Are You Interviewing at the AHA?

aha-denver

If you are on the job market and have been fortunate enough to land an interview at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Denver, you may want to check out a few pieces I wrote several years ago about interviewing at various types of institutions.

How to Interview for a Job in a History Department at a Teaching College

Messiah ImageA few years ago I wrote this piece at Inside Higher Ed. Perhaps some of my thoughts here might prove useful to graduate students and others preparing for interviews at the upcoming American Historical Association meeting in Atlanta.

Here is a taste:

This piece is about interviewing at colleges and universities that stress teaching over research. This, I might add, is the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities. It is important to remember that the phrase “teaching college” can be applied to a host of different kinds of institutions. Elite and not-so-elite liberal arts colleges, private comprehensive colleges, and non-flagship state universities, for example, would all find a comfortable home in the “teaching college” tent.

This may be stating the obvious, but it is still worth mentioning that committees from these colleges are looking for an excellent teacher. Some may want to hire a “teacher-scholar,” or a person who sees their vocation in terms of blending traditional scholarship and teaching. Others may want someone who is a teacher first and a researcher/writer second. Still others may not give a lick about your research or how many books and articles you hope to churn out over the course of your career. Whatever the case, all of the colleges in this category want a person who not only works well with students, but actually has a desire to do so.

As you might imagine, your “research” is not going to be as important to the search committee at a teaching college as it might be if you were interviewing with a research university. This does not mean that the search committee will not care about your dissertation or book manuscript. In most cases committee members will ask you about your research and, in some cases, may find it quite interesting. You may even find that many of these colleges have incentives in place, such as summer research stipends or course reductions, to help you achieve your research and publication goals. But always remember that teaching comes first.

Read the rest here.

Are You Interviewing at the AHA? Some Last Minute Tips

If you are on the job market and have been fortunate enough to land an interview at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association being held this weekend in Washington D.C., you may want to check out a few pieces I wrote several years ago about interviewing at various types of institutions. Several of these posts were picked up last year by Inside Higher Education.

Good luck!

Interviewing at a Teaching College–My "Latest" at "Inside Higher Ed"

Are you interviewing at the AHA in New Orleans this weekend?  Today’s Inside Higher Ed is running an old “The Way of Improvement Leads Home” blog post on interviewing at teaching colleges.  Here is a taste:

This piece is about interviewing at colleges and universities that stress teaching over research. This, I might add, is the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities. It is important to remember that the phrase “teaching college” can be applied to a host of different kinds of institutions. Elite and not-so-elite liberal arts colleges, private comprehensive colleges, and non-flagship state universities, for example, would all find a comfortable home in the “teaching college” tent.

This may be stating the obvious, but it is still worth mentioning that committees from these colleges are looking for an excellent teacher. Some may want to hire a “teacher-scholar,” or a person who sees their vocation in terms of blending traditional scholarship and teaching. Others may want someone who is a teacher first and a researcher/writer second. Still others may not give a lick about your research or how many books and articles you hope to churn out over the course of your career. Whatever the case, all of the colleges in this category want a person who not only works well with students, but actually has a desire to do so.

As you might imagine, your “research” is not going to be as important to the search committee at a teaching college as it might be if you were interviewing with a research university. This does not mean that the search committee will not care about your dissertation or book manuscript. In most cases committee members will ask you about your research and, in some cases, may find it quite interesting. You may even find that many of these colleges have incentives in place, such as summer research stipends or course reductions, to help you achieve your research and publication goals. But always remember that teaching comes first.

Read the rest here.

Interviewing at the AHA: Church-Related Schools

This is Part Four of our four-part series on interviewing at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association.

Part One covers some general interviewing tips. Part Two offers some suggestions for interviewing at a research university. Part Three focuses on interviewing at a teaching college or university.

If you get an interview at a church-related school you need to do your homework. What kind of church-related school is it? A good place to start is Robert Benne’s Quality With Soul. Benne identifies four different types of church-related colleges. I have charted my own course in this post, but have relied on some of Benne’s classifications.

There are many schools that have historic connections with Protestant denominations. This, of course, does not mean that those connections will have any bearing on the hiring process or the AHA interview. For example, Duke University has a historic connection to the United Methodist Church, but this connection will play no factor in the search process. The same might be true of a place like Gettysburg College, a school with connections to the Lutheran Church. If you have an AHA interview with this kind of church-related school, there is no need to treat it any differently than you would an interview at a non-sectarian school or public university. You may not even realize that you are interviewing with a church-related school!

