I like to be prepared.
I think I said this to various people at my interviews approximately ten times. It seemed like a solid, positive thing to say in response to compliments on my thorough grant proposals or as a deferring statement when someone realized I’d internet-stalked them before meeting them and seemed weirded out rather than impressed (rare). It’s also very true.
I probably over-prepared for these interviews. Here is a not-comprehensive list of the lengths I went to:
– I pre-jet-lagged myself by going to bed at 9 pm for the five days prior to leaving for the east coast*. I slept until I woke up: this had the added effect of ensuring I was rested for the first interview. This was brilliant, even if totally weird. I did this almost accidentally, but I absolutely recommend it, with all my geeky heart.
– I internet stalked everyone I was going to meet. Everyone got their own page in my notebook, in order of my schedule, with research interests, latest paper, and two pre-assigned questions from my printout of “Questions for them”. One school added two people to my schedule the day of, and it was fine, but I would have preferred to know if this was a lecturer or research prof, dean, or librarian in front of me.
– I researched what to wear in maniacal detail. Then I bought and wore exactly that. One charcoal grey suit, with nice black shoulder bag for my laptop, and black ankle boots with a heel between 1-3″. Then one black blazer and light grey slacks with same bag and boots the next day. Nice very-small-vee neck sweaters under the coats both days, so as to show no skin, and allow me to take the jackets off if the room was overheated (no sleeveless blouses for this kid). I liked all of my interview clothes, and they absolutely suited (ha). What I really really hope is that even now, mere days after the interviews, no one can remember what I wore, only that it was interview attire. I would regret that they showed none of my personality, but I tend to wear solid colored clothing with no patterns and no fussy bits, so they were true to form on that front.
– I practiced my job talk, and I got people in my field to look at my teaching slides. Here, I deviated from the internet recommendations. I practiced my job talk in front of Pea, and then in front of my lab, and tweaked it based on feedback. I talked it through the night before I gave it, both times, but that was it. I don’t like to practice a talk 100 times (the general recommendation). I’m a comfortable public speaker, and I know I’m not going to blank out. I memorize easily, so practicing more than I did would mean I’d start to sound robotic, or my laughs would be too perfectly placed. No one likes Stepford-wife science.
– I downloaded campus maps for both schools to my laptop, as I would not have wireless or data on my phone or computer once there. This saved my a** the first day of the first interview when my cab dropped me off in entirely the wrong spot, and I got a random guy in a coffee shop to give me directions based on the map. He didn’t know the building I needed, but he knew where we were, and could use the map to get me oriented.
– I got all my slides done ages ahead of time. With one exception, the chalk talk I finished the morning before interview #2, but which I had written out full form for an earlier interview.
– I packed snacks. Day 1 of interview 2, I needed them after a wan lunch was served during my chalk talk, and I didn’t really have a chance to eat it while presenting/answering questions. The stereotype of candidates eating a protein bar in the bathroom was my exact experience by 2 pm that day.
Things I wish I had done:
– Looked at the other departments on campus for possible collaborators, as I think I missed some easy connections to draw given my work bridges into engineering in several ways. I just didn’t have time, I had thought of it.
– packed lozenges, as I talked myself hoarse in interview 2, and ended up losing my voice by the end of day 2 (thankfully after any important meetings).
I think I was prepared. All of that work just went into making sure that I could be myself while making a good first impression: it was background, and I might not have needed to do any of it, but all of it made the experience less stressful for me, and let my personality and science interests be the focus of the day, rather than hunger or wardrobe malfunctions or social gaffes.
* to be fair, the first three nights, Pea and I were in Yosemite and going to bed early to be up for dawn, I just kept it going the next two nights. I’m not a complete obsess-head (probably).