In Career Services, I worked with a particular graduate student preparing to go on the academic job market as a tenure-track professor. We met for several one-hour appointments, and I got to know quite a bit about him and the various aspects of his life that influenced his goals, choices, and challenges.
We met first to discuss interview strategies. He wasn’t ready to do a mock interview and actually practice answering questions; he simply wanted to discuss what he should expect. He revealed to me that he was nervous about the whole process because English was not his first language and the U.S. not his home country. He also revealed that he had a wife and child to consider in terms of relocation and salary. He did not want to look for a post-doctorate appointment, because he needed to be earning a decent wage quickly. We discussed the kinds of questions a committee might ask about his research, his teaching, and his aspirations for service to the community and the institution. We looked at his application documents to make sure that he was doing everything in his power to get those initial interviews. He asked me to forward him any resources that I could find on the academic job search, and I found two books at the library that could help him understand the complex process.
At a second appointment, he was ready to begin practicing answering interview questions. I found questions that were specific to research faculty, and we brainstormed together how he could prepare to answer many of them. He also told me that he had several phone interviews, and we talked about strategies for successful phone interviews, including taking notes, smiling while talking, and having the position description in front of him for reference.
At a third appointment, he wanted me to help him with his research presentation, practicing how he would tell others about his research. We didn’t go through the entire presentation, but I gave him an outside perspective, as someone who was not an expert in his field, on ways he could simplify and explain his work.
In these interactions, I was given the opportunity to incorporate my technical knowledge about interviewing, curriculum vitaes, cover letters, and presenting with my competency knowledge regarding the structure of the university and tenure-track systems and how ethnic and cultural identity can impact student experience. He had little knowledge at our first appointment regarding how the tenure-track hiring process worked and what a committee would be looking for in a candidate. I was able to provide that knowledge. Because his language skills were giving him anxiety, we talked about strategies for relaxation to combat stage fright and nervousness. He also acknowledged that his cultural background and national origin may be an asset to certain schools with substantial populations of students who share his native language, and we talked about how he could speak to that strength in a cover letter and in an interview situation. He was hesitant about including that aspect of his identity in a cover letter, but I assured him that students need role models who share ethnicity and language with them, and that a committee would see that shared identity with students as an added bonus in an already extensively qualified candidate. I also used my love of professional development to learn more about the process before I met with him each time, looking for more specific interview questions online or more targeted advice for his field.
I recently heard that he was offered a tenure-track position at his first choice university, and I am so excited for him. I like to think that my support over several months helped to get him that job, but I know that he did it. I just get to be proud.