I am very fortunate to have the job that I have now and even more fortunate that it’s a tenured position at a research-intensive institution. As part of my work in academe, I have served as chair of search committees and have been a search committee member. I have interviewed countless candidates at the University of Tennessee and the University of Kentucky for non-tenure-track (lecturer) and tenure-track (assistant professor, full professor and department chair) positions.
Here I offer tips that will help you prepare for an effective virtual interview (on Skype, Zoom or another platform). Virtual interviews are an important step in the evaluation and interviewing process. In my experience, the candidates who are well prepared for their first interview are the ones poised to make the best impression on a search committee and be invited for a campus interview.
While the advice I offer may not seem important while academe is grappling with the disruptive effects of the coronavirus pandemic, including hiring freezes and students returning to campuses with COVID-19 infections, it will be useful in the event that colleges and universities are still following social distancing guidelines and not physically meeting with candidates in fall 2020 and spring 2021. While we all wait for the day that we can all return to the normalcy of our previous lives, the spread of the coronavirus in the United States may make that day a very distant one. We should be prepared to do many of the tasks we did before differently and virtually, with the goal of staying healthy.
My four recommendations are as follows:
No. 1: Overprepare for the interview. Once you find out that you have been selected for a virtual interview, you should begin to prepare for it. There are many ways to do that, and it won’t hurt to overprepare for the interview through researching the position, the academic units you could contribute to -- such as centers, departments and/or interdisciplinary programs -- and your potential new institution.
Do not let the fact that you do not know what questions they are going to ask you deter you from your preparation. You can make up for that through your research. Also, if you are informed of who the members of the search committee are, do some research on their scholarly profiles (the research and teaching interests of each of the search committee members) and use that information during the interview to demonstrate that you are an engaged candidate who could be a good future colleague.
No. 2: Review your documents. A great way to get ready for your interview is to review the documents that you submitted for the position. Keep in mind that your cover letter, your CV, your research statement, your teaching statement and your diversity statement made you an attractive candidate in the first place. Review these documents enough so that you are able to retain the important points you made in them. Then think of ways to emphasize those points within the actual interview. Reviewing those documents will also help you prepare for the types of questions you will probably be asked during the interview with regard to the potential contributions your research, service and teaching could make to the institution if you are hired.
No. 3: Research existing courses. Research what classes are taught within the curriculum and emphasize not only what new courses you could add to it but also, and equally important, what existing classes in their curriculum you can already teach. In the virtual interviews I have conducted, many candidates discuss interesting classes they would like to teach if the institution offered them. But in my experience, the candidates who are able to demonstrate that they have the training, background and experience to teach core courses that are already offered on a regular basis bring the most to the table. Those courses are usually very important when it comes to students fulfilling the requirements towards a minor or a major. And if you could teach either new courses or those already on the books that could possibly contribute to the teaching needs of centers, departments and interdisciplinary programs at the potential employer, emphasize that in the interview. You will be doing the work of explaining why you are a great candidate for the search committee.
No. 4: Study the foundational documents of the institution. Another good way to prepare for your virtual interview is by reviewing the foundational documents of the institution -- its mission statement, strategic vision, diversity plan and the like. What is the mission of the college and university that you applied to? What is its strategic vision? What is its diversity plan? How does your scholarly profile resonate with the mission of the institution that will interview you?
If you have not reviewed the mission and strategic vision and included references to those documents in your cover letter, you can prepare to discuss them in the virtual interview. For example, when I applied to the University of Kentucky, I read over their mission statement, strategic vision and diversity plan to see if it was a place where I wanted to work. I cited elements of those documents (expanding knowledge through my scholarly profile, how my profile serves the needs of a global community) in my cover letter. You can drop these tidbits of information into the conversation during your interview to demonstrate not only your strong interest in the specific position but also your long-term goals of being and growing at their institution.
Next week, I will offer tips on what to do during the actual virtual interview. In the meantime, continue to practice social distancing, wash your hands regularly and frequently, and take breaks from the constant news about COVID-19 so you can stay physically and mentally healthy.