Ask the grumpies: How to covertly practice for a job interview as a tenured faculty member

Susan asks:

it looks like I may interview for [a new job] soon, so here’s a somewhat urgent question: do you have suggestions for how to sharpen up my interview skills (like the chalk talk) as an already-tenured faculty? The last time I interviewed was as a postdoc, so there were plenty of coaching opportunities, but now I need to be covert. I think I’ll be ok with the talk itself, but it’s all the other soft skills

Disclaimer:  neither of us has applied for a tenured job after being tenured.  #2 has applied for non-tenure-track jobs after, but #1 has really only done one year faculty development leave stints.  However, #1 has been through the hiring process for the other side about a bazillion times both for her department and for related interdisciplinary departments that sometimes need to call in more (female or maybe just well-behaved?) economists for their searches.

Really the job talk is probably the most important thing, so if you’re ok with that, you’re ok!  Depending where you are in your career and what they have asked you to do, you’ll either want to be presenting a new piece of research or giving them an overview of a big chunk of your research agenda (as well as how it fits into your teaching and service).  If they just want a piece of research, you should easily be able to get people to listen to your practice talk just by telling them you need to practice for your upcoming talk.  If you’re doing one that has an overview of your entire agenda, you may want to stick with folks outside your department and/or close friends if you’re keeping things on the down low.

In terms of other soft skills… honestly, I don’t think you will need to practice them.  You’re an already-tenured faculty.  You don’t *need* this other new job.  You’ve most likely been on the other side of interviews and know more about what matters and what doesn’t matter for applicants.  (I am embarrassed now by what I thought mattered but nobody actually cares about!)  Just be a polite slightly more extroverted version of yourself (if you’re an introvert) and you should be fine.  Talk about research and teaching and service.  If it’s for an administrator position, talk to people at the department in advance so you have ideas for what the issues and concerns for the unit are going forward.  It’s ok not to have ideas and to just talk about how you make decisions based on faculty input, but you should be aware of any landmines as well as being able to do some discussion of the pros and cons of major issues.  If it’s for a faculty position, just pretend you’re there to give a seminar but add some more questions about things that you care about, whatever they may be.  Senior hires give so much more power to the candidate and are so much more relaxed than junior hires.

But maybe you’re wondering what kinds of questions you should be asking?  I get a lot of questions about the public and private schools (and I volunteer that information for everyone even if they don’t ask), housing, food, restaurants, distance to the nearest city.  More senior candidates feel more comfortable asking about quality of life information than do junior candidates.  I don’t know if they realize it is important or if it actually is more important or if they feel more comfortable signaling personal information.  Additionally more senior candidates are more likely to have make-or-break things– if X isn’t met, then they don’t really want the offer, and they’re happy to let us know that.  I also get more questions about how people in the department get along and how everyone gets along with the chair and the dean and so on, though sometimes that signals that the person is coming from a more dysfunctional place which can be a bit of a red flag– it’s usually best to signal that you’re happy where you are but you’re excited about this new opportunity for some other reason (like less snow or family or it’s ranked higher or you have friends on the faculty etc.), but not always.  Other than that, talking about interesting research, yours, theirs, other people’s, is always good (unless, of course, it’s a department where nobody does research).  And it’s easier to do as a senior person when you realize you don’t have to know the minutia of every person you meet’s cv than it is when you’re junior and don’t realize it’s ok to ask about things you don’t know or understand (or maybe that was just me).

#2 notes that for the two jobs she’s gotten post-tenure, the interviews were more like conversations.  She wasn’t even really aware the one for the second job was an interview.

So, we don’t really know, but we’ll throw this up to grumpy nation, and maybe send a signal over to historiann to ask for a boost.

Grumpeteers, any advice for Susan?

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4 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: How to covertly practice for a job interview as a tenured faculty member”

  1. hypatia cade Says:

    Some things I did:
    Ask the people who are writing your letters to watch your practice talk. Get yourself invited to the kind of place where giving a research agenda overview talk is appropriate and practice that talk and then tweak slightly for the local context.

    Other ideas: research the department well and come in prepared with real questions that you have about the program and moving. Think about the kinds of questions you tend to ask interviewees at the senior level at your department. Think more about vision, program development, mentoring and how you might develop/expand/write grants for things that make a department strong (grad student/post doc support; developing an interdisciplinary program; etc).

  2. chacha1 Says:

    I’m not in academia, but researching the target employer is really important. And not just the employer itself but the community. There are a lot of great schools/companies in really shitty cities/states and, like they say, if you don’t NEED the job … then quality-of-life concerns ought to be front and center.

    I’m currently searching in a rather desultory way and have decided WYSIWYG. I’m not wearing a skirt and I’m not wearing high heels and I’m not glossing over what’s a Cannot Tolerate. ‘Cause I already have a job, and if I leave it I’m leaving profit-sharing on the table, and any new job needs to be BETTER, all around, than the current job. It can’t be better on just one variable because every variable is important, especially when you are 52 like me. :-)

  3. Kelly Says:

    I did this recently and I think the Grumpies did a good job summarizing things. The process was very different than it was when I was junior. I knew what I wanted and why I was considering leaving. I was very happy where I was which made it easy, really. I wanted to know how people treated each other as an unsupportive environment was a deal breaker. So, to avoid folks thinking I was leaving someplace toxic, I mentioned that I was really fortunate to have that and I realized that it was critical for my success and happiness as part of the conversation. You also want to ask questions about the future of the program/dept/institution. My new position was focused on hiring jr. people over the next 5 years or so and talked a lot about their goal that all new hires would succeed. I asked a lot of questions about the systems they had in place to ensure jr. faculty success. I asked about mentoring processes and plans. I asked about promotion criteria for ALL ranks, even though I would never go through the process here myself. I learned a lot about the culture of the institution and interpersonal dynamics through those questions. Good luck! The interview process at this stage is so much easier but the decision to move can be a lot harder.

  4. Noemi Says:

    Just FYI, you can get the first two volumes of Lumber Janes in Spanish. Just search Leñadores on Amazon. Also Nimona.


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