If you thought the letter of application or interview were fraught with opportunities to screw up, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Or in religious terms, if indeed you are trying to step into the will of God, and you ‘step in it’ what then?
The truth is a disastrous job talk or teaching demo will most likely be the end for you at that particular job. But this is why you apply for many.
But let me settle your nerves. The horror stories you read online about those two events on the campus visit are outliers, the marginally insignificant examples that draw attention. I won’t repeat them here.
I want to move toward some indication of what happens during a campus visit and then work those events into my theme of the will of God.
First, there are the two above mentioned events. You will most likely do one or the other, the job talk obviously at a more research-based school. That means most likely if you have a good sample size of four campus visits, three will be three teaching demonstrations. [I had 7 campus visits of different stripes and all them included some form of teaching demo.] (By the way, if you are keeping score at home, for me that’s 300+ applications, 25-30 interviews, 7 campus visits, and then three offers.)
Beyond those key events, you will be interviewed variously: the committee (again), the department chair, a dean, and interested faculty. There might be a campus tour, a driving tour of the city, or a discussion with HR. There will be a series of meals (campus visits are usually a full day or overnight deal): dinner with faculty, breakfast with one or two key interviewers, and lunch with those who want to see the candidate. Practice your table etiquette.
It’s a whirlwind. If you are an introvert like me, the nice scheduler who plans for some down time between events is a blessing. If you don’t know what to do with yourself alone for an hour, find a significant campus location and talk to people about the school.
The most important advice: show interest. It may sound odd, but if ‘fit’ is the key, ‘interest’ is a close second. They have shown interest in you by paying for you to come to their city, putting on their best face, and are waiting for you to show your face. You should reciprocate.
You need to show interest specifically in living in Anonymous City. The odds are you have never been there before. Yet don’t show interest like a tourist. I suspect one reason I didn’t get an offer from a particular school was that on my campus visit I tended to be in awe of the surroundings. I observed when I should have been making small talk, talked about the school’s location in terms of thing I wanted to visit, and treated the job interview like a vacation.
It’s not. It’s a vocation. It’s a calling. If you think God laid out the universe to impress you, this is God laying out the school, its city, its people to do the same. God’s will is hardly ever spoken through the clouds, but it may indeed be spoken through the school’s benefits, its teaching load, and the politeness of its faculty. It could be seen in how the faculty treat each other, treat your field (if they see it as supportive or equal to theirs is a good test), and treat you as a candidate (are you their ‘guy?’). [There are red flags in the Bible to discover while making wise decisions, and there are campus red flags, too. And how they treat each other is one.]
Showing interest must be a whole hearted affair. On your visit, you may be thinking of other places soon to be visited or just left. Don’t. Sticking your toes in the water will show up as hedging your bets (if indeed they expect you to get more than one offer) or disinterest (if your field is known for fewer opportunities). People want faculty who are interested. God is calling you to this place through these people. Listen.
Second, be responsive. This applies most significantly to those two main events: the job talk or teaching demo. If you are a control freak, this will be the moment where you ask God for something else. Certainly organize in a professional and intelligent fashion, but leave space for God to work. Some suggest in organizing a job talk, that you read the first half and perform the second half from memory, showing you to be a person who can speak on a subject without notes. In a teaching demo, certainly ask questions of students and work from their responses. Don’t merely ask questions to get an answer to then move on to something else. Interact. Be responsive. This of course is why they have a Q/A after the job talk. You never know what you will be asked.
Primarily though in religious terms it is a chance for you to allow God’s will to show up, instead of trying to arrange it like you always do. [Don’t act like you don’t know of what I speak.] If done well, then these moments not only convince the committee and their bosses they have found their ‘guy,’ but may also go a long way to convince you that you didn’t totally screw up as you analyze on the ride home. Now, handling rude questions from faculty or off-topic lines from students is another matter. But you should be open to handling them – it is how you show ‘fit.’ Of course if you are the one making the rude comment or tangential point, we have another problem. Quick repentance may be your only hope there.
In the end, a campus visit starts the most agonizing part of the process – waiting. You may have to wait for the other candidate (or two) to visit or merely wait on the decision. If that isn’t real enough for you in regard to knowing God’s will, just wait until you negotiate your terms of employment.
Don’t worry. I got some good stuff on that for next week.
Matthew Boedy is an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition at the University of North Georgia. He has degrees from the University of Florida (BS) and the University of South Carolina (MFA and PhD). He enjoys books by Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Frederick Buechner. His research interests include the rhetoric of evil, ethics, and professional writing.