by Michele Frasier-Robinson, Head Editor, INALJ Oklahoma
The Cross-Country On-Campus Interview
You have successfully navigated the telephone and/or Skype interviews and you have been invited for an on-campus interview—on the other side of the country! Congratulations! This often means you are one of two or three other candidates that received the same invitation. The cross-country or long distance on-campus interview can be grueling, but knowing what to expect can lessen the anxiety. I have had a few cross-country on-campus interviews. Perhaps my experiences will answer a few questions for those who are new to the long distance academic interview process.
No doubt you will most likely fly to your interview (although I have driven to one that was quite a long distance). Be prepared to pay for your airline ticket (or gas) and hotel. Make sure your soon-to-be employer plans to reimburse you for travel costs. With all of my cross-country interviews, I was told to make my own travel arrangements and submit receipts during the interview process. Keep in mind that it may take several weeks to receive your reimbursement from the university after you return home. The travel requirement of the long distance interview is indeed hard on the wallet, especially for those who are barely making ends meet while job hunting. If at all possible, have a travel account put aside— or a credit card. You also want to make sure you have extra cash or a credit card with you in case of any unexpected expenses or emergencies during your travels.
What to wear
You already know what to wear to your interview, but what about traveling (by air) to and from your destination? I suggest you don’t wear your most comfortable jeans, t-shirt and flip-flops upon arrival or departure. In most cases, the person who will drive you to and from the airport is a member of the search committee. Therefore, you want to look your best. I am not saying that you need to wear your interview suit, but you do want to look pulled together and professional. My rule of thumb is to wear a nicer version of something that I would normally wear to work. I consider the trip to and from the airport to be part of the interview process. And it does not matter if the library staff at XYZ University is very laid back. You will have plenty of time to be laid back once you get the job. Plan to look your best and be on your best behavior.
What to expect on the big day
If you spend a full day on campus (which is quite common), expect to be physically and mentally exhausted by the end of the interview process. All of my on-campus visits have been unique experiences, but for the most part, they all entailed being interviewed multiple times throughout the day. This, of course, depends on the size of the library. There is no doubt you will be interviewed by the search committee, but you may also be interviewed by members of your prospective department, the dean of the library, and the person who will be your immediate supervisor. On more than one occasion, I have also been interviewed by the Vice President for Academic Affairs. If you are required to give a presentation, expect most of the library staff to attend and be ready to answer more questions at the end of it. You will most likely be given a tour of the library, a walking tour of campus (wear sensible shoes!), and you will probably have lunch and dinner with various members of the library staff. Moreover, if you are not familiar with the city/town, you may get a brief tour of it as well. One on-campus visit stands out for me, because two very nice librarians drove me around town to show me different neighborhoods after finding out the type of housing I was interested in. Some schools also give the candidate an opportunity to meet with a realtor. All of this makes for a very long day. For two of my on-campus visits, I spent all day (from about 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM) with various members of the search committee or library staff. These long days are the perfect opportunity for your future employers to see you in many settings and situations. Your library expertise is spelled out in your resume and discussed at length during your interviews, but how you interact with the library staff and how you conduct yourself in social situations is just as important. The search committee isn’t simply looking for a qualified librarian—they are looking for someone who fits in with their library culture.
The long distance travel and unfamiliar surroundings can make the cross-country interview a little stressful unless you have some idea of what to expect. My first cross-country academic library interview was certainly an eye opener. Since then I’ve encountered last minute cancelled connecting flights, a hotel room makeup explosion on a black suit jacket (the night before the interview), and more ripped stockings than I care to remember (I always carry extras). The best advice I can give is to prepare as much as possible, but also be able to roll with the punches.