Tag Archives: hiring

What Do You Say During Faculty Interviews?

Beyond just chit-chatting with people during your interview what, exactly, do you say?  How do you present yourself in the most realistic light? I don’t say ‘most positive’ light because I believe you need to be authentic during your interview.  If you present yourself as different than you are, you may lead to a bad decision about fit being made. So, you need to present yourself authentically, and discover if this place could be a good fit for you.  What do you say?

First, as always, be honest.  If you are looking for a faculty position because you enjoy research, but are not very enthusiastic about classroom teaching, you can communicate that in a positive way.  “What is your approach to teaching?” “I enjoy teaching small group and one-on-one settings so I can really engage with the students on a personal level.” If asked very specifically, be honest.  “How do you feel about teaching large lecture courses?” “Honestly, it’s not my preferred teaching setting,” and then you have two choices: “…but I enjoy a challenge and would be willing to tackle it with good mentoring,” or “…and I would rather not spend a large amount of my time with those types of courses.”

While being honest, be positive.  If you are looking for a new position because your current institution is terrible, put a positive spin on it.  “Why are you interested in our institution?” “I really like the way you approach teaching- encouraging different teaching strategies and elective classes.”  Contrast with, “You don’t micromanage the faculty constantly or overwork them.”

Second, ask all the questions about how the place works.  We will have a separate post with a list of questions, but try to plan out what you want to ask each person or group on your itinerary.  As an interviewer, it is incredibly frustrating to say, “What questions do you have?” and get nothing back. You need to ask questions to make sure the place is a good fit, to demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm, and to demonstrate to them that you Know What You Are Getting Into.  If you don’t ask about on-call responsibilities for a clinical position, for example, they may wonder if you know that this is expected. Conversely, if you obsess over on-call responsibilities, they may assume you don’t actually want to do on-call. It can be a difficult line to walk. Spend time before the interview coming up with these questions and find ways to ask them in a positive light.

Finally, answer their questions in an honest but not necessarily exhaustive way.  If you find yourself talking for more than about 2 minutes, you are probably giving an excessively long answer.  Provide an answer to the question and no more- they will ask clarifying questions if they feel it is important. Don’t be evasive or coy or abrupt, but you don’t need to give a long, rambling answer to every question.  Identify what, exactly, is being asked, and answer that with enough detail to demonstrate you understand the issue at hand.

For example, if asked, “What are your concerns with coming here?” you might answer, “It seems like there aren’t a lot of systems and protocols in place, so we will be figuring things out as we go.  I have only been places with a lot of systems but, even there, I helped create some systems and processes so I look forward to helping to put those in place here.”

When answering questions, an effective strategy is “You do… I do.”  For example, if asked, “Do you think we need an MRI for a neuro service?” you could reply, “Well, an MRI is really essential for good neurologic imaging.  However, if that isn’t possible, I can see a service where medical neurology is the focus. I have spent the past 3 years focusing on neuromuscular diseases and could build a strong referral base on that experience, even without an MRI.”

Remember, the point is to find a good FIT.  If they want you to teach a lot of large lecture classes, and you just want to do research, will you really be happy there?  “But Vetducator, I just want ANY job!” Well, as a veterinary specialist, you generally have your pick of jobs, so you at least need to find one which won’t be terrible for you.  And, ideally, you will find a job which is a good fit, which will lead to career satisfaction and life happiness. Who wouldn’t want that?

Preparing for an Interview is Not Cheating

I was on a hike with a friend who is getting ready for a high-stakes interview for grad school.  We were talking about various questions which may be asked during the interview. After a few of these back-and-forth, they said, “I’m not sure we should be doing this.  I mean, shouldn’t I just go to the interview and answer naturally what comes to mind?” I imagine some of you may have similar thoughts, so I want to talk about the assumptions and misperceptions that contribute to this idea.

