Why I recommend doing your first interview on 2 days’ notice

Okay, so maybe I don’t really recommend interviewing on very short notice. But this post is the story of my first job interview – done on about 2 days’ notice – and how that ended up being great for me.

During Fall 2006, I applied to an ADVANCE-sponsored* workshop that was being held at Rice University. I was really excited when I heard that I’d been selected for the workshop, and about the added bonus of getting to see a good friend of mine from grad school. My friend was doing a postdoc there, and I decided to extend my stay in Houston a little bit so that we could see each other.

Around the same time as I applied for the Rice workshop, I was also applying for faculty positions. I had put in several applications, including one to Rice. I hadn’t heard anything from Rice before my trip, but, a bit before going to Rice for the workshop, I heard that I had an interview at another school. That interview was scheduled for about a month later.

Upon hearing that I had an interview, I immediately became nervous. It was a month away, but I was already having a hard time sleeping because I was anxious about the interview. I knew I needed to change something, since not sleeping for a month before an interview would not be a good plan, but I hadn’t come up with a good strategy yet.

The time came for the workshop, and off I went to Houston. The workshop was great, in part because of the women I got to meet there (both the other participants and the faculty who were involved). While there, in talking with someone from Rice’s EEB Department, I learned that they had recently decided on the four candidates they were going to interview for the search I’d applied for. I was not on that list of four, but had apparently been fifth on their list.

At that point, I was asked: “Since you’re here anyway, can you interview while you’re here?” I was surprised, but inclined to say yes. But there was the major logistical issue of me not having a job talk prepared and, more than that, not having access to most of my computer files. I hadn’t brought my laptop with me, and didn’t have access to my files (this was before I had everything backed up on the cloud!) Part of the workshop involved practicing the intro of a job talk (we had been told to prepare this ahead of time), so I had that with me on a flash drive. But I didn’t have much else.

So, I called my officemate and asked him to log in to my computer and email me files from my computer. He did, and also went and told my postdoc advisor what was up. I immediately got a call from my postdoc advisor, who wanted to talk through the pros and cons of doing the interview. I also emailed a few other mentors at that point, to get their opinions. Opinions were mixed: some felt that I might as well, since I was there and wasn’t going to get an interview at Rice otherwise. Others felt that there was no way that I could adequately prepare in time, and that I risked looking bad for being unprepared if people didn’t know that I had had only two days’ notice.

After waffling for a bit, I decided to go ahead and do the interview. I spent the evening before the interview at my friend’s house working on a talk. I pieced together the intro I had come up with for the workshop, plus a few recent 12 minute talks from meetings, plus the conclusions from my dissertation seminar. I ended up with a talk that I think was reasonably good (if not completely polished). Another logistical issue was that I didn’t have any interview clothes with me. So, my friend (have I mentioned that she’s a really good friend?) drove me to Target, and helped me find slacks and a shirt that I could wear.

Then I interviewed. And it was great. I realized that it was a long shot that I would get the job, given the circumstances, and so I tried to view it as a chance to interact with people who were doing interesting work and to talk about science. And, with that view, the interview was actually pretty enjoyable.

I went home, feeling like I had done well and glad that I had done the interview. Once I got home, I discovered that I was much less nervous about the other interview that I had scheduled. In the end, I think doing the interview at Rice on very short notice really reduced my anxiety leading up to my other interviews, which presumably made it so that I did better at those interviews.

In the end, I didn’t get the job at Rice. But, in talking with people there after, it sounds like the folks at Rice thought it went well, too.

So, as I said at the beginning of the post, I don’t really recommend interviewing on two days’ notice. But, for me, it ended up being great at reducing interview anxiety, and so I’m glad it worked out that way for me.

*ADVANCE is a really great program run by the US National Science Foundation that aims to increase the participation and advancement of women in science and engineering.

3 thoughts on “Why I recommend doing your first interview on 2 days’ notice

  1. You say “I realized that it was a long shot that I would get the job, given the circumstances, and so I tried to view it as a chance to interact with people who were doing interesting work and to talk about science.” I think this is the right way to think about EVERY interview. There are always “circumstances”; the only unusual thing about this interview was that you actually knew what they were! I think if you go into an interview with the “chance to interact” attitude, it will not only make it more fun, it will make it more likely you’ll get the job. (This does not mean you shouldn’t prepare a great talk, etc., of course). Oh – and great story!

  2. Wish we had hired you too! It would have been a lot of fun to be at the same place! You were awesome! The person we hired had like 10 pubs right out of grad school, which tilted it, but now you two are both about equal, both fantastic. I’ve read that once you make the interview list, it is impossible to predict who will do best in 10 years time, so you should use other factors than academics, factors that bring more diversity and different mentoring.

  3. Great story, Meg.

    It wasn’t on two days’ notice, but I too have given a good interview because I was very surprised to even get interviewed and thought I was unlikely to get the job (and because I wasn’t at all sure I’d take it even had I gotten the offer). I didn’t feel like there was a whole lot at stake and so I was very relaxed. (Though not so relaxed that I was underprepared or came off as not caring whether I got the job or not.)

    I agree with Stephen that this is a good way to approach every interview. Ok, it’s not complete interview advice–if you really do view it *just* as a chance to interact and talk science, you won’t do some things you should do, like ask questions about lab space, devote part of your talk to your future research plans, etc. But the people interviewing you are looking to hire a good colleague and trying to imagine what you’d be like as a colleague. So approaching the interview as a colleague visiting other colleagues is a pretty good idea. Easier said than done, of course!

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