Other church-related schools take their church-relatedness a bit more seriously. Catholic schools, for example, might ask you if you have any problems with the Catholic mission of the university. In most cases, however, this issue will not be raised during the AHA interview. (It might be raised by an administrator during an on-campus visit). The only exception to this rule is the small number of Catholic colleges who only hire Catholic faculty. If these schools interview at the AHA (most will not), the committee will not only ask you if you are Catholic, but will want to know if you are a practicing Catholic. (Yes, a private school can ask such a question).

Some church-related schools are very concerned about having a “critical mass” of faculty who represent the specific religious tradition of the college or the Christian faith more generally. For example, a Lutheran school may try to make sure that at least fifty percent of their faculty are Lutheran. A Baptist school may want a “critical mass” of Baptist professors. A Methodist school may want a majority of self-identified Christians.

If your religious faith (or lack thereof) does not fit with the denominational affiliation of a “critical mass” college it does not necessarily mean that you have no chance of landing the job. When interviewing at these schools you should consider two things:

First, as mentioned above in the context of Catholic schools, you may be asked to express your willingness to work at a school with a Christian mission. This may or may not come up in the context of an AHA interview. It all depends on the school.

Second, do not automatically assume that the members of the search committee or the members of the department at a “critical mass” school is “on board” with how the administration defines its Christian mission. I remember an interview with a church-related school that was making a conscious effort to fashion itself as a Christian (broadly-defined) research university. When I sat down for the interview with two members of the history department, it became clear rather quickly that one of the interviewers was a strong supporter of this new mission and the other interviewer was quite hostile to it. It is hard to anticipate these things. Sometime you just need to go with the flow and present yourself as a teacher and scholar.

Finally, you may have an interview with a self-consciously “Christian college.” “Christian college” can be defined in many ways, but usually the term is used to describe a college that is affiliated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). The CCCU is made up of schools that require faculty to sign some kind of statement of Christian faith. This should not surprise you when it comes up in the interview. Most schools, as part of the preliminary application process, will ask you to sign the school’s statement of faith and, in many cases, ask you to write an essay about how your faith informs your work as an academic.

All CCCU schools are teaching colleges. You should thus prepare for the interview as if you are preparing for an interview with any teaching college. But there will also be a part of the interview where the search committee will want to talk about your “fit” with the Christian mission of the college. If you have made it this far, it is likely that you have already articulated some sense of your Christian faith and how it bears on what you do in your teaching and scholarship. The committee, however, will want to probe more deeply. They may ask you to elaborate further on the faith statement you wrote as part of the application. They may ask you to talk about how comfortable you would feel teaching at a school like this. If you attended a CCCU school as an undergraduate (a clear sign to a search committee that you might be a good “fit”), you should have no problem with any of this. You may even welcome this line of questioning.

It is important that you can show a search committee at a CCCU college that you are indeed a Christian and are seriously interested in teaching at a Christian college. This will require more on your part than simply saying “I don’t have a problem with anything related to the Christian mission of your school.” The committee will want to hear you talk positively about how you might fit. If you can find an opportunity to describe your religious life or spiritual pilgrimage (briefly), or talk about your church involvement, it will definitely help. Have you thought deeply about how to integrate your faith with your discipline? Are you even willing to do this? If not, you have virtually no chance of advancing to the campus visit. (Most CCCU schools will ask you to write a faith-integration or “Christian scholarship” essay as part of the tenure process).

CCCU colleges are looking for a good scholar-teacher who really wants to work at a school with a Christian mission. There are many Christian historians who could “fit” at a CCCU school but would prefer to work at a bigger school or a non-sectarian school.

There is a sense in which candidates for a position at a CCCU school must conceive of their academic vocation differently from the way he or she was trained in graduate school. The best faculty at Christian colleges are academics who want to invest their lives (or part of their lives) in a Christian intellectual community. He or she can speak of a sense of “calling” to an academic life. This does not mean that a Christian college professor sacrifices his research agenda or pursuit of professional development. Many Christian colleges offer a lot of professional development incentives and opportunities to pursue these kinds of things. (Some do not–be sure to ask about this!). It does mean, however, that one is willing to think about his or her academic life as serving a larger purpose grounded in the college’s Christian mission. If a candidate is a good scholar, a good teacher (especially), and can articulate this sense of vocation, there is a very good chance he or she (especially “she”–CCCU history departments tend to be dominated by males) will advance to an on-campus interview.

Interviewing at the AHA: Teaching Colleges

This is Part Three of our four part series on interviewing at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association.

Part One covers some general interviewing tips.  Part Two offers some suggestions for interviewing at a research university. Part Four will deal with interviews at church-related colleges, especially evangelical schools.

