Part III: The phone rings. Now what?

Kelsey Shoub is an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and a former Post Doctoral Research Associate with the Center for Effective Lawmaking at the University of Virginia. Her research focuses on topics of public policy process, Congress, framing, and race and policing. Dr. Shoub received her PhD in political science from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. You can learn more about her research and teaching here.

This post is the third in a three-part series focused on the academic job market.

The political science job market can be daunting and confusing—at least it was for me. To help demystify parts of the process, I recently wrote up a short document based on advice I received and my own experiences. Using that document as a springboard, this series will overview a range of job market topics to help you on your job market search.

The first post in this series walked through what the job market process looks like. The second post broke down the building blocks of an application. Finally, this post focuses on what happens after an interview request.

As a reminder, if you are applying to jobs and post docs, you need to credibly be ready to do an interview ten days from the application deadline. However, you may also be contacted months later. This is all to say be ready and try to not worry if you do not hear immediately.

When the phone rings—or more likely when you get an e-mail—there are a few reasons. First, the committee may simply be inquiring whether you are still on market or not. Second, the committee may be requesting additional materials, such as a supplemental statement on a specific topic. Third, the committee may be inviting you to do a video or phone interview. Fourth, they may be inviting you to campus for an in-person interview—more commonly known as a fly-out. This post focuses on what happens when you are contacted to do an interview and what comes next.

The (Possible) First Round: Video and Phone Interviews

Not all institutions do video or phone interviews, but many do, and they are increasingly common across a variety of institution types. These virtual interviews provide hiring committees with additional information, which helps them whittle their lists to those who will be brought out for in person interviews. From my experience, committees often have a set of questions they ask all candidates. These include, but are not limited to: (1) why did you apply; (2) what is your current research agenda and how it might evolve; (3) what classes could you teach; and (4) how would you incorporate students into your research? Because search committees are typically interviewing multiple people within a relatively small period of time, try not to read into the tone of those asking questions.

The phone or Skype interview is beneficial for candidates for many reasons. First, you can more easily prepare as you will (now) know the core set of questions ahead of time. In addition, since the interview is taking place over video or phone, you can have notes in front of you. You can think of these notes as “cheat-sheets”, reminding you of the names of specific classes at that institution that you would want to teach, names of centers you might get involved with, and any key points that you want to ensure you hit during the interview.

Although these interviews are a great opportunity for both you and the search committee, they can be awkward. One reason for this is that many academic interviewees do not have much experience with academic interviews—especially not virtual ones. A great way to prepare for this ‘awkwardness’ is by doing mock or practice interviews with friends, former colleagues, and friends of friends who have already gone through the process. This gives you familiarity with the format, practice answering questions, and time to work through potential awkwardness.

“Keep in mind that campus interviews are a marathon not a sprint. To keep up your strength, take advantage of the brief periods of alone time on your interview.”

The In-Person, Campus Interview

Although not every institution you apply to will do a video or phone interview, they all will invite candidates for an on-campus interview. The length and specific composition of this interview varies. Despite this, there are a few common elements. You will likely: 1) have dinner with a small group of faculty each night of the interview, 2) meet with the department head or chair, 3) meet with a dean or provost, and 4) meet with faculty members and students.  Additionally, you will have to do at least one presentation: a research talk (more commonly called “the” job talk) and/or a teaching demonstration. For the interview itself, the cornerstone piece is typically the research or job talk, which is asked for by the widest array of institutions. The talk itself is usually between 30 and 45 minutes long with questions and answers to follow for an additional 15 to 45 minutes.

As with each step in this process, preparation is key. You should fully prep—i.e., have planned out and practiced—everything you can beforehand. This mostly means preparing your talks ahead of time but it also includes familiarizing yourself with the department and university. Begin this preparation early (i.e., before you are contacted and told you have a fly-out).

The Job Talk

Your job talk is likely a much longer talk than you have likely given and possibly the first talk where all eyes are on you rather than a panel. To prepare, give the talk multiple times in front of different audiences. For example, I gave at least four practice talks: to a small group of close friends, to those in my subfield at my university and committee members, to a curated group of people from different subfields, and then to as many people from the department as could attend.

