“Congratulations! We’d like to invite you to campus as a finalist in our selection process.”
That single sentence typically sets off a chain reaction of events and emotions, from elation to nervousness, confidence to anxiety, and in some cases a perpetual list of questions and checklist items as the big day approaches. Whether you are embarking on your first on-campus visit, or consider yourself a well-traveled professional, you can take measures to ensure you put your best foot forward when you step on the campus green.
Before your in-person interview, be sure to ask questions about your potential schedule while you are there. If you’re applying to a graduate program, chances are your days will be scheduled for you, with interview blocks and other important program information. Some institutions allow you to schedule your own interviews with departments, so be sure to know how much is up to you and how much is done for you.
Even when you get a schedule, know that due to the shifting nature of our work, adaptability is key. Search committees may plan a meeting or interview with the department head or director, but their own schedule may necessitate making adjustments on the fly. Be ready to be flexible!
You will most likely have a variety of interview settings: panel, individual, and with students. Prepare your presentation with these varied audiences in mind, and outline questions you may wish to ask each of them to provide a well-rounded view of the organization you are potentially joining.
You may be visiting a campus or city where you have colleagues or friends. Connecting with a familiar face may be beneficial, but be careful. Do not forgo an opportunity to meet potential coworkers in lieu of spending time with someone you already know. It’s best to plan extra time before or after your interview block to see friends, rather than scheduling them in the middle of your time with the search committee.
The on-campus interview is your time to shine, which means being “on” all day long. For introverts or those who value time to recharge, this can be an energy-draining day. Prepare yourself for the fact that you may be with other people most of the day and pace yourself accordingly. As a prospective graduate student, I opted to stay in a hotel room during our on-campus visit, rather than with a current GA. I knew that I would need that time in the morning and evening to prepare myself, which outweighed the benefit of individual time with a current student.
During your time on site, regard every interaction as part of the interview process. Even the staff members you may casually meet during a walk down the hallway may give you clues about the work environment and culture, and give them clues about your fit in the organization. We include a building tour as part of most of our on-campus interviews, and ensure the guide is someone who may work with the new hire, or who can provide insight into the overall assessment of candidates. For you as the candidate, this person may be able to provide you with an additional perspective on the team in a 1-1 setting outside of a panel interview.
One item I struggle with is remembering names, especially when there are a lot of new ones at once. While you may be able to jot down names at points throughout the day, don’t worry if this happens, simply ask again! “I’m sorry, I’ve met so many wonderful people today, I’ve forgotten your name – can you remind me?” or something along those lines is enough to break the ice and sidestep any awkwardness.
Lest it go without saying, it’s vital to look and sound interested in the position throughout the interview. A recent on-campus search our department did reminded me how quickly a top candidate from the phone round can fall when posture and answers make it appear that the interview is the last place the candidate wants to be. This particular candidate was leaving for a trip immediately following the interview, so while we may not have been his priority in the moment, his distracted demeanor and disinterested pose in his chair was enough for the committee to focus on the other finalists.
When you’re given the opportunity to ask questions, make sure you have 5-7 good ones ready. That may seem like a lot, but chances are 2-3 of them may be answered in the course of the interview. Rather than getting out of it by saying “you answered all my questions already,” something like “I’ve learned so much already, I only have a few lingering items to ask about” shows you’ve put time in to getting the most out of your time with the group. Many candidates like to ask a final question about the rest of the search timeline, which is fine, but be sure to ask about an expected start date. While it’s probably too soon to start packing your bags and make moving arrangements, knowing when they’d anticipate the new hire starting may give you insight into when to have a conversation with a supervisor, what new projects to take on in your current position, and other logistics that may come into play with a possible move.
On-campus interviews are an exciting time for both the candidate and the search team. So take a deep breath (don’t forget those mints!), prepare your best self, and good luck out there!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Danny Malave on New Professional Retrospective on the Job Search