In this post we focus on interviewing at colleges and universities that stress teaching over research. This, I might add, is the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities. It is important to remember that the phrase “teaching college” can be applied to a host of different kinds of institutions. Elite and not so elite liberal arts colleges, private comprehensive colleges, and second-tier state schools, for example, would all find a comfortable home in the “teaching college” tent.

This may be stating the obvious, but it is still worth mentioning that committees from these colleges are looking for an excellent teacher. Some may want to hire a “teacher-scholar,” or a person who sees their vocation in terms of blending traditional scholarship and teaching. Others may want someone who is a teacher first and a researcher/writer second. Still others may not give a lick about your research or how many books and articles you hope to churn out over the course of your career. Whatever the case, all of the schools in this category want a person who not only works well with students, but actually has a desire to do so.

As you might imagine, your “research” is not going to be as important to the search committee at a teaching college as it might be if you were interviewing with a research university. This does not mean that the search committee will not care about your dissertation or book manuscript. In most cases they will ask you about your research and, in some cases, may find it quite interesting. You may even find that many of these schools have incentives in place, such as summer research stipends or course reductions, to help you achieve your research and publication goals. But always remember that teaching comes first.

Do not expect that there will be someone sitting on the other side of the table who understands your sub-field. When you explain your research do it succinctly. Think about how you might explain your current project to a well-education historian, but not necessarily one who works in your area of expertise.

Whatever you do, DO NOT ramble on about your research or your long-term scholarly agenda. Don’t talk about how you want to write a book every other year or win a Pulitzer Prize someday. This does not mean that you should abandon a scholarly agenda if you accept an offer from a teaching college. What it does mean is that you must be realistic about the kind of things you can accomplish. Don’t present yourself as Superman or Wonder Woman–a (potential) teaching college professor who hopes to pursue a scholarly agenda fitting for a research university. Remember, at some of these schools you may end up teaching four courses a semester!

Any blathering on about your research agenda will only draw chuckles (hopefully not to your face) from the seasoned professors who are interviewing you. If you wonder just how much research you can get done at such a college, it does not hurt to politely ask if scholarly work is possible in light of the teaching load and/or committee work. You will probably get an honest answer, and hopefully a sympathetic one.

There will be some interviews in which the members of a search committee do not even ask you about your research. Don’t be offended by this or assume that it means that you will not be able to do scholarly work at this place. The search committee members probably looked at the description of your research in your cover letter and thought it was fine. They just want to use the 45 minutes of interview time to hear about what you will do for them in the classroom.

If you have not figured it out by now, you will be asked a lot of questions about teaching. The search committee is going to be very interested in learning about how you will plug in to both the department’s AND the college’s curriculum. You may be asked if you feel prepared to teach general education courses in subjects such as Western Civilization or World Civilization (even if you are an American historian). You may be asked if you would be interested in teaching interdisciplinary courses in something like a first-year CORE curriculum. Think in advance about how you might respond to these questions. To get a sense of what the teaching load might look like for the average member of the history department, go to the college’s website and see if you can access the Fall 2009 or Spring 2010 course listings. See what each professor in the department is teaching. (You may want to surprise the committee and, at some point during the interview, say something like this: “Professor X, I see that you’re teaching two sections of HIS 242 this coming semester–is this a usual course load?” Impressive!)

When you suggest possible courses that you can teach, don’t get cute. In other words, don’t lead off with a proposal for a 400-level course on the subject of your dissertation. If the committee wants you to teach a course like this, they will present you with an opportunity to talk it about. (Perhaps they might ask you to think about a topic for a senior seminar or something similar).

What they really want to know is whether or not you can teach some of the courses that are already on the books. If you are an early Americanist, they want to know if you can teach a course in Colonial America or the American Revolution. Be familiar with the department’s curriculum. Make it clear that you can plug in where you are needed, but also be ready with something unique you might be able to offer, such as a course in American religious history or global women’s history or native American history or Ghandi’s India. Suggesting these kinds of “general” upper-division courses is different than suggesting courses such as “Sexuality in Colonial New England” or “Sub-Altern Themes in South East Asia” or “Exploring the Working Class Experience in the Great Depression Through Film.”

There is also a good chance that the committee will ask you about your teaching philosophy. (Do you have one?). More specifically, they may want to know how you handle a class. How often do you lecture? What about class discussions? Do you use primary sources? If so, which ones? What textbooks might you use for a survey course? Feel free to ask your own questions during this discussion. How large are the classes? What are the students like?

Remember, the people who are interviewing you have done a lot of teaching. It is unlikely that you will completely blow them away with your innovative classroom strategies. They are more interested to see if you will be a competent teacher (or slightly better than competent) who takes the practice very seriously.