Assumption one: Prepared answers cannot be genuine and honest.  You may believe that interviewers want spontaneous answers because they are more genuine, but this is not necessarily so.  You can prepare good answers to questions which are 100% genuine and honest. In fact, your answers SHOULD be 100% genuine.  It doesn’t happen often, but twice now I have encountered interviewees whom I felt were giving the answer they thought I wanted, not their actual genuine answer.  Whatever answer you prepare, make sure it is true to you.

Assumption two: Interviewers want spontaneous answers.  Most people do not have much experience with interviews.  As a consequence, spontaneous answers are unlikely to be particularly GOOD answers.  When I ask a question in an interview, I want the most representative answer the interviewee can produce.  It is unlikely, in that small window, in that high-pressure context, that an interviewee can come up with a great example to answer a question.  I want interviewees to have good, genuine, substantive answers. I don’t want it highly practiced and polished, but if the interviewee has at least considered the question before, they can give a good answer.

Assumption three: I don’t need to prepare.  You do realize that others applying for these positions WILL be preparing, don’t you?  My question to you is: do you want the position or don’t you? Some of the others who are interviewing ARE preparing, and their interview will be better as a consequence.   If you want the position, you should prepare.

Assumption four: Preparation warps the whole idea of the interview.  The interview, like the application, is intended to distinguish those applicants who get a position and those who do not.  Do you think that an applicant who puts effort into the process will be viewed more or less favorably? The application and interview indicates how hard and well the person will work in the position.  Someone who puts more effort into the process, who does a better job, will be more likely to be chosen. This is a feature of the interview, not a bug: we WANT to identify those who put more work into the process, because that indicates they are more likely to have what it takes to be successful in the position for which they are interviewing.

Preparing for an interview is an important, integral aspect of the process.  It’s simple: those who prepare will do a better interview and are more likely to get a position.  If you want to be successful, you must prepare and practice. After all, you wouldn’t take an exam without studying, would you? Preparing for an interview is no more cheating than studying for an exam would be.

The Faculty Interview

Sometimes you can feel like you are lost in the desert.

I have been putting off writing this post for a while because it’s just so overwhelming.  All of your application materials have one job: to get you the interview. The interview is the high-stakes encounter when you are applying for a faculty job.  The decision by the search committee is largely based on your performance during the interview. In addition to general interview advice and preparatory research, we have to talk about what to say, how do to a great presentation, and what to ask.  I have a separate post planned for the presentation, so let’s focus on the other two domains.

What to say

In general, you want answers to be meaningful but not expansive.  If you are giving an answer longer than 2 minutes, it’s probably too long.  You can leave them wanting more and allow them to ask follow-up questions. For example, you will always get the question, “Why this institution?”  You should be prepared for this. Instead of giving an in-depth analysis based on your extensive research which touches on all the things you know about it, you can start with a highlights reel.  “Well the faculty all seem to have a good quality of life, I hear the students are keen and engaged, and the work done in my discipline by the folks here has been notable.” Now they can ask follow-up questions if they like.

Do not give excessively short, clipped answers which leave the questioner with nowhere to go.  Faculty interviews are almost never a series-of-question rapid-fire sort of affair. They are usually casual and conversational.  If you approach it like a conversation- they ask a question, you answer, you ask a question, they answer, it will be a more natural flow.

Be positive.  For god’s sake don’t say you want the job because your current job sucks.  You must maintain a positive approach throughout. I don’t care if you are being bullied in your current position- you want to go to this new job because it is great, not because your old job is terrible.  Avoid this temptation. I understand it can be hard- I have faced it myself- but you must remain positive.

Be specific.  This is up to your preparatory research and conversations you have throughout the interview.  If you meet with someone at the beginning of day one who says something which intrigues you, such as “It’s easy to do research with undergrads here because of our undergrad research office,” bring that up in subsequent discussions.  “Well, Dr. Jones mentioned your undergrad research office, and that is a distinct interest of mine as well.” Speaking in generalities will not convince the committee that you want THIS job, just A job. You have to be SPECIFIC.

You do I do.  An easy and effective formula for any interaction is: “You do this thing well.  It matches what I do well.” For example, if they have an active learning approach (or want to start one), you can say, “I understand you are encouraging faculty to engage in active learning modalities.  I taught a course last year which was primarily a flipped classroom, from which I gained a lot of experience in how to do active learning.” Take what they give you- what are they excited about- and reflect it back with how you can enhance that.

