These last few months I have been stockpiling advice like a survivalist. Now, with my first on-campus visit set for this week, the day of reckoning has finally come and I’m reviewing my stores. I have collected pointers from former professors, the recent hires at my current institution, even a particularly generous dean from my undergraduate days. The advice has been as various as its sources, with one exception. Almost everyone concludes their counsel with the same imperatives: be yourself and be confident. The problem is that when I am being myself, I am a doubt-filled bundle of nerves.
At this point it can seem as though there is no good reason for job seekers not to be confident. We’ve carefully studied the schools, the departments, our prospective peers. We’ve rehearsed our teaching demonstrations and job talks till we can (and do) present them in our sleep. We’ve polished our interview attire to a professorial sheen. Most importantly, we really do believe in ourselves as scholars and teachers and we have had some early success on the job market in order to land the on-campus visit.
That said, these interviews will be unlike anything most first-time applicants have seen before. The schedule for an on-campus visit is nothing if not intimidating. I face nearly 14 hours of nonstop interviews. I’ll give a teaching demonstration, a job talk, and a public reading of my work, then, after a late reception, there’ll be a formal breakfast the following morning. Even more daunting than the interview gauntlet is the notion of how much is riding on the job seeker’s performance. This visit may well determine where I spend the next chapter of my life, how I support my family, and to what degree I am able to pursue the research I love.
How, in all my preparation, did I forget the most consistent advice I was given? How did I overlook the confidence I’ll need for my conference with the university president? To be honest, beyond mentally preparing for the interviews themselves, what can anyone really do to harness their boldness for these situations? I keep thinking of that scene in the “Performance Review” episode of The Office. Dwight plans to ask for a raise so he psyches himself up by playing heavy metal on a boom box in the stairwell and karate chopping the air. “You deserve this raise,” he yells over and over. Short of excusing ourselves to the nearest stairwell, how can interviewees keep their nerves in check for on-campus visits? What last advice should anxious job seekers take as we walk out the hotel door?