by Dr. Annabel Ipsen, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Colorado State University. Thank you, Dr. Ipsen, for sharing these insights so quickly!
Anyone who has insights on the new normal of interviews and campus visits by Zoom/skype, PLEASE contribute a guest post, anonymously or not! People need help! I pay $150 for accepted posts.
Did the pandemic covid-19 highjack your campus visit? Many academic job seekers are in a similar position, with universities canceling interviews or asking candidates to do virtual campus visits instead. The silver lining, a fabulous job talk story? No waiting for travel reimbursements? But more seriously, most people have little knowledge about how to prepare for these types of interviews and few candidates or search committees have experience with this format. While virtual campus visits are uncommon, they do happen. In fact, when I got the exciting call for a campus visit for my current job, I was in the hospital. Since I was unable to travel in the timeframe they needed, we agreed to a virtual visit. It was not an easy process, but I have some tips to make it smoother for you.
[Karen Edit: THE FOLLOWING ADVICE PREDATED COVID-19; OBVIOUSLY YOU CANNOT WORK OUTSIDE YOUR HOUSE. SEE MY ADDENDUM BELOW FOR MORE ON CREATING A HOME SPACE]* First, schedule a formal interview venue. Try to avoid doing the interview at your house unless you have an appropriate room for the interview and the equipment needed. If you work at a university and have access to a conference room, reserve it for your interview. If your university is closed or you do not have access to an appropriate space, ask the committee to reserve a space for you. In many communities, there are conference rooms in libraries/universities/hotels. You should not have to scramble to figure this out on your own. Paying for a conference space is cheaper than a “regular” campus visit. While committees might not offer this option to you, it’s likely because they simply have not thought of it. It is important that you are comfortable with the choice and some people may prefer to do the interview at their home for health or personal reasons.
My interview was during finals week and every single conference room at my institution was booked. I was frantic. Ultimately, two colleagues and I each reserved the maximum blocks of time for the last available library study room. This was not ideal for several reasons and I wish that I had asked the committee to reserve an outside conference space for me. My job talk went off without a hitch, but the room next to mine was full of 20 boisterous undergraduates. I had to say to the committee and all of those watching, “could you hold on for just one minute? I can’t quite hear you,” as I scrambled out of the room to quiet the undergraduates next door. Currently many universities have limited campus access; finding an interview space can take up a lot of your preparation time.]
Second, ask the committee what technologies you need and download them as soon as possible. Are they using BlueJeans, skype, zoom? What is plan A, what is plan B? Are these programs accessible at the venue? If the free version will not work for your interview and your institution does not have access, the committee should provide you with access. Make sure you look at the program and are familiar with the basics. Ask how they will see you and how you will see them. Will it just be with the search committee? Will it be recorded for others to watch? Will you need to take your laptop? If possible, it’s nice to have two screens (or a split screen) to see your slides and the committee and for them to see your slides and you. That way you aren’t looking at a group of people on your tiny computer screen and trying to figure out who just asked you a question.
Third, once you decide on a venue, set up a time to do a test run a day or two before the interview. If possible, ask that a technology expert be present and ask that someone on the committee’s end be available 20 minutes later to test the program you’re using and the sound and video on both ends. Everyone wants to make sure the technology works before the day in question and the only way to do that is to test it beforehand. Make sure you know how to mute the microphone and camera and how to move the camera. This will become important during a long day of interviews. Sometimes you may stand (job talk), sometimes you may sit (one-on-ones with faculty), and sometimes you may loudly eat carrots. If you need a podium, make sure you set that up too.
Fourth, ask for the schedule in advance. Make sure you know what each activity entails. Will I be having phone or video calls with each professor? Will I meet students virtually? Make sure there are breaks for lunch and bathroom visits. Get to the venue early. Reserve it at least 30 minutes before the first event. If the lighting is low, bring a small lamp. Bring a lunch/snacks – easy to eat items that don’t require a refrigerator. Bring water, your beverage of choice, a toothbrush, a headset, hand sanitizer/wipes, an extra shirt, and a mirror. Keep the “extras” out of sight.
Fifth, before the interview, do at least one run through of the full job talk with a friend/colleague/mentor. Ask for comments on the lighting, if you’re making eye contact, make sure they can hear you, test your camera and your microphone in various scenarios.
Sixth, communication is vital. Make sure you have the search chair’s phone number to facilitate the logistics and/or if the technology fails and you need to be put on speaker phone (highly unlikely). Everyone wants to see candidates put their best foot forward. People will understand the extra conversations to figure out the best set up for your campus visit. A one-size-fits-all-set-up will not work for most people. Be kind, flexible, and thoughtful. Communicate what you need and be willing to compromise.
Finally, prioritize your health. Practice social distancing, get enough rest, disconnect from the constant flow of apocalyptic news, eat well, and wash your hands. Take walks outside or meditate to keep some perspective and don’t forget to sanitize the interview venue. Good luck, you’ve got this!
*Karen Edit: You need a home office space. Don’t fret–everyone is in the same boat in COVID-19 and allowances will be made. Set up a small stand or desk in front of an approprtiate wall or bookshelf if possible. Check the backdrop that it’s clean and clear—hang a sheet or wall-hanging if nec! Remember it can be a jerry-rigged temporary set up! You CAN of course use your laptop camera and mic. If you have a better quality camera/mic that’s going to help, but it’s not essential. The main issue is to ensure quiet as best you can (optimally work behind a closed door if you have kids at home), and to get your camera angle to view you from level or slightly above (the most flattering angle) and then to work on lighting. You can do a ton with lighting by moving your desk lamps around and draping sheets of different colors in front of windows and over lights. It’s all trial and error so just experiment. If you CAN order a RING LIGHT please do; it’s the best and easiest lighting option. Here’s one example of what I mean, but you can get a cheaper option of just the light without any of these accessories as well.