What to ask

Remember, you are interviewing this institution as much as they are interviewing you.  The goal is to find the best fit, not necessarily the objectively “best” institution. So you need to ask some serious, incisive questions which will help you get a real sense for the place.

What are your challenges?  This can be framed a variety of ways, such as “What don’t you like about working here” and “What would you change about the job”.  The point is you want to find out what existing faculty members believe the current problems are. EVERY institution has its problems. The question isn’t “Do you have problems?”, the question is, “Are the problems you have ones I can cope with or not?”  Hopefully, you know this about yourself. If not, reflect on it more.

What do you like about working here?  This is the flip side of the first question, and hopefully elucidates the strengths of the institution.  Again, the goal isn’t to hear, “Everything is perfect!” but rather to hear what specific things the current faculty and administration like about the institution.  Do these things align with what you think is important in a job?

What is your ideal candidate?  This will help you determine if what they are looking for is what you want to do.  If they say, “Someone who will really engage with the students on a personal level” and you struggle to learn students’ names and want to spend time on research, maybe this isn’t the best fit.  Follow up/alternative: What do you want this candidate to bring to the program/institution?

What is the next step of the process?  You need to know the timeline for decision-making.  They may also tell you how many other candidates there are and where you are in the order of interviews.  This is essential information if you are interviewing at multiple institutions in the same span of time. If your top pick isn’t making a choice for 3 more months, and you get an offer before then, will you be willing to wait?

The scope of the information about the faculty interview cannot be covered in a single post or even several.  I will dedicate other posts to this topic, but I wanted to get the most important elements written before drilling down on some details or expanding on what is covered here.  What do you think needs to be brought up during the faculty interview?

Successfully Navigating the Spousal Hire

The Vetducator - married wedding rings on each hand picture.

So you want to go into academia, and your spouse also wants to work at the same institution.  There is a position open for you, you interview, you get an offer. How do you handle negotiating a hire for your spouse?  I have been successful and unsuccessful in this pursuit, so I will share my perspective with you. Realize that the spousal hire is probably the most complex, nuanced, and difficult negotiation in academic veterinary medicine.  There are no guarantees, but hopefully these notes will help.

1) Do not bring it up during your interview.  I spoke to a department chair recently who mentioned that an applicant brought up the potential for a spousal hire during their discussions and I physically cringed.  DO NOT DO THIS. The job interview is about the JOB. Don’t bring up your kids, your significant other, NOTHING that doesn’t directly relate to your ability to be awesome at the job.  You wait until you have an offer in hand to bring up a spousal hire. Imagine two identical candidates: one is single without any hassles about hiring them, the other with a spousal hire which requires significant hassle dealing with the Dean and Provost.  Which do you think will get a job offer? Even if they don’t consciously discuss it, unconscious biases can creep in. Do not discuss your spouse before getting an offer.

2) Make it your highest negotiation priority.  You may not get a higher salary, or equipment, or any of the other things you can negotiate for as a faculty candidate.  Make it clear that a spousal hire is your highest priority- don’t just tack it on like an afterthought. Open with it in written negotiations once you have an offer.

3) Some institutions Do Not Do spousal hires.  This is most evident overseas. I had a couple of offers from universities in Oceania; when I asked for a spousal hire they looked at me like I had grown a second head.  Possibly some overseas schools do offer them, but I have heard that this is Not A Thing outside the United States. Possibly Canada- can anyone comment on Canadian schools doing spousal hires?  Also, within the U. S., some schools have a moratorium on them. One school I worked at had a strict no-spouse-works-for-that-same-university-at-all policy. So even if we had two open positions which would be perfect for two people who happened to be married, we could only hire one of them.

