Reflecting on the process as a whole, the contributors to this series give some personal insight into what to expect, what to consider, and how to come away from it all.
I spent the hottest days of the year in 2022 staring at a computer screen and doing interviews. Weirdly, I spent the Monday interviewing for a new job, then the Tuesday conducting interviews to help fill a role at my previous employer. Afterwards, that both helped me rationalise my own experience and set me to overthink my own responses and imagine that they were wildly off-base and even ridiculous. It also meant by the Wednesday I was good for almost nothing.
On the Friday before my interview, the administrator had contacted me because of the red weather warning for heat, and we decided that we ought to conduct the interview by video call rather than in-person (given government advice was not to travel). In an example of the weird mental cul-de-sacs we end up in, I couldn’t decide what the right thing to do was: do I show willing to go in, or show I’m sensible by not? I ended up saying I’d do whatever the panel wanted, then they said they’d do whatever I wanted… Eventually it seemed daft to travel, so online it was.
On the day, I didn’t know what to wear. I normally wear a suit and tie, but it was nearly 40 degrees celsius and it was all but impossible to wear much at all. I toyed with wearing shorts, but couldn’t square it away in my head, so instead wore linen trousers and a dark shirt (so as not to visibly sweat through it on camera) with a dark tie. Oddly, this made me feel more nervous than normal, as I didn’t feel I looked ‘professional’ enough (and I had the sense that they’d somehow know I was barefoot). Of course, every single person on the panel must have been facing the same situation.
I prepped past questions and prepared my examples that could support unanticipated questions. As it was an online interview, I had notes in front of me, which meant I could quickly refer to specific details. My notes filled 2 sides of an A5 notebook. As it was, the interview went well. I recognised one person on the panel, and the others all seemed to be positive and collegiate. Our discussion flowed reasonably well and I thought I gave a good (if a little rambly) account of myself.
I waited a week without hearing anything and convinced myself that I must not have got the job. Then, the next week, I got an email which specifically said it was being sent to all applicants and that no decision had been made as the panel had been unable to meet (as well as apologising for that delay and showing awareness that it would cause anxiety). In my own head, I figured it had probably been offered to someone who was taking their time, or an American colleague who was using to for leverage within their own institution (this happened once previously, where I was told I was a ‘reserve’ candidate after an offer was made to a senior US prof who was ultimately not interested in the role). By the next Friday, I still hadn’t heard anything definitive, making it nearly a fortnight since the interview. Ah well, I thought… only to receive a call around 11am on the Monday morning offering me the post. Apparently, they had liked the interview and the ideas I had spoken about, then expanded the role, which had taken a week or so to agree. I was completely stunned and overjoyed, and I started trying to phone other people for advice. I got some tips on questions to ask, that I should try to ask for a salary boost (so that I didn’t end up taking a pay cut), and they responded positively. I was really pleased to accept!
At my most recent job interview, I realised I was out of practice, not because I had nothing to say but because I just spoke my mind. I’m not sure this is the best strategy. I think I should have been more attune to the agenda behind the job and more careful in my presentation of myself. At least I was myself, though!
Getting that first big job is often about setting down roots; applying for a job at mid-career level is more about (at least partial) up-rooting. Of course, when something major is at stake in your professional or personal life, that job application will be tougher for obvious reasons. More pressure, more prep, more psychological exhaustion. But no matter what stage of career, job applications come with emotional complexity, there’s no escaping this. However, by this point, you’ve hopefully got some roots/habits in other parts of your life which can help you ride the wave.
If you have a permanent academic job, the idea of moving somewhere else – which at this stage often also involves uprooting your family to another city do so – can be daunting. But going somewhere new is really exciting too – new teaching opportunities, new colleagues and new potential research collaborations. Just being new is great. Even the unfathomable travel and expenses claims system will have the merit of being differently annoying compared to the unfathomable travel and expenses claims system in your old institution.