Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Unsolicited Advice for Candidates Heading to DC

A year ago at this time, I was stressing over my impending speed-dating exercise to the Wardman.  This year, I’m writing a midterm for my Real Estate Transactions students.  Take heart, candidates!

I thought I’d take a brief break from property-related subjects to give some unsolicited advice to candidates who are heading to DC for their own speed-dating exercise in a few short weeks.  I’m no expert, and I’m not on my school’s appointments committee.  I’m just someone who was lucky enough to emerge from last year’s process with a job.  So take this advice with whatever grains of salt you feel are appropriate.

[More after the jump.]

1.  Be organized.  If you have multiple interviews, it can be stressful to keep your facts straight about each school and each appointments committee. I bought myself a Circa junior binder from Levenger and created a tab for each school.  I researched key points about each school and recorded them in my binder (including specific questions that I had about each school that I could ask at the end of each interview when they inevitably say – “Do you have any questions for us?”).  That way, I could check out my crib notes before each interview and I could record my impressions immediately after the interview.  I saw many people at the conference who took a similar approach, but with a single legal pad.  I liked my Circa binder.

2.  Have talking points.  I think it is important to have a cohesive story about who you are, why you want to be a professor, and what kind of professor and scholar you expect to be.  I don’t mean “story” in the fictional sense – I mean a narrative that melds together your experiences and interests.  This obviously isn’t the kind of thing that you want to figure out in the middle of the interview with your top choice school.  So I came up with talking points.  I brainstormed about what questions the committees might ask me about: (i) each item on my resume; (ii) my current research; (iii) my research agenda; and (iv) my teaching interests.  I then answered them.  Literally, I have a few pages in my little Circa binder that list out my bullet point answers to questions like “Why do you want to teach” and “What kind of professor do you want to be.”  You have enough to think about during the interviews – you don’t want to struggle to articulate why you want to be in the room in the first place.  Figure out a tidy way to say it ahead of time.

3. Have talking points (part II).  You can anticipate a lot of questions about your current scholarly work (job talk paper, most recent publication) and how it fits into your research agenda.  I wrote out bullet points for a 1 minute summary and a 3 minute summary.  I’m not advocating memorizing a script or, even worse, reading something you’re your notes.  But the process of writing down a few bullet points and practicing them on your friends or family a few times is amazingly helpful.  Again, you don’t want to struggle to boil down your 80-page masterpiece to a single paragraph during the interview.  Figure out what you want to say ahead of time.  The same is true for teaching philosophy.  You may get asked what your teaching style will be.  I don’t know that your answer really matters, but I think it does matter whether you’ve given it some thought. 

4. Be relaxed and have fun.  It is a lot easier to be relaxed if you aren’t trying to figure out who the people in the room are, or struggling to find something meaningful to say about a random item on your resume.  Since I thought about those things ahead of time, I was better able to enjoy the conversations with the appointments committees.  I was also to experience them as conversations more than quizzes. 

5. Be your best self.  The best advice I received was given by Dean Blake Morant at the Thursday afternoon candidates workshop.  He reminded us that the appointments committees are sitting in the same room all day while a parade of candidates come before them.  When its your turn, he advised us, walk in and bring up the energy level in the room.  Be your best, most authentic self.  Don’t act like what you think the ideal candidate for School X should act like – have confidence in who you are.  Make a good first impression and sustain it.  When the committee is debriefing, you want them to remember you (for good reasons).

Finally, I think that some kind of invigorating touchstone is a good idea (mine is Branagh’s version of the St. Crispin’s Day speech).  Take your iPod and listen to some favorite, upbeat songs when you have some downtime.  Ditch your uncomfortable shoes and take little walk in the middle of the day – get some sunshine.

Good luck!

Tanya Marsh

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