4) Be specific.  I recommend being as specific as you need to be for the position for your spouse.  If they would be happy doing any job at the university, fine. If they want a tenure-track position, specify that.  If there is a salary range they want, specify that. The worst thing is to say, “Yes, please give my spouse a job”, they do so, then you come back with, “Oh, yeah, no, can I also have This and That and The Other Thing?”  As with all negotiations, ask for what you want up front. This also makes it clearer when the department head brings it to the Dean.

5) Be flexible.  Maybe your spouse WANTS a tenure-track position, but would they be happy with a lecturer position?  Decide exactly how important each element of a potential position is. My spouse ideally wants a teaching-heavy lecturer position, but, when offered a clinic-heavy position with some teaching, she was happy with that.  Decide AHEAD OF TIME exactly what your spouse would be content with so that if you don’t get your first ask, but the institution is willing to work with you to some degree, you will know how to navigate it.

6) You must be outstanding.  If you are just finishing a residency, or only have one publication to your name, or otherwise are just ‘meeting expectations’, you are in a relatively weaker negotiation position.  If the institution is desperate, you may still get what you want. But the more amazing your CV, the more likely you are to successfully negotiate for a spousal hire.

7) Be prepared for no.  I asked for a spousal hire after getting an offer and was told “no” and “we need your answer in under 2 weeks.”  I was caught a little off guard, because I didn’t consider it an exceptional request for this institution. I should have spent more time thinking about and talking with my SO about what we would do if there weren’t a position for her.  Most other things you ask for in a negotiation you can get at least some traction on, but the spousal hire is a rare bird. Don’t count on it.

As always with negotiations, be dispassionate and professional.  You can always ask, but realize that you may get a ‘no’. Decide ahead of time if that is a deal-breaker for you or not.  On my last round of job applications, I decided the spousal hire WAS a deal-breaker, and I was willing to wait until I found an institution willing to offer one.  I believe that fortitude was essential to my success. I wish you luck, and let me know what questions you have about this process!

There is No Ideal Applicant

The Vetducator Puzzle Piece Image

Most people who apply to a position want to be the ideal candidate.  Employers want the ideal candidate, so they get a quality employee who will stay for the long term and not cause waves.  Applicants want the ideal position, to progress their career and to maximize happiness.  Sadly, there is no such thing as the ideal candidate or the ideal position.  There’s only a good fit.

This became evident to me with one of my first residents.  Our training program was designed to provide a high degree of autonomy to the residents. They chose how to spend their off-clinic time, what rotations to take, what research to pursue, how to study, etc.  This worked great when I came through the program- I did external rotations at UCD in Ireland and at Royal Perth Hospital in Australia, I got five papers submitted for publication, and I passed the written section of boards the first time.  This also worked great for the resident who came after me. But the next resident did not have a high degree of internal motivation. He needed a more structured program.

He had difficulty with deciding how to spend his time, did not seek out advice, and generally did not efficiently use his time.  Ultimately he ended up not completing the program. I don’t see that as a failing of his or a failing of the program.  It was a bad fit.  Our program worked well with highly internally motivated residents and he needed a program which would tell him what to do and when.  Subsequent residents were highly successful once we identified that we needed to tell residents about this feature of our program. We would tell applicants what our program was like during the interview, and if they needed more structure, there were great programs that could provide that out there.  But ours was not one of them.

There are good programs.  There are good candidates.  But there is no perfect program or perfect candidate.  

You have to be extremely honest with yourself:  

What can you tolerate?  

What kind of person are you?  

How do you like to work?  

Do you want to be the top in your field and climb over the bodies of your fallen enemies or are you happy just doddering along doing your thing and being happy?

How many hours and how hard do you ACTUALLY want to work?  

Do you need the social status attendant with being in a top program?  

Do you want high income, or more free time, lots of students/interns/residents to train, lots of time for research, more contact with students, or more time in the classroom?  

Spend time dwelling on what you actually genuinely want.

This is less critical for internships- they are only a year, and you can tolerate almost anything for that span of time.  When evaluating residencies and faculty positions, though, ask a lot of questions to make sure you would actually be happy where you are applying.  Don’t just accept anything- your life is too short to waste it being miserable. Do you have a tale of a good position not being a good fit or visa versa?