I heard a story from a fellow faculty member about an interview they conducted. The candidate showed up on time, but barely knew their interview schedule, didn’t know who they were speaking with, and seemed to barely know the position for which they were interviewing. Needless to say, the candidate didn’t get an offer for the position. During an interview, you need to show engagement and be enthusiastic. One of the best and easiest ways to do this is to do your research beforehand.
Research is essential so that you know the right questions to ask, who the people are, what the primary concerns and goals of the program are, what landmines you may need to navigate, and what problem areas you may want to assure yourself about.
Know the right questions to ask. If the class size is 120, and you ask about classrooms that fit 90, that indicates you are out of touch.
Who the people are. What is their role in the organization? The Associate Dean of Research is not going to talk as much about curriculum as the Associate Dean of Students.
Program goals and concerns. Are they trying to increase research? Expand to a satellite clinic? Train up qualified staff? These are all weighing on the minds of the interviewers.
Landmines. If you know there is a sore topic, you can still bring it up, but be diplomatic about it. The only general one I know of is to not bring up pay unless the hiring manager brings it up.
Problem areas. How are the finances/funding? Is the place solvent? How is the leadership? Are people happy and, if not, why not? What happened during the last recession- were people furloughed or did the university have a buffer? Again, be diplomatic about these kinds of questions.
Now that you see the importance of pre-visit research, how do you do it? My primary method is via the institution’s website. Sometimes this is extremely frustrating- one position for which I interviewed had almost nothing useful on their website. However, they at least had their mission statement, which I was able to tie in with my presentation and some interview discussions. Most of the time, there is plenty of information on the website about the individuals you are meeting, news about current trends in the institution, etc. Mine the website for as much information as you can.
If the website is spartan, or you are curious for more information, you can comb the general internet. I found some useful information about one school on student information forums. I find this to be relatively tiresome and low-yield, but worth trying if you have the inclination.
It is vitally important that you understand the program, the job, and the people before you do an onsite interview. Failing to plan is planning to fail.