It is very easy to find articles and blog posts about how to behave as an academic job candidate. What not to say, how to dress, how to appear self-confident and flatter the egos of the search committee members at the same time.
I am not going to give another list, because I just got rejected at three different interviews and I do not exactly know what went wrong.
Instead, I will do the opposite and provide some advice for search committees as to how to behave with academic job candidates. This advice is written under the assumption that the search committees would like to make a good impression with their job candidates, which they selected for an interview from hundreds of applications, would like to treat them like human beings and would like to see them perform them well.
All points is based on my own very recent experience with four job interviews for positions above the postdoc level (junior reseach group leader + tenure track):
- Give us two hotel nights in a reasonable hotel before and after the interview, for Christ’s sake. For one of my interviews, they paid me no hotel at all, and did not inform me beforehand that the hotels in the city will be booked out and crazily expensive around this day. For another interview, they put me in the most horrible accommodation I have ever slept in: a very worn-out guest room in a huge, horrid biochemistry institute, with no toilet in the room or even in the vicinity of the room, so that I had to walk through very scary empty corridors at night, fearing someone might be hiding in the University building and slid my throat. The room costed them 20 Euros per night. I just don’t get it: If you will pay someone and a research group for 5 years, can you not spend a few hundred Euros on the job candidates, so that they can actually sleep before the interview?
- If we are supposed to talk to various people in the institute, and also if we aren’t, give us a program for the day some days in advance. Tell us what will expect us. They managed to do that only in one of the four interviews and it made a huge difference for me. An interview is very stressful anyway, and not knowing what is going to happen, if you are already at a foreign institute and under a lot of pressure, is really disorienting.
- At the start of the interview, introduce all panel members to the candidate. This gives us time to settle in, and is just basic politeness. Again, they only did this in one of the four interviews and I could have kissed them for it. It immediately made me feel respected and I actually enjoyed the interview and even the tough questions afterwards.
- Stay polite. Do not shake your head during the presentation, do not turn your eyes at responses, do not radiate contempt. If you do that, why invite us in the first place?
- Send rejection letters. In one case, the chair told us candidates that we would only be informed if we got the job. One candidate timidly asked if he could not also send rejection e-mails please? To which the chair responded, annoyed: “No, that won’t be necessary, because if you do not get an e-mail by the end of the week you know you will have been rejected.” Meaning: As a rejected candidate, you are not even worthy of one minute of our time. When I heard that, I actually decided I did not want the job anymore.
- If the interview takes place at an institute, at least invite us for lunch to thank us for our effort. During lunch, please stop the interviewing for half an hour. In one case, I was chatting with a professor about some small-talk topic and eating my salad when suddenly another professor asked me a critical question about my teaching experience. I found this was rude and unnecessary. The day was very long anyway and a half hour break does not seem too much to ask for.
- Provide the candidate with water and maybe some cookies during the interview. Do not sit around the candidate to intimidate him/her.
In short: Keep in mind that even the candidate you will reject is a human being and deserves basic respect and politeness.
In one of my four interviews, they actually did all these things right. I loved them for it and I will always think well of this institute, irrespective of the outcome of the interview. I don’t think it cost them so much money or time and it made so much difference for me.