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Campus Visit: Tips and Tricks

So you have managed to land a campus visit–congratulations! Now what?

The first thing to ask is how will you get there. If you are lucky, the Search Committee (SC) will make all of the arrangements for you from booking the airfare to arranging for the hotel. But it is becoming more and more common for institutions to require candidates to make their own travel arrangements and submit receipts for reimbursement. This is not a tactic designed to torture job candidates. It’s simply the reality of many college and university business offices. On my most recent campus visit (which was back in 2007), I booked my flight and submitted receipts for airfare and the cab fare to and from the airport in Grad-ville, and the SC arranged for lodging and transportation on their end. On the upside, if you book your own flight, you can select your own flight time and seat, and maybe ever which airport you will depart from (should you live in an area with multiple options). On the downside, this stretches the candidate’s often already thin budget even thinner.

The next thing to ask is what exactly you will be required to do: Job talk? Meeting with students (undergrad and/or grad)? Will you be teaching a class or performing another kind of teaching demonstration? Something else?

What will you need to bring with you?

  • Interview clothing: What is appropriate will vary by discipline and location, so I won’t generalize here except to say that in general it’s best to err on the conservative side. Be sure to have footwear appropriate for walking. At some point, you will likely have a campus tour, and you should expect to be on your feet more the better part of the day otherwise, so now is not the time to break in a new pair of heels. Also, be sure to pack your interview clothes in your carry-on bag. You do not want to have to have the SC take you on an emergency Wal-Mart run in the middle of the night because you made it to your destination, but your bag didn’t. This is not an urban myth of the job market variety. It has happened to more than one person I know.
  • Materials: In addition to my job talk and the text/notes/handouts for the class I was scheduled to teach, I also brought a copy of my CV, my dissertation abstract, and a few sample syllabi. Lastly, I had my laptop which had all the rest of my job materials, including my entire dissertation, just in case. If you aren’t planning to travel with a laptop, I would recommend carrying a flashdrive with any relevant job materials just in case. It is much better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them.
  • A few snacks and maybe some mints. Interview days can be long days, and particularly if you are changing time zones, it’s a good idea to have an energy bar or two in your bag just in case you start to get hungry or feel your energy lag a bit. Also, for many people, stress and nerves can cause dry mouth or yucky tasting mouth. You don’t need either hunger or halitosis to distract you from the task at hand, which is of course, being the most excellent version of yourself that you can muster.
  • Assorted gadgets (cellphone, mp3 player, etc.) & their chargers. Maybe you have trouble sleeping in a strange place, or maybe listening to your favorite band will help you to take the edge off the night before your big day. That’s fine. MP3 players are also useful for communicating “Leave Me Alone” to the chatty person you find yourself next to on the plane. Just don’t forget to turn off any ringers. Having the candidate’s phone go off in the middle of a job talk does not impress.

When you get there:

  • Your interview begins the moment you step off that plane, and it doesn’t end until you get back on the plane to go home. There is no “down time” unless you are in the hotel alone, and even then, you should be using that time to either sleep or prepare for the next activity on your agenda.
  • You might be given a tour of neighborhoods near campus. Some SCs arrange for candidates to meet with a real estate agent so they can see the kinds of living arrangements that faculty might afford.
  • You will likely have breakfast, lunch, and dinner with members of the SC as well as with other members of the campus community. Depending on the size of the department, other faculty who are not on the SC might join you. Students might be invited to join you. Or it might just be the SC. Don’t worry about what to order–choose something that you like, unless you are like me and have a tendency to wear your food. In that case, choose something that will blend in with your shirt. Different people will have different advice about whether or not you should order a drink with dinner. If you are not comfortable with alcohol, now is not the time to experiment. If the SC order a glass of wine or a beer, and you want one, go ahead, but generally, it’s a good idea to stick to a single drink. Or you might play it safe and stick with water/diet soda/iced tea/non-alcoholic beverage of choice.
  • Be excited about your research. The SC thinks that you have something to offer the department, so don’t undersell yourself by being modest. I’m not saying that you should be a pompous ass, but it’s good to be enthusiastic about your work, about opportunities that the department might provide, about classes that you might teach.
  • It’s also a good idea to show that you are interested in the position and are excited about the job.
  • You can expect to meet with a wide range of people during your visit: faculty, students, administrators, and maybe even a College President. If you are given a list of these people, do your homework. I’m not suggesting that you stalk them, but it doesn’t hurt to see what kind of classes they are teaching, what kinds of projects they’ve recently worked on, or what their background might be.
  • Be friendly and collegial, and above all, be yourself. If you have made it to the campus visit, chances are the SC think that you have what it takes to do the job. Now they are trying to see which of the three candidates might be the best fit for the campus community. Do they want to work with you day in and day out for the next 3, 5, 15+ years?
  • Do your best to go with the flow. No matter how prepared you are, something will happen that you did not anticipate. Maybe the computer refuses to read your PowerPoint presentation. Maybe the flight arrives 3 hours late. Maybe a member of the SC gets food poisoning while you are out to dinner. Stuff happens. Deal the best that you can and try not to get too rattled, no matter what (and believe me when I tell you that I speak from experience on this one).
  • I’ll also add a link to Cheryl Ball’s “Get a Job!” website, which features some helpful advice and information, including the answer to the question: “what do we talk about in the car on the way from the airport?” Her site has info for all stages of the job market geared towards those seeking a position in English.

Afterwards:

  • Thank you notes are appropriate, especially if someone went out of their way to help you during your visit. These can be emailed or written and sent the old-fashioned post-office way. But a thank-you note is not going to resurrect a flailing candidate, nor is the lack of a note going to tank an otherwise successful one.
  • Try not to psyche yourself out about what order you were. It really doesn’t matter, and you can’t change it now even if it did, but this is one factor people like to obsess over.
  • Try to be patient. The one way that order does matter is in the way it affects the timeline for interviews and an offer. It always takes longer than you think for a search to run its course. Not only do all three candidates need to visit, but then the SC needs to meet and pick someone. Sometimes, there is an obvious frontrunner, but often there isn’t. Sometimes it is easy to reach a consensus quickly, but often it isn’t. Sometimes, the SC reports their recommendation directly to the dean, but sometimes they have to report to the entire department who then must vote. No news is no news.
  • It might be the case that the offer goes to another candidate first, and they decline for whatever reason. Maybe they got a better offer elsewhere. Maybe their spouse has flat-out refused to move to [X]. Maybe they were trying to leverage this offer against their current institution. In any event, it isn’t over until it’s over.
  • Try to remember that even if you don’t get the offer, it doesn’t mean that you necessarily did something wrong. It is entirely possible that you did everything right, and yet the offer stil went to someone else because they too did everything right and managed to bring a little extra to the table. All you can do is the best you can do.

Do you have advice to add from either the candidate’s perspective or the perspective of a SC member? Please share suggestions, stories, and experiences in the comments section. And to all of you on the market, we wish you the very best of luck!

[Creative Commons licensed photo by I Don't Know, Maybe.]

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