Always remember that teaching college search committees will not only be listening to the content of your answers, but they will also be observing your personality, your style of speaking, and how you carry yourself. They will be imagining how you will come across to their students. If you are passionate and enthusiastic during the interview, they will probably conclude that you are also that way in the classroom. This is a good thing. If you are boring and dry during the interview, well….

Finally, in order to win over a search committee from a teaching college, you need to show them during the interview that you want to work at their institution. This is hard to fake. If they sense that you see this job as a stepping stone to a position at a research university, you can probably kiss the job goodbye. Also remember that the members of any search committee, but especially a committee at a small teaching college, are looking for a colleague. Have you considered that you just might spend the next twenty or thirty years working with some of these people? I guarantee that they have thought about it.

Good luck!

Interviewing at the AHA: Research Universities

We continue with part two of our four part series on interviewing at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. Part One of the series focused on general interviewing tips.

This post will focus on interviewing for a job at a research university By “research university” I mean a “Research One” or Ph.D degree-granting institution. Nearly all of these universities have small teaching loads (usually 2 courses a semester–sometimes less) and high research expectations. Of course there are only a few of these jobs in your field each year and thus few graduate students will get the chance to put this advice to good use.

If you are fortunate enough to have landed an AHA interview with a research university you will probably be interviewed in a hotel suite. (If you are not in a suite, take this as a possible sign of budgetary problems in the department. Don’t ask about the financial state of the university in the interview though–save it for the on-campus visit). These departments usually have larger budgets than other search committees and they can thus afford a suite. The historians in these departments also see themselves as the elite members of the profession and thus want to provide more space and luxury than the schools interviewing in the “meat market.” In other words, they want to send the message that they do things professionally.

If the members of the search committee are hospitable–and in most cases they will be–one of the interviewers will take your coat and hang it up for you. You will be offered food and drink. (I recommend taking the drink–preferably water–and declining the food. The last thing you want is a piece of bagel or cheese in your teeth while you are talking). Get yourself settled, shake hands with everyone, and settle into your seat.

Try to talk as much as possible without notes or anything in front of you. You may, however, want a legal pad in front of you with a few questions on it that you want to ask the members of the committee. When someone says “Do you have any questions for us?,” pick it up and look at it. This will send the message that you are interested in the job and thought about things in advance.

Expect anything. Professors usually have agendas or strange personality quirks that might surface during the interview. Do your best to “read” the room. Try to figure out who on the committee is in your corner. (Somebody championed you during the selection process!). You may also learn rather quickly if a member of the committee is not in your corner. Scholars think that they can disguise the dysfunction of their departments, but it will inevitable shine through–if not during the AHA interview then definitely during the on-campus visit. Research universities are filled with scholars with big egos. When they tell you that “everyone in the department gets along,” be skeptical. In other words, if there is an underlying tension in the room you will probably pick it up. Do your best to navigate these types of situations with grace, but try not to make too much of all this. You are there to interview, not to play amateur psychologist. Don’t lose focus!

A good deal of your interview will focus on your research. Go into a bit more depth when discussing your dissertation or current book project than you would normally do in an interview with a non-research university. The committee will not only want to know the content of your work, but they will also ask how your work makes a significant contribution to your sub-field. There may even be one or two members of the committee who are familiar with your sub-field.

If you have a book contract you will have an advantage over your competitors, but you should also expect that many of your competitors will have contracts. This, after all, is how they have made it this far in the application process. If you don’t have a book contract, tell them about publishers or editors who have expressed interest in your work. The members of a research university history department will also ask you questions about where you are headed as a scholar. Do you have future projects in mind? You better. What will your next book be about?

There is a common misconception that research universities will not be interested in teaching. Every research university that I have ever interviewed with has made it abundantly clear that they take teaching seriously.

Having said that, don’t expect too many questions about your teaching philosophy or classroom style. The committee will want to know more about how you might contribute to the department’s curriculum. What kinds of new courses can you deliver? One of the fun things about teaching at a research university is that you get the opportunity to teach very specialized courses in your area of expertise. Even if you have spent most of your graduate school career teaching survey courses, you should definitely imagine a course with a name like “The Social World of the Enlightenment” or “Encountering the Other in Early America.” You should even write a syllabus for such an imagined course.

You can show that you are eager to plug into the curriculum by asking how the department defines the nature of 100, 200, 300, and 400-level undergraduate courses. Try to suggest (this will have to be off the top of your head, but since you are reading this you will be ready!) a course that you might teach at each of these levels. You may be asked if you are willing to teach a survey course. If asked, say yes. Since many professors at research universities do not want to teach these courses, your willingness to teach them will show that you are a team player.

