Acting Like a Colleague on Campus Visits

By: Kathleen J. Ryan, Montana State University

I love going on campus visits. Since my first time on the job market back in 2001, I’ve been on about a dozen campus visits as I’ve sought the best personal and professional job “fit” for me. I love meeting potential new colleagues and students, exploring different campuses, talking about my research and teaching, and hearing about different departments, projects and programs. I even love the fast pace of visits and the frisson of fear before high stakes moments like the job talk or a teaching demonstration or simply responding to a hard question. It’s thrilling to imagine each new job and each new prospective life over the course of an intense campus visit.

Whether you happily anticipate or tremble at the very thought of campus visits, I want to offer you some strategies for acting like a colleague rather than a graduate student (or a visitor just passing through) to help you find the right job “fit” for you. I get this idea of “acting like a colleague” from Dawn M. Formo and Cheryl Reed’s chapter on the campus visit in Job Search in Academe: Strategic Rhetorics for Faculty Job Candidates, (link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/157922010X/ref=rdr_ext_tmb) which they title, “The Screen Test.”

Formo and Reed’s book is a great resource for thinking about the job search rhetorically, and I particularly like how they recommend that you “step confidently (but not arrogantly) into the professional persona you’ve imagined for yourself: function as that junior colleague you hope to become” (67). I remember when I was on the job market for the first time; I wasn’t sure how to do that beyond generally sounding confident about my work and interested in theirs. Since then, I’ve developed a few strategies I realize I use in conversations and more formal interview sessions during campus visits:

• Use all the knowledge you’ve gained from your research about the department, school, faculty etc. to situate your scholarship, teaching, and administrative experiences and knowledge within their location or in relationship to their hiring needs.

• Ask questions for clarification of the local situation when necessary to better answer peoples’ questions. It’s hard to imagine your way into a job if you feel like you’re unclear on a key point or piece of institutional history.

• Problem solve with others as conversational partners. Not for others as if in a performance or as if you’re a student taking an oral exam.

• Use “we” language to help linguistically bridge the distances between yourself as job seeker and your conversational partners as job “holders.”

• Imagine where others are coming from and respond to them generously. I’ve found that you can turn an ill-informed, off the wall question, or even aggressive question at the job talk into a productive moment if you take a moment to consider why a person might be asking a particular question and respond generously.

Acting like a colleague shouldn’t feel like being a contortionist or playing Pollyanna. It should feel energizing (and exhausting, too) to interview with potential colleagues, with potential students, in a place you can imagine yourself living and working for years to come. In other words, you’re acting like a colleague to see if this is a place where you could be one. If you get the job offer, great. If you don’t, it wasn’t your “fit,” but you now have an experience to build on and colleagues you’ll enjoy seeing over the years at conferences.

And, one more thing. Bring water and snacks with you. And always take advantage of a bathroom break just to have a moment to yourself to breathe. People are kind and try to make sure you have what you need, including time for yourself, but take care of yourself, too.

Acting Like A Colleague Response - Re: Institutional Histories

Many of Kate's comments resonated with my own experiences on campus interviews, especially her comment about asking the questions that will clarify institutional history. I'm sure that learning about institutional history is important for any jobseeker, but I found this consideration especially important as I considered WPA positions where my work would contribute to the institutional narrative in an explicit way.

I would add that it's important for job candidates to not only clarify the history but also realize that multiple histories may exist on a given campus. During my campus interviews, I learned to listen to the ways that the various stakeholders described the institution, the writing program, the students, etc. and to let earlier conversations inform the questions I later asked. For example, if the Dean mentioned that she wanted to see the writing program moving in a particular direction, I might bring that up in a later conversation with program faculty or students. Listening to another group of stakeholders discuss the same topic helped me to understand how consistent or divergent the narratives and histories and goals on the campus really were and to know how my own work might need to bridge these perspectives or work among them.

thinking of "colleague"

I'm with Cristyn, and agree fully with Kathleen. In fact, the sooner you can think of yourself as a colleague, the better all around. Some of the best advice I got regarding campus visits was to remember that you are not the only one being interviewed.

You’ve worked hard to get where you are, and you have a lot to offer. By the time you've arrived on a campus visit, the school has invested a lot of time, energy, and money in you. I mention this so you can remember they want their search to succeed, and by now, they should want you to want them too. At the risk of sounding arrogant, you can just as easily think of the visit as a chance for you to interview them.

It sounds simple, maybe. Keep in mind that you will bring your ideas, knowledge, practices, and all the professional relationships you have built already to *this* job. What do you want to do at this institution? You may not know all the answers to that right now, but likely you have some ideas, and talking to folks on your visit about how you would like to contribute doesn't just show you know the "talk." It also opens the door for interesting, engaging conversations with other professionals you might soon have a work life with.

Bottom line: I think of "being a colleague" as more than behaving professionally; it means having an investment in the job, in the institution, and in the discipline. A campus visit is one of the moments you can revel in that.

Such great advice, Kate. I

Such great advice, Kate. I agree with all of it. I, too, enjoyed all of my campus visits and meeting new colleagues. This line, I think, is particularly pertinent: "Problem solve with others as conversational partners. Not for others as if in a performance or as if you’re a student taking an oral exam."