Be prepared to talk about anything that is on your CV. When you talk about yourself, keep it focused and make clear points.
Know Who You’re Talking To
Before the interview, try to understand the typical framework for advancement in the institution and for the position you’re looking at. For example, if research investigators typically advance and are promoted after substantial protected time in their early years on the faculty, it will be difficult for an interviewer to be sympathetic to a career plan that includes lots of clinical work, even if you’re convinced you can excel in both clinical and investigative arenas.
Do your homework. Know something about the people you will meet. Be able to have an informed discussion.
Talk to everybody at the table. Learn at the meal what they do. Prepare for this; read about the people who will be at the meal beforehand using their professional information online.
Have one or two questions ready about the role. You should always have at least one question the first time someone asks, “do you have any questions?” – even if it means asking the same question to all interviewers. (Comparing the different answers can also be informative.)
Always be interested and engaged. There are no timeouts.
Look up the institution’s press releases, mission statements, and similar documents to learn about new initiatives or unique resources/qualities to reference. Ask your interviewers—including students—what they’re excited about and where they see connections to your work. Ask how they see what you do in the context of the institution.
Gently ask how your interviewers see you fitting into the department and institution. (It may be different from how you think you’d fit in.)
Be comfortable with silence in the interview.
Try hard to remember the names of at least one or two of your interviewers. As the day(s) wear on, you’ll get asked, “who else have you met with?” It’s nice to be able to reply quickly, “I really enjoyed chatting with Dr X this morning about Y.”
Stating “that’s interesting” and nothing else in response to someone you meet’s work is the kiss of death. It indicates narrow focus and suggests you might not make a great colleague. Show curiosity.
Thank your interviewers after the visit. Email is the standard method, but physical mail can also be unexpected and nice to receive.
Dress professionally. Typically this means a suit or equivalent. You may be able to take off your tie for dinner, depending on the venue.
Use traditional table manners and etiquette. If you want to drink alcohol, order one glass of wine and don’t finish it. If you’re asked to order the wine, order something in the middle of the price range or ask the chair (or most senior person at the meal) for their suggestions.
Be kind to the wait staff. Do not be high maintenance.
Treat all admin and support staff courteously and professionally at all times. Interviewers will ask for their impressions.
If you’re doing a Skype interview, check the background for embarrassing things. Do a practice run with someone to see what’s visible in the room you plan to hold the interview. Frame the video like a headshot, which means moving your laptop or device up on a stack of books or similar. During the interview, put the video of the interviewer(s) as close to your device’s camera as you can, which will simulate eye contact.
For Basic Scientists
The chalk talk is extremely important and easy to fail. Rehearse it with people interrupting you, like attendees will during your real talk. See several before you give one.
If relevant, speak to your interviewers about the position of a basic scientist in a clinical department, such as what kind of environment you’d need and how you would build bridges to the clinical side of the department. (Pipette Protagonist has some great posts on this.)
Be able to communicate to both clinicians and basic scientists. Both need to understand how you’ll contribute to the department.
Do not over-research your interviewers. Don’t stalk their Facebook or other non-professional social media.
Don’t treat dinner and lunch as social events or “filler.” They are part of the interview.
Don’t be a narcissist. Despite what you may think, it is not all about you.
At meals, be perceptive. There may actually be an agenda. Don’t miss it. Don’t hog the conversation.
Don’t make inappropriate comments or jokes. Avoid third-rail issues and politics. If they come up during the conversation, just be polite and then steer the topic back to the position.
Don’t be negative about anything, including your current institution.
Don’t order the most expensive thing on the menu. Do not order the cheapest thing on the menu. Do not order the lobster. Do not drink too much.
Avoid red sauce!