You will also need to come up a with a few graduate courses that you may want to teach. Go to the department website and see the way in which it structures the coursework in the graduate program. Suggest one or two “reading” courses and a research-based course. These courses may be more general than the upper-division undergraduate courses you will propose (“Readings in Colonial America” or “Research in U.S. Women’s History”), but it all depends on the department.

Hopefully the interview went well. When you leave the suite take a deep breath, find the elevator, and feel the anxiety subside as you descend to the lobby! If you are being interviewed by a research university you probably have other interviews as well. Regroup and get ready for the next one!

Interviewing at the AHA: Some General Tips

Last December I ran a short series of posts in which I shared some thoughts about interviewing for jobs at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association.  The posts were well-received, so I thought I would run them again this year with some minor tweaking to keep them up to date.  

Here is the first post, which covers some general interviewing tips.

I have now had two readers ask me to do a post or two about interviewing at the American Historical Society Annual Meeting. I was unsure if I was really qualified to do this kind of thing, but then my wife reminded me that I have had many, many AHA interviews over the years and might have something worthwhile to say on the subject. I have had interviews at research universities, non Ph.D-granting state schools, liberal arts colleges, and church-related colleges. I have advanced to on-campus interviews in every institutional category and I have not advanced to on-campus interviews in every institutional category. I don’t say this to brag, but I do feel that I might be able to offer some advice about interviewing. In addition, I have sat on the “other side of the table” as an AHA interviewer.

I thought I would break this up into several posts. This post will focus on general tips for interviewing. The second post will focus on interviewing for a job at a research university. The third post will deal with interviewing for a job at a teaching college. The fourth post will deal with interviewing for a job at a church-related college, with particular emphasis on evangelical colleges.

When it comes to general tips about interviewing, I would direct my readers to Ari Kelman’s post at Edge of the American West. It is outstanding– one of the best things I have read on the subject.

After you get the exciting phone call (or e-mail) inviting you to interview at the AHA, send an e-mail to the head of the search committee with some general questions. (Assuming that they did not already give you this information during the initial contact). You can tell a lot about the department based on the level of professionalism displayed by the head of the search. A good search committee chairperson should answer your questions quickly and thoroughly. Ask which members of the department will be conducting the interview. Ask how long the interview will be. Where will the interview take place? Will it be in a hotel suite or at the job center (affectionately known as the “meat market”)? A good search committee chair will leave the door open for you to contact him/her with any additional questions that may arise between the initial contact and the AHA interview. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of such offers, but don’t appear too needy.

Once you find out who will be doing the interview, start researching. By this point you should have already familiarized yourself with the department web site, but now you want to go a bit deeper. Find out as much as you can about the people who will be seated on the other side of the table. What courses do they teach? (You do not want to propose a course that gets too close to the “turf” of another professor in the department). What are their research interests? (You may want to mention how your work has some theoretical connections to the work of a particular interviewer). All of this stuff is pretty straightforward and most good candidates do not need to be told any of this, but you might be surprised to learn just how many people come to an interview unprepared.

If you can help it, do not arrive at the conference on the day of the interview. You need time to relax in the hotel room, gather your thoughts, recover from jet lag, and get a good night’s sleep. Perhaps you may want to catch a session or wander through the book exhibit. I usually spend most of the night before an interview in the hotel room. I order room service (be sure to eat healthy–if sugar makes you dreary, as it does me, don’t order dessert!), practice my responses to basic questions about teaching and research, and do some last minute research about the department and the interviewers. (If you have to pay $9.95 for Internet access, you may want to consider biting the bullet). I have occasionally gone outside to get some fresh air. A short walk in the general vicinity of the hotel does wonders for clearing the mind. While I know that many like to use the AHA to network and party with friends, the night before the interview is not the time to do this.

While I realize that the AHA offers an opportunity to get a hotel room at a reduced conference rate in a major American city, I am not sure it is a good idea to bring your family with you to the conference, especially if you have kids. You don’t need these kinds of extra distractions and worries.

As soon as you arrive at your hotel and after you have unpacked, get a quick “lay of the land.” Are you staying in the main conference hotel? Is the job center in your hotel? In the past I have literally walked from my room to the job center so I know exactly where I am going on the day of the interview. Don’t underestimate the power of knowing where you are going. It is a great stress-reliever and one less thing to worry about.

I break out a nice suit for the interview. A tie is optional–it all depends on your personal sense of style. (Perhaps a female reader can weigh in with advice on what women should wear to an interview). I make sure all of my clothes are pressed and “ready to go” the night before. I would also recommend getting a haircut before the conference.

