Interviewing – Passing the Airport Test, and More

What makes for a successful interview?  How do search committees determine airportwho gets an offer?  Of course a lot goes into that equation.  Something that often comes up is the notion of fit.  “We’re looking for the candidate who is the best fit for us,” a search committee says.  Fit may seem like a subjective concept.  So what is “fit,” and how does a job candidate demonstrate it?

To understand fit, it is important to remember where interviewing falls in the job search process.  A search committee has already reviewed a large number of applications.  You have been selected to interview based on things like your CV and cover letter, and perhaps letters of recommendation.  You are usually part of a much smaller pool of interviewees.  At this point of the process there is tacit understanding that anyone being interviewed has the qualifications to do the job, at least on paper.  Interviewing is the in-person test to see who is best — who fits best, given our needs.

Fit becomes even more important with tenure-track jobs, where the assumption is that this might be a lifetime appointment.  Given those stakes, making the right hiring decision becomes even more important.  So just what does fit look like in the context of academic interviewing?

Candidate Qualifications

Certainly one way a search committee assesses fit is continuing to evaluate your academic background and your potential contributions as a scholar.  The interview is your opportunity to place your work as a researcher and teacher in the context of the specific department and institution.  How will your research tap and benefit from the resources available at the institution?  How might your teaching interests mesh with the department, both filling existing needs and perhaps extending course offerings into new areas?  Fit in this case measures your ability to allow the search committee to envision your work in their current environment, to assess you as a professional colleague.

The Airport Test

But fit also involves a more elusive concept.  One employer highlighted the importance of fit this way: If we bring on a new employee, I want to be sure this is someone that I’m comfortable being with.  I want to be sure that if I’m stuck with this person in a 4-hour layover in an airport, I might actually enjoy being with them rather than going crazy being stuck with them.  For this person, fit measures your ability to get along with others.

In an academic interview the “airport test” may come when you are faced with especially tough questions or ornery questioners during your job talk.  How do you handle those situations, and what does that say about you — do you overreact, or are you calm and composed?  During a lunch as part of the interview process, are people enjoying the informal conversation or are they rushing to be done with you?  When faced with the seemingly inevitable administrative snafus of a campus visit, do you handle them gracefully or wear your frustrations on your sleeve?  These situations and more will all be clues to those who interact with you, and will all be a part of the evaluation process.

Fit is a Two-Way Street

Finally, remember that fit does work both ways.  The search committee is evaluating you, but just as importantly, you should be evaluating fit from your position.  Perhaps you do have the qualifications to do the job, but is that enough?  Does the department offer the environment that meets your needs?  Does the institution provide resources to help you reach your goals?  And do you even want to live in the geographic area?  Hopefully you enter the interview process with a clear idea of your needs, to then assess if the particular opportunity fills them.

One More Perspective

I recently heard a faculty member talking about the campus visit.  She talked about the buzz that invariably happens as soon as a job candidate leaves for the final time.  Faculty gather in groups in the hallways sharing their thoughts about the candidate.  I am sure that the buzz is partly about the candidate’s scholarly record and their potential contributions to the department.  But I am equally confident that the buzz is also about those other harder-to-define qualities of fit.

I encourage you to join the discussion.  What are your concerns about demonstrating fit during the interview?  What have you seen or heard that has worked well for candidate?  Leave your comments below.

Photo credit: Joi on Flickr

One Response to Interviewing – Passing the Airport Test, and More

  1. Tom Lehker says:

    Check out a recent column in the Chronicle of Higher Education on interviewing for jobs at community colleges: http://chronicle.com/article/How-to-Stand-Out-in-Your/64153/

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