Surviving the Campus Visit: Compiled Tips from a Repeat Visitor

a wooden sign that reads, “Time for a change, we're hiring”

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Everyone and their mother has advice on how to do well in a campus visit. In my experience, however, the advice more or less served to induce anxiety — it made campus visits sound like utterly terrifying gauntlets, a veritable marathon of “Don’t screw it up.” I’ve received some pretty memorable pieces of advice, for better or worse, and I’ve tried to filter them through what I’ve learned through my own experiences:

Always Bring Backups

Bring backups of your Job Talk/Presentation/Lesson Plan/etc. You never know when misfortune will strike — maybe there’ll be freak power outage, or maybe your briefcase will be crushed by a campus bus enroute to the building, or maybe the passenger next to you on the plane will spill their beverage on your laptop. There is no end to the maybes. But the key point was to bring as many copies as possible: bring a copy on a USB drive, have a copy you can access via the internet, bring a printed-out hard-copy, etc. — literally, bring as many kinds of copies as you could think of.

Practice Everything

This one sounds pretty standard, but sometimes people don’t think they have to actually practice everything. No, really — practice your Talk/Presentation (well, yes), practice answering questions (of course!), practice small talk (wait, what?). Yes: practice small talk. Do you have a pet story? Bring it up during a lull in conversation. Do you have a favorite genre of book/movie/podcast? Bring it up during a lull. Notice the weather lately? You guessed it: bring it up during a lull. Personally, I’m bad at follow-up questions. “How was my flight? Oh, not bad at all.” And then I don’t know where to go from there — I can’t ask “how about yours?” because that doesn’t make any sense, and in my moments of dilemma the onus for maintaining the conversation would fall to whoever was speaking with me. So, yes: practice literally everything.

Double-Check Logistics.

Often, you will likely be in touch with an administrator or two to set up the logistics of the campus visit — flights, interview agendas, hotel stays, etc. But always consider the logistics of the trip and confirm accordingly. Are you ride-sharing from the airport or will the university send someone? What are the procedures you need to follow for reimbursement (do you need to track mileage to/from the airport? Print and bring a completed W9 form? Keep and submit receipts? Etc.). It never hurts to double-check if you haven’t been informed.

Find Your Power Outfit.

This sounds silly, but don’t underestimate it. For me, it was a certain dress I had. It was a professional, slightly dressed-up style, but it was also comfortable enough to fly in. It had the added benefit of being fairly flattering on me, so I always felt more confident in it. If you find an outfit that can do most if not all of those — use it. That dress became my “campus visit outfit” and I wore it for every one (especially helpful for my one-day visit, wherein I flew out in the morning, had interviews in the afternoon, and flew out again in the evening — I cannot, absolutely cannot, recommend ever doing that).

Interview the Interviewers.

We’re always encouraged to ask questions — it looks good when you ask a smart question. But at the campus visit stage, asking questions does more than showcase your interest and/or insight. At this stage, the university is trying to be as appealing an option for you as you are an appealing candidate for them. So take this opportunity for what it is: your turn to interview them right back — are they a good fit for you? What do you need to know to decide if you want to work here? What sort of environment is it? What are their priorities/values/etc.? How do they address some of the issues most important to you? Etc.

The Interview Never Stops.

Even when you’ve walked out of the conference room or office, you’re still being interviewed. Having lunch with students? It’s an interview. Going to dinner with faulty? Interview. Having a quick chat between agenda events? Interview. I had a lovely conversation with a prospective employer between interviews, and we talked shop the whole time. I enjoyed the chat, don’t get me wrong, but I was also being asked casual questions about my professional experience. It was fun, but it was still an interview.

Stay Tuned for Part II

There’s one more topic that I always got advice on — navigating personal questions
but it’s a complex subject with often unsatisfying or even conflicting advice. I can’t
adequately cover it in this post, and so I’m going to tackle it in a follow-up post where I
can, hopefully, do it some justice.

Author Bio

Pax Gutierrez-Neal has worked in the University Writing Center at UT Austin since 2013, serving as a writing consultant, presentations coordinator, and assistant program coordinator. This summer, she will take up the position of Assistant Director of the Writing Center at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.