The entire interview will revolve around questions related to two themes: teaching and research. (A third theme–institutional fit–will be an important part of interviews with church-related schools. I will comment on this in a later post). How much time the interviewers spend on these themes will depend on the nature of the institution. Again, more on this in future posts.

Try your best to be relaxed during the interview, but not too relaxed. The committee needs to see that you are taking this interview seriously. Sit up straight, shake hands with all the members of the committee, and be sure to look them in the eye. You want to come across as serious, but you also want to smile. Feel free to laugh if you think something that one of the interviewers said is funny. Remember, the committee is not only looking for a good scholar and teacher, they are also looking for a future colleague. They are imagining popping their head into your office for some friendly conversation. Some of these things cannot be taught. Some people have it, some don’t.

If you have not already sent the search committee copies of syllabi or scholarly works, bring them with you. When you talk about your research, pull out a copy of an article for each member of the committee and give it to them. As you talk about potential courses, provide them with a sample syllabi. Make sure you have plenty of c.v.’s with you. If your c.v. has changed significantly since you originally applied for the job, make sure that you give the committee an updated version. Having said this, try not to overwhelm the committee with too much paperwork. Save the course evaluations and statement of teaching philosophy. You should have already sent these when you applied.

Search committees, especially those from teaching colleges or small colleges, want to know that you are interested in the job. Make sure you come across as someone who would be eager to work at the given institution. If you have experience with this kind of institution or might connect in a unique way with the student body, feel free to bring this up. For example, if the school attracts a lot of working-class or first-generation college students and you were raised in a working-class family or were a first-generation college student, you should look for a chance to mention this.

When you leave the interview, make sure you are clear on the “timetable.” When will you hear back from them with a decision? A good search committee will tell you this without you having to ask.

When the interview is finished, and this is your last interview, go have fun. If you have more interviews, go back and prepare for the next one. If you have more than one interview, your last one will probably be the best. You will learn from your previous mistakes and your answers to basic questions will be sharper.

As soon as you get home, send a thank-you note to the chair of the search committee. (You may also want to send one to the other members of the committee as well). I like to send a “snail-mail” note rather than an e-mail. It is a nice touch.

Stay tuned for our next installment: Interviewing with the research university.

We Had the AHA Meeting Covered!!

AHA Today, the blog of the American Historical Association, is reporting on the growing number of bloggers covering the organization’s annual meetings. This year, as many of you know, the annual meeting took place in San Diego and “The Way of Improvement Leads Home” was all over it!

In fact, we out-blogged, in terms of number of posts about the meeting, all other blogs in the universe! The AHA Today post also includes a separate category for the insightful reports of correspondent “The Wolfe’s Tone.”

I encourage my readers to follow the links and see what some of our fellow history bloggers were writing last weekend during this gathering of all gatherings for the historical profession.

Interviewing at the AHA: Church-Related Schools

This is Part Four of our four-part series on interviewing at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association.

Part One covers some general interviewing tips. Part Two offers some suggestions for interviewing at a research university. Part Three focuses on interviewing at a teaching college or university.

If you get an interview at a church-related school you need to do your homework. What kind of church-related school is it? A good place to start is Robert Benne’s Quality With Soul. Benne identifies four different types of church-related colleges. I have charted my own course in this post, but have relied on some of Benne’s classifications.

There are many schools that have historic connections with Protestant denominations. This, of course, does not mean that those connections will have any bearing on the hiring process or the AHA interview. For example, Duke University has a historic connection to the United Methodist Church, but this connection will play no factor in the search process. The same might be true of a place like Gettysburg College, a school with connections to the Lutheran Church. If you have an AHA interview with this kind of church-related school, there is no need to treat it any differently than you would an interview at a non-sectarian school or public university. You may not even realize that you are interviewing with a church-related school!

Other church-related schools take their church-relatedness a bit more seriously. Catholic schools, for example, might ask you if you have any problems with the Catholic mission of the university. In most cases, however, this issue will not be raised during the AHA interview. (It might be raised by an administrator during an on-campus visit). The only exception to this rule is the small number of Catholic colleges who only hire Catholic faculty. If these schools interview at the AHA (most will not), the committee will not only ask you if you are Catholic, but will want to know if you are a practicing Catholic. (Yes, a private school can ask such a question).

Some church-related schools are very concerned about having a “critical mass” of faculty who represent the specific religious tradition of the college or the Christian faith more generally. For example, a Lutheran school may try to make sure that at least fifty percent of their faculty are Lutheran. A Baptist school may want a “critical mass” of Baptist professors. A Methodist school may want a majority of self-identified Christians.

If your religious faith (or lack thereof) does not fit with the denominational affiliation of a “critical mass” college it does not necessarily mean that you have no chance of landing the job. When interviewing at these schools you should consider two things:

First, as mentioned above in the context of Catholic schools, you may be asked to express your willingness to work at a school with a Christian mission. This may or may not come up in the context of an AHA interview. It all depends on the school.

Second, do not automatically assume that the members of the search committee or the members of the department at a “critical mass” school is “on board” with how the administration defines its Christian mission. I remember an interview with a church-related school that was making a conscious effort to fashion itself as a Christian (broadly-defined) research university. When I sat down for the interview with two members of the history department, it became clear rather quickly that one of the interviewers was a strong supporter of this new mission and the other interviewer was quite hostile to it. It is hard to anticipate these things. Sometime you just need to go with the flow and present yourself as a teacher and scholar.

Finally, you may have an interview with a self-consciously “Christian college.” “Christian college” can be defined in many ways, but usually the term is used to describe a college that is affiliated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). The CCCU is made up of schools that require faculty to sign some kind of statement of Christian faith. This should not surprise you when it comes up in the interview. Most schools, as part of the preliminary application process, will ask you to sign the school’s statement of faith and, in many cases, ask you to write an essay about how your faith informs your work as an academic.

All CCCU schools are teaching colleges. You should thus prepare for the interview as if you are preparing for an interview with any teaching college. But there will also be a part of the interview where the search committee will want to talk about your “fit” with the Christian mission of the college. If you have made it this far, it is likely that you have already articulated some sense of your Christian faith and how it bears on what you do in your teaching and scholarship. The committee, however, will want to probe more deeply. They may ask you to elaborate further on the faith statement you wrote as part of the application. They may ask you to talk about how comfortable you would feel teaching at a school like this. If you attended a CCCU school as an undergraduate (a clear sign to a search committee that you might be a good “fit”), you should have no problem with any of this. You may even welcome this line of questioning.

It is important that you can show a search committee at a CCCU college that you are indeed a Christian and are seriously interested in teaching at a Christian college. This will require more on your part than simply saying “I don’t have a problem with anything related to the Christian mission of your school.” The committee will want to hear you talk positively about how you might fit. If you can find an opportunity to describe your religious life or spiritual pilgrimage (briefly), or talk about your church involvement, it will definitely help. Have you thought deeply about how to integrate your faith with your discipline? Are you even willing to do this? If not, you have virtually no chance of advancing to the campus visit. (Most CCCU schools will ask you to write a faith-integration or “Christian scholarship” essay as part of the tenure process).

CCCU colleges are looking for a good scholar-teacher who really wants to work at a school with a Christian mission. There are many Christian historians who could “fit” at a CCCU school but would prefer to work at a bigger school or a non-sectarian school.

There is a sense in which candidates for a position at a CCCU school must conceive of their academic vocation differently from the way he or she was trained in graduate school. The best faculty at Christian colleges are academics who want to invest their lives (or part of their lives) in a Christian intellectual community. He or she can speak of a sense of “calling” to an academic life. This does not mean that a Christian college professor sacrifices his research agenda or pursuit of professional development. Many Christian colleges offer a lot of professional development incentives and opportunities to pursue these kinds of things. (Some do not–be sure to ask about this!). It does mean, however, that one is willing to think about his or her academic life as serving a larger purpose grounded in the college’s Christian mission. If a candidate is a good scholar, a good teacher (especially), and can articulate this sense of vocation, there is a very good chance he or she (especially “she”–CCCU history departments tend to be dominated by males) will advance to an on-campus interview.

Interviewing at the AHA: Teaching Colleges

This is Part Three of our four part series on interviewing at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association.

Part One covers some general interviewing tips. Part Two offers some suggestions for interviewing at a research university. Part Four will deal with interviews at church-related colleges, especially evangelical schools.

In this post we focus on interviewing at colleges and universities that stress teaching over research. This, I might add, is the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities. It is important to remember that the phrase “teaching college” can be applied to a host of different kinds of institutions. Elite and not so elite liberal arts colleges, private comprehensive colleges, and second-tier state schools, for example, would all find a comfortable home in the “teaching college” tent.

This may be stating the obvious, but it is still worth mentioning that committees from these colleges are looking for an excellent teacher. Some may want to hire a “teacher-scholar,” or a person who sees their vocation in terms of blending traditional scholarship and teaching. Others may want someone who is a teacher first and a researcher/writer second. Still others may not give a lick about your research or how many books and articles you hope to churn out over the course of your career. Whatever the case, all of the schools in this category want a person who not only works well with students, but actually has a desire to do so.

As you might imagine, your “research” is not going to be as important to the search committee at a teaching college as it might be if you were interviewing with a research university. This does not mean that the search committee will not care about your dissertation or book manuscript. In most cases they will ask you about your research and, in some cases, may find it quite interesting. You may even find that many of these schools have incentives in place, such as summer research stipends or course reductions, to help you achieve your research and publication goals. But always remember that teaching comes first.

Do not expect that there will be someone sitting on the other side of the table who understands your sub-field. When you explain your research do it succinctly. Think about how you might explain your current project to a well-education historian, but not necessarily one who works in your area of expertise.

Whatever you do, DO NOT ramble on about your research or your long-term scholarly agenda. Don’t talk about how you want to write a book every other year or win a Pulitzer Prize someday. This does not mean that you should abandon a scholarly agenda if you accept an offer from a teaching college. What it does mean is that you must be realistic about the kind of things you can accomplish. Don’t present yourself as Superman or Wonder Woman–a (potential) teaching college professor who hopes to pursue a scholarly agenda fitting for a research university. Remember, at some of these schools you may end up teaching four courses a semester!

Any blathering on about your research agenda will only draw chuckles (hopefully not to your face) from the seasoned professors who are interviewing you. If you wonder just how much research you can get done at such a college, it does not hurt to politely ask if scholarly work is possible in light of the teaching load and/or committee work. You will probably get an honest answer, and hopefully a sympathetic one.

There will be some interviews in which the members of a search committee do not even ask you about your research. Don’t be offended by this or assume that it means that you will not be able to do scholarly work at this place. The search committee members probably looked at the description of your research in your cover letter and thought it was fine. They just want to use the 45 minutes of interview time to hear about what you will do for them in the classroom.

If you have not figured it out by now, you will be asked a lot of questions about teaching. The search committee is going to be very interested in learning about how you will plug in to both the department’s AND the college’s curriculum. You may be asked if you feel prepared to teach general education courses in subjects such as Western Civilization or World Civilization (even if you are an American historian). You may be asked if you would be interested in teaching interdisciplinary courses in something like a first-year CORE curriculum. Think in advance about how you might respond to these questions. To get a sense of what the teaching load might look like for the average member of the history department, go to the college’s website and see if you can access the Fall 2009 or Spring 2010 course listings. See what each professor in the department is teaching. (You may want to surprise the committee and, at some point during the interview, say something like this: “Professor X, I see that you’re teaching two sections of HIS 242 this coming semester–is this a usual course load?” Impressive!)

When you suggest possible courses that you can teach, don’t get cute. In other words, don’t lead off with a proposal for a 400-level course on the subject of your dissertation. If the committee wants you to teach a course like this, they will present you with an opportunity to talk it about. (Perhaps they might ask you to think about a topic for a senior seminar or something similar).

What they really want to know is whether or not you can teach some of the courses that are already on the books. If you are an early Americanist, they want to know if you can teach a course in Colonial America or the American Revolution. Be familiar with the department’s curriculum. Make it clear that you can plug in where you are needed, but also be ready with something unique you might be able to offer, such as a course in American religious history or global women’s history or native American history or Ghandi’s India. Suggesting these kinds of “general” upper-division courses is different than suggesting courses such as “Sexuality in Colonial New England” or “Sub-Altern Themes in South East Asia” or “Exploring the Working Class Experience in the Great Depression Through Film.”

There is also a good chance that the committee will ask you about your teaching philosophy. (Do you have one?). More specifically, they may want to know how you handle a class. How often do you lecture? What about class discussions? Do you use primary sources? If so, which ones? What textbooks might you use for a survey course? Feel free to ask your own questions during this discussion. How large are the classes? What are the students like?

Remember, the people who are interviewing you have done a lot of teaching. It is unlikely that you will completely blow them away with your innovative classroom strategies. They are more interested to see if you will be a competent teacher (or slightly better than competent) who takes the practice very seriously.

Always remember that teaching college search committees will not only be listening to the content of your answers, but they will also be observing your personality, your style of speaking, and how you carry yourself. They will be imagining how you will come across to their students. If you are passionate and enthusiastic during the interview, they will probably conclude that you are also that way in the classroom. This is a good thing. If you are boring and dry during the interview, well….

Finally, in order to win over a search committee from a teaching college, you need to show them during the interview that you want to work at their institution. This is hard to fake. If they sense that you see this job as a stepping stone to a position at a research university, you can probably kiss the job goodbye. Also remember that the members of any search committee, but especially a committee at a small teaching college, are looking for a colleague. Have you considered that you just might spend the next twenty or thirty years working with some of these people? I guarantee that they have thought about it.

Good luck!

Interviewing at the AHA: Research Universities

We