Here are some more random thoughts about interviewing for a faculty position, based on questions from readers. I was hoping for some really strange questions, but I don't mind discussing some of the classic ones:
What should you wear to an interview for a faculty position?
The answer to this will certainly vary depending on the specific field. There may be some fields in which suit-like garb is the norm, and others in which a person wearing a suit will seem bizarrely dressed. I have three things to say on the issue of Interview Attire:
1. Look around your own department and at conferences and see what faculty wear when they need to look particularly professional. If you were alert to this issue during any faculty searches conducted while you were a grad student or postdoc, perhaps you have an idea what interviewees in your field typically wear.
2. If you're going to dress up a bit, at least wear something nice and comfortable. I remember one interviewee whose heels were bleeding profusely into her nice new shoes during her interview. I discreetly asked her if she wanted a bandage or if there was something else I could do to help her, but she refused all assistance and said it didn't hurt. There is no way that did not hurt. My advice: Try not to acquire physical scars from interviews.
3. Others may disagree, but I think that unless you wear something wildly inappropriate, what you wear does not matter much. If you dress slightly more formally or informally than is typical, this isn't going to detract from your awesome interview talk and the strong positive impression you make with your energy and your ideas for cutting-edge research. Even so, although you should explore new frontiers in research, it might not be a good idea to explore new frontiers in interview attire -- there are probably sartorial limits that aren't worth pushing past in the interview, but, although I shall avoid defining these limits, I will say that I think there is a broad region of acceptable attire. I have seen successful candidates, male and female, interview in suits and in jeans-and-nice-shirt. It didn't matter.
Summary: Wear something that is professional-looking within the norms of your field but that also makes you feel confident and comfortable.
Can you push the start-date back for starting a faculty position?
This is of course not an interview issue but, like salary and start-up, a once-you-get-an-offer issue. You may have other alluring opportunities, such as a postdoc you want to do to help launch your subsequent faculty career, and it might be in everyone's interest that you have this experience. Or, it might be essential to the department that you start as soon as possible.
If this issue comes up during an interview, you can be open about your options, but these types of conversations shouldn't really take place in detail until you get an offer and start negotiating. Your getting an offer or not should not depend on whether you can start by a certain date.
If the department insists that you start by a certain date, you can take it or leave it. If the department is more flexible, that's great. Either way, this is a post-interview issue.
Most departments with which I have been associated have been very flexible about start dates. If a candidate has an opportunity that will help them launch their research program once they arrive, that's seen as a good thing and the faculty and administration are supportive of this.
Should you mention marital status and/or kids in an interview?
Much has been written about this, here and elsewhere. In fact, there was something about it in The Chronicle of Higher Education just this week. A decade ago, the answer was a definite No. It is illegal for you to be asked, and there was no benefit (and perhaps even a penalty) for mentioning such things, especially for women.
Today the answer is still No, but there is a but.. You don't have to mention anything about this and you still can't be asked, but in some cases universities are trying to be proactive (in a good way) to increase their chances of getting their top choices in searches.
How do you know if you are interviewing at a university that wants to help new faculty with families, e.g. by helping spouses find jobs (academic or not) and parents find daycare? Universities that want to help, not penalize, candidates whose job decisions involve (or may eventually involve) family issues may schedule a meeting between the candidate and a human resources counselor who provides the same information to all candidates (so the candidate doesn't have to reveal any personal information). Or you may find some information online about a university's policies about hiring academic couples or the availability of daycare on or near campus, so you get the information you need but don't have to ask anyone during your interview. You may also feel comfortable talking to certain faculty who have dealt with similar issues.
Whatever the case, you don't have to mention anything about your personal situation during your interview. It is not lying and it is not being unfair to the department to mention Dr. Spouse only once you get an offer.
If you want to talk freely about all this during your interview, you can do that. I don't mind being asked for advice about these kinds of issues by interviewees, although I prefer if those kinds of conversations happen after we have talked about Science and other research-related issues for a while first. Whatever your priorities are re. career and family, you are being evaluated for your research and teaching potential.
Tomorrow's topic: During a search, how do faculty decide which candidate they prefer? I will describe my personal approach to this.
Tentative topic for Friday: Once you've got a tenure-track or tenured position, what are some of the issues related to searching for and interviewing for other academic positions at another institution?
9 years ago