For each practice talk (and perhaps between each interview), remember to simulate the standard format for such talks at the department in question. This often means clarifying questions are allowed throughout with substantive questions to be asked at the conclusion of the talk. Practicing this way allows you to become comfortable with interruptions—and halting interruptions. Finally, between each of these practices, your talk likely will change a great deal. Once the talk stops drastically changing, give it again to a general group. Practicing in front of a general group is important to help identify what is unclear to those outside of your subfield.

When actually giving your talk, remember to have: your talk saved as a PDF (regardless of what program you used to generate your talk slides) on a flash drive, a clicker, a bottle of water, a pad of paper, and a pen with you. The first two items are needed so that you can give your talk. The last three are needed so that you can collect your thoughts during question and answer periods and record questions and comments offered by those in the audience.

The Teaching Demonstration

The other type of talk you may be asked to do—a teaching demonstration—is more variable in the topic, length, and audience. Not every fly-out I have done included a teaching demonstration. However, multiple did, but I never did the same demo twice. As they vary so widely, you cannot prepare for a teaching demonstration in the same manner as your research talk, and there is a heightened need to obtain as much information about the demonstration as possible. In brief, ensure that you know: 1) who you will be doing the demonstration in front of (i.e., are you taking over a class, if so what class), 2) how it will be evaluated (i.e., by the students in the class, by the search committee members who can attend, by any and all members of the department that can attend, etc.), 3) the desired length, 4) topic (e.g., are they giving you a specific lecture topic or can you pick a topic within general domain), and, 5) whether it needs to be on your research—especially if this teaching demonstration is the only talk you will be giving as part of your interview. Prepare for this as you would any class. If you have not been in a classroom for some time (or ever), ask your adviser, committee members, or friends if you can practice your teaching demonstration as a guest lecture in one of their classes.

Surviving the Days

Keep in mind that campus interviews are a marathon not a sprint. To keep up your strength, take advantage of the brief periods of alone time on your interview. You can use those breaks to gather your thoughts, quickly jot down notes from your conversations, and collect yourself. For example, you’ll likely be talking throughout most of your meals and will not eat much, so pack clean and easy to eat snacks with you. Sneaked snacks may be the only way to keep your blood sugar up and avoid being hangry!

After You’ve Interviewed, What Happens?

Once you interview, the waiting begins again. Try to minimize the panic. Every now and then this period of waiting will be brief, but frequently there is a gap of weeks or longer between your interview and receiving your next call. At a minimum, remind yourself that the department cannot make decisions until all candidates have interviewed. Different departments and universities also have varying rules governing at what point and who can communicate decisions.

Once the phone rings again, you may be told one of three things. Best case scenario, you might be offered the job; if so, congratulations and good luck with negotiations!  Alternatively, you may be informed that you will not be receiving an offer. Finally, you may be told that while you were not the first choice, you will get an offer if the individual receiving the original offer turns it down. In this case, nervous waiting continues until you hear from the department again. Also, not all departments can or do let you know that you are in this position.

“For many of us, the process is anxiety inducing and time consuming, so be kind to yourself.”

Looking Back on the Job Market

Everyone’s job market experience is different. As such, this blog series provided an overview of the common elements of the hunt for a tenure track job but did not highlight all the ways this process may vary or discuss other types of positions for which you may be applying.

For many of us, the process is anxiety inducing and time consuming, so be kind to yourself. One way to do this is by preparing for the market early to ensure you are not scrambling once you begin applying. This both includes drafting materials early and learning what you can about the process beforehand. Another, equally (and potentially more) important way this should manifest is by continuing to engage with a hobby you have and enjoy outside of academia and keeping in touch with your support system. Remind yourself that there is life outside of academia and that all you are is not this job.

Good luck with your job search and market! I hope these posts have helped to demystify at least a portion of the process!

  • Any more questions? Feel free to reach out to me via email (kelsey.shoub@gmail.com) or Twitter! You can also find more career resources and advice on APSA’s Careers page.

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