Gearing Up for the Academic Job Market: Getting THE CALL

20 October 2015, 1304 EDT

Mid-October is a beautiful time of year – leaves are changing, the air is getting crisp, and there are a variety of outdoor activities to partake in.  All of the wonderfulness of October is meaningless, however, to a special group of individuals: those on the academic job market that are worried about employment in the next academic year.  For this group, mid-October is typically the beginning of the horrible downward spiral of (a) hitting refresh on your inbox[1], (b) double checking that your phone is on and charged, (c) trying to have the willpower to avoid checking job rumor websites, (d) reassuring yourself that Manuscript Central still says your manuscript is “under review” instead of “awaiting decision.”[2] In other words, October is a time of worry.

For many, however, October is also a magical time when the unthinkable happens:  you get THE CALL.[3]  THE CALL can be defined as the awkward 5-10 minute conversation scheduling an in-person interview with a potential academic employer. THE CALL can sometimes come out of the blue, from a school that you sent a packet of information to months before.  THE CALL can also be somewhat anticipated, coming after an email inquiry for more information, a Skype interview, or a rumor you hear from your advisor.  Most definitely, though, THE CALL is reason to celebrate.  And, it’s reason to get to work.  Here is a smattering of advice on what to do during and after THE CALL.

  1. Use first names. You are a professional now.
  2. You might seem shocked to get THE CALL.  That’s ok.
  3. When you get THE CALL, you will probably be given a date for the interview. Try to make that date work, even if it means missing your birthday celebration or finding someone to cover your class.
  4. Hopefully, you’ve prepared a job talk in advance and have had a mock job talk with your friends/advisors already. If not, the first thing you should do after THE CALL is schedule a mock job talk in your home department/over Skype/with your neighbors/etc. The length of time from THE CALL to an interview can be less than a week.  Now is NOT the time to be running new regressions.[4]
  5. Ask questions about what the interview will entail – how long will you be speaking, will you be giving a teaching presentation and/or a research presentation, will you be meeting with faculty and students individually. You can do this during THE CALL or in an email after THE CALL.
  6. You will be given a schedule typically just a couple of days before your interview. Find out everything you can about the people you are meeting with and the school you are going to. If someone is picking you up at the airport, be sure you can recognize their face from their photo on the web.
  7. I can’t reiterate #6 enough. After THE CALL, think of your job now as a reconnaissance mission.  You want to appear eager and interested during the interview.  You shouldn’t have to ask whether a faculty member you are meeting with studies American Politics or IR.  You shouldn’t have to ask whether the department has a PhD program.  You shouldn’t have to ask whether the town is the state capital. Starting a conversation with things like “I’m surprised that there are paved roads here” will not make friends.
  8. Find someone in your department that you haven’t worked closely with do a mock one-on-one interview with. During the interview, you probably will be taken on a series of “mini-dates” with faculty over breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  There may be some one-on-ones in professor offices, too, and you may even have to meet a dean or provost.  These interviews should be fun but can be daunting to some candidates.  It’s good to practice at least once.
  9. Come up with a list of questions to ask during one-on-one interviews. If someone asks you if you have a question during the interview, always ask a question.  If you don’t ask a question, you risk seeming like you aren’t interested. You can ask the same questions over and over to the different faculty you meet.  Ask questions about: what the department’s needs are, average class size, what service responsibilities junior faculty members have, what conferences people usually go to and whether the department supports conference travel, do most people come to work every day or work from home, what does a typical tenure file look like, are there pre-tenure review processes, what are the positives and negatives about the library, where do faculty live around campus, does the department have a brownbag series, what are the goals of the graduate program, do faculty lead study abroad trips.
  10. The length of time from THE CALL through knowing whether you got the offer post-interview can difficult mentally. I recommend picking up a hobby – any hobby.  It’s not a good time to get work done.  It is a good time, however, to find a new series to binge watch on Netflix.


Good luck!

[1] Maybe it went to spam.  I better check my spam folder.  And, I could have deleted it by mistake.  I better check that folder, too. Oh, wow, it’s 3:30 already.  Better close up for the day.

[2] What does that mean?  Is there any correlation between the time something is “awaiting decision” and the likelihood of an “R&R”?  I have no idea but it still doesn’t prevent me from keeping track of these things.

[3] Wait, that’s my phone?  It’s ringing?  And, it’s not a number I know!!!  OMG, it must be a school.

[4] Spoken from experience.