MLA Interview: The Big Picture

Here’s a typical MLA (hotel-room) Convention Interview Story:

Because you have timed your interviews at least half an hour apart (but an hour is better), you arrive at the next interview hotel with a good 10-15 minutes to spare (i.e., not sweaty). You enter the hotel lobby and there are 200 other suited individuals looking and feeling just as nervous as you feel on the inside. You, however, appear calm and cool because you’ve done your homework on the school you are about to interview with, know that your outfit is clean, have your dissertation explanation down to 2 minutes, and have at least 2 questions ready to ask the committee. Plus, you remembered to double-check the hotel and time of the interview, so you’re set. Feel free to make small talk with other lobby-sitters. Or go to the restroom. It’s usually quieter in there anyways.

At five minutes before your interview time (no more, no less!), if the interviews have told you to call them to find out the room number, go to the nearest house phone and ask for the person who’s name the room is in. (They should have told you this when they scheduled, or confirmed, the interview.) If the lobby phones are swamped, most hotels have house phones on the second floors, and some have phones on all floors. Go ahead up the stairs to the second floor and call. Write the room number down, then proceed to the elevator to go to the floor. At some hotels, you will literally fight for space in the elevator along with 20 other nervous interviewees. You, however, are not showing your nerves because you know what to expect! 🙂

When you reach the door of the interview room, check the time. If you’re early by a few minutes, it’s best to wait until 1-2 minutes before the hour, then knock. (The reason? They may be running late, interviewing another candidate, and you wouldn’t want some *other* interviewee interrupting YOUR precious interview time by knocking too early. Especially already after the in-room phone call.) But don’t linger. Review your interview notes about the school, which you’ve looked up online and printed out or downloaded to your e-device before you left town. Have your post-interview questions ready. And remember it’s likely that when that door opens, it may be to let out another interviewee for the same (or, also likely, a different) job. Don’t stress it. You look mah-velous!

When they’re ready, they’ll invite you inside, maybe take your coat to hang (yes, please), maybe offer you coffee/water (sure, if you don’t have some of your own with you, but it’s also OK to decline), shake hands of the committee members, and invite you to sit. At this point, there are rumors of MLA hotel-room interviews that need to be addressed: It is the setting that distinguishes MLA hotel-room interviews from MLA job barn, phone, or Skype interviews. Each have their benefits and drawbacks, and one major drawback in hotel-room interviews is that you’re in a hotel room. Which can be awkward, not the least of which because the size of the school’s budget often determines the size of the room you’re interviewing in. And, it has been said, that sometimes candidates end up sitting on hotel beds during their interviews. Awk. Ward. Thankfully, we’ve heard of this happening less and less over the last decade, as schools strive to show their professionalism. But there are still pitfills of the hotel-room interview seating arrangement, including being seated in a prime, cushy chair that overlooks the beautiful view from the 14th floor suite, only to realize that the committee is sitting in front of the window and you’re staring into the noon-day sun and can only see their shadows. Or there’s a lamp in the line of sight to someone’s head. Or the graduate student on the committee was asked to sit slightly behind you. (We’ve seen/heard all of these happening, unfortunately.) You would put yourself into a position of strength in the interview by adjusting your seating position, slightly (!) moving the chair, or asking for the curtains to be partially closed (and explain that the sun is in your eyes). Then the interview will commence, and you’ll be feeling more confident from the start.

Although it’s OK to have notes, sometimes they prove more cumbersome than they’re worth and you probably won’t have time to refer to them. Know what you’re going to say before you go in. There are some set questions you’ll get at every interview. Know your answers by heart and have them practiced, but delivered with ease. You know your stuff! At the end of the 20-40 minute interview, they’ll ask if you have questions. You will (see A Few Facts). It’s likely you won’t be able to take notes then, unless you’re really good at listening intently while writing. Make eye contact instead and you’ll better remember what they said. If one of them has stopped to answer the phone, pause and keep going.

When the interview finishes (and don’t just ask questions to ask questions — two or three is plenty, unless you feel the situation warrants more), they will thank you and you will thank them. Shake everyone’s hand, if it’s appropriate, and leave. Do not elbow the next person waiting for an interview. You are better than that. 🙂

Go down the hall to the elevator (out of eye- and ear-shot), or go to the hotel lobby/bar and jot down your reactions to the interview (both personal and professional) as well as any particular questions they asked you about classes or research so that you can follow-up when you get asked back for an on-campus interview. (iow, if they ask how you can teach X class, bring a syllabus, or the idea of one, with you to the on-campus interview.) Also jot down your gut reactions to the interview. Was it invigorating? Bristly? Fun? Remember that these are the people you may end up working with, and these informal notes will go a long way to helping you decide which schools you want to accept on-campus interviews from and which you’d rather stay away from (if you’re in the position to turn down interviews — and as rock stars, I expect you might be!)

Make sure to pee, drink water, and eat something, then head out to your next interview. Remember that it’s two miles away and you have scheduled 30-45 minutes to get there. Walk quickly or taxi it. Then repeat.