Timing of Invitations to AHA interviews:
--Can be as early as November or as late as mid-December. You may not have heard from anyone by the time you need to be making plane and hotel reservations. If you’re seriously on the market, make those reservations anyway (and pay a little more for refundable or reusable plane tickets). Some schools won’t decide who they’re interviewing until just before Christmas by which point you won’t find a room and the flights will be astronomic.
Once you have an interview:
--You wouldn’t be there if you didn’t look great on paper.
--Your job letter, dissertation precis, and letters look good and look like a good fit with
the job and the institution
--Normally anyone who makes it to the AHA has been judged employable by the
--AHA interviews are quite predictable and success is largely a question of preparation.
The point of convention interviews is to reduce the numbers. Usually from 6 to 10 down
to two or three. Unlike PhD orals or dissertation defenses, some people are going to win and some lose. So, while everyone wants the interview to go smoothly and pleasantly, there is a need for some to fail and some to succeed. Do not think that you can “wing” your AHA interviews. You MUST take preparing for the AHA VERY seriously.
That said, there are some jobs (and some campus interviews) that you are just not fated to get no matter how conscientiously you prepare and how well you do. Most search committees are trying to meet many different expectations and will sometimes put off hard decisions about fields or rank until after the AHA interviews. You won’t, of course, know what your chances are for any job so you must simply prepare seriously for all.
ACCEPTING OR REJECTING THE INTERVIEW
1. Accept all interviews for jobs you think that you might be willing to take. You don’t have to know for sure, but don’t interview for a job you are certain you don’t want. You would then be occupying a slot needed by someone else and wasting the committee’s time. A desire for practice is not a good enough reason. On the other hand, you are absolutely not committed to accepting a job because you accepted an AHA or an on campus interview.
2. Be careful about scheduling interviews. DO NOT schedule interviews tightly. They often run late and convention hotels are huge (all the interviews may not even be in the same hotel). Ideally, do no more than 1 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon. But in any case work to have an hour and a half between the end of one interview and the beginning of the next. You can take initiative in scheduling, although you may just get stuck in a tight situation. If you do – warn everyone of the situation ahead of time.
Questions you must have answers to:
You must write down answers, rehearse them, and even memorize them (if you can then not sound like a parrot). Vague reflection is just not good enough.
These break down in three categories:
What is your dissertation about?
What are your future research plans?
How would you define your field?
How would you assess the state of your field?
Where do you see your field going in the next fifteen years?
What are the books that have most influenced you?
If you have not yet defended when will you? If it is at all realistic you should say that you plan
to defend by June of the current year.
What courses would you like to teach (with topics and books)?
What is your teaching philosophy?
What do you think the requirements should be for History majors?
What do you think about interdisciplinary majors?
How much time outside the classroom are you prepared to spend with students? Doing what?
What kinds of evaluation/examination do you favor?
Are you comfortable with Powerpoint?
3. Institutional Imagination and Service
The committee may well ask you: “What would you like to know?“
This is a hard question. Think about questions to ask about the department, the college or
the university. Think particularly of collectively minded questions – possibilities for
organizing conferences, study abroad programs, exchanges with other Universities,
building the library collection – rather than your own research leave, teaching load, or
whatever. If you have participated in Interdisciplinary programs or workshops at Chicago this is a good place to mention them and inquire about the possibility of doing something similar.
--When you answer questions which you have already answered in your written materials, do not say that you’ve answered it in your application letter. Simply answer the question.
Your answers to the teaching and institutional questions about will be much more effective if you’ve done some research on the institution.
Who is in the department?
What courses do they teach?
What are the requirements for a history major?
Do they require a BA essay?
Do they have study abroad programs? Where?
Do they have relevant interdisciplinary programs or centers?
Do they have a graduate program? How big? In what fields?
It is important to get hold of syllabi – otherwise the courses you suggest, or the texts, may be completely unrealistic.
AT THE AHA
Be aware that the committee is looking for a colleague, not a student. This means that you need to start imagining yourself as a faculty member. Having a long-term research agenda, coherent thoughts about teaching, a grasp of what being both a member of history department and a member of a college or university community entails are all part of making the step from graduate student to assistant professor.
The next step from the AHA is obviously the campus visit. An anxiety of hiring committees is that candidates they bring in not embarrass them in front of their colleagues. Searches are regularly defined as “good” or “bad” and a weak campus interview not only doesn’t get the candidate the job it makes the committee look bad and makes the department resentful of having their time wasted. So, something that’s always going on at AHA interviews is an assessment of how candidates will fly in the context of a job talk and a campus visit.
1. Arrive on time
2. Don’t take what they offer you to drink, unless you need some water to avoid coughing. It’s just too hard to manage.
3. If you are made uncomfortable by something in the room – the sun is in your eyes – say so rather than suffering and seeming awkward.
4. Dress unostentatiously. For women, it’s important to not wear clothes that could be construed as inappropriately sexy. Neither men nor women should wear anything that’s likely to attract attention to your body rather than your mind. Do not, for example, wear elaborate jewelry. Do not wear anything you tend to fidget with. Men should generally wear a jacket and tie, but if you’re a man who is miserable in a tie – don’t wear one. Wear a jacket and trousers and a good shirt. Everyone dresses up for the AHA – committees and candidates alike – you never want to be less dressed than the people interviewing you.
5. If something in the interview context makes you profoundly uncomfortable. i.e. You’re being interviewed in a bar by someone who is behaving inappropriately; there is nothing to sit on but the beds and the committee members make inappropriate jokes... it is probably that it’s not a job you want and you should say something.
Handling the committee
1. This is not the moment for you to be assessing the job, the committee, or the hiring institution. If you get to a campus interview, then you can turn on your critical senses. Your goal here is to get invited to a campus interview. You need to convince them of your appropriateness for the job. You can decide later if it’s a job you really want.
2. Be very careful to give equal attention to all of the committee, even if someone seems disengaged. Try to remember that they are tired and stressed and need help from you to have the interview go well.
3. Be aware that you may be fighting a stereotype of U of C students as arrogant.
You must convey respect, not obsequiousness, but respect to the interviewers.
The job market has been tight for a very long time – there are people trained at the most elite institutions, and doing exciting research, at every institution in the country.
Do, on the other hand, do research and speak to it. If it’s an institution that has no classes smaller than 40, don’t go on about the wonderful small-group classes you’d like to teach.
4. Answer questions fully but be attentive to body language and efforts to interrupt. Never go on for more than two minutes without offering a possibility of interruption. The hardest balance to achieve is between being assertive enough to express personality, collegiality and intelligence, and not so domineering as to make the committee feel that control has been wrested from them.
5. If you have anything that would make taking the job complicated – a significant other who is also job hunting, or whatever – this is NOT the time to mention it. If anyone asks you about your ability or desire to move to the town be plausibly enthusiastic and do not mention complications.
6. Do not trash books or authors unless you are prepared to face the consequences of having done so in front of the person’s best friend or closest colleague. You can and should be judiciously critical, of course, but more than that is risky, unless you feel so passionately about it that you’re willing to lose a job over it.
7. Do not get drawn into gossip about the U of C in the process of small talk. It can easily happen – this is a big department which means that lots of people went here, have friends here, have applied for jobs here. If asked about how someone is doing, or what’s going on in the department be pleasantly noncommittal. Do not, however you feel about this place, complain. This is not the time or place.
8. If someone is rude, try not to bristle or answer in kind.
9. Don’t try to figure out how you’re doing, but you certainly can and should ask when you can expect to hear about campus interviews and when they expect those to be.
After the Interview
1. Do not, ever, buttonhole a member of the committee later in the elevator, at a panel, or whatever, to refine an argument, correct something you said, or do anything else.
2. If you don’t hear from the committee by the time they said they would let you know, feel free to email or call.
Things that may happen
1. One member of the committee may contact you before the AHA and ask to meet or have a long conversation on the phone. This usually means that you are his or her candidate and they are trying to brief you (or that there’s a complicated dynamic on the search committee and all candidates are being warned). Listen hard to what they’re saying and try to figure out the agenda or what they are warning you about.
2. You may have a feeling at the interview that you are somebody’s candidate and that another member of the committee is indifferent or even hostile. That happens. Try to keep relaxed and just wait and see what happens.