Not that Kind of Visit: Tales of Preparation for Your First Interview
The day has finally arrived! After all your hard work in screening through potential positions and writing compelling documents, your application has survived the mysterious candidate selection process and you have been selected to interview for a faculty position in Your Favorite Department. Here are our suggestions for things you should prepare for in the weeks leading up to your first interview. As always, n=me and a few of my friends.
Prepare the research talk: This is the most important part of your interview. Work to make it as strong as possible. Our suggestions include:
Ask about your audience: Ask the person coordinating your visit who will attend the seminar. If your audience will be biochemistry faculty and graduate students, the background and focus needs to be different than a talk to a clinical department with faculty and postdocs familiar with your Terrible Disease. Other than your scientific expertise, you want to highlight any unique techniques you acquired during your training that you can bring to the department. If your talk includes work done by collaborators, make sure you acknowledge their contributions. This lets your audience know that you are a good collaborator, demonstrates connections you already have, and most importantly, keeps the search committee from assuming that you have a skill you do not possess.
Practice your talk: Ask your mentor, your labmates, or your fellow postdocs to listen to your research talk. The wider the audience the better. Resist the urge to include everything you have ever done in the talk. Instead, focus on telling a cohesive story that sets up your future research. Take criticism graciously. Far better to be constructively eviscerated by your mentors and colleagues than present a confusing and unfocused job talk.
Ask about the chalk talk: If you are going to be doing a chalk talk on your first visit, ask the person coordinating your visit how chalk talks are done. We have done chalkboards, whiteboards, and PowerPoint presentations. Again, accept the assistance of anyone, and particularly those outside of your field, in practicing this talk. Practice facing the audience, handling interruptions, and setting up your presentation. Some of us made a one page handout to provide the audience so they could follow along.
Read up on your interviewers: Know who you are meeting with and make sure you are fluent enough in their work to keep a conversation going. Being able to tell potential colleagues why you are interested in their work, or how you can work together, is important. This will also keep the conversation focused on the science and away from more personal questions.
Identify appropriate attire: Your attire should fall between business and business casual. Clinical departments tend to be more formal, and basic science departments more casual. Find attire in which you are relatively comfortable and which continues to look professional after a day of walking all over campus. This includes a pair of business appropriate shoes that you know you can comfortably wear for up to 14 hours.
Disclose any accommodations you may require: Most, if not all, departments are happy to accommodate your needs as a candidate. If you have dietary restrictions, allergies, mobility considerations, etc., communicate them to the individual coordinating your visit. This will save everyone the awkward moment of realizing the candidate is vegetarian at the best BBQ joint in town.
Plan to manage stress: Interviews are inherently stressful. Identify ways that you can reduce your stress levels during the visit. We did everything from packing running shoes for the hotel gym to bringing our own laser pointers and markers for the chalk talk.
So what can you expect from the actual interview? In my next post, I will describe our cumulative first interview experiences. Stay tuned for more tales!
Still have questions? More confused than when you started? Need to vent about the process? Feel free to send some electrons my way in the comments, via Twitter @PipetteProtag, or through traditional electronic mail firstname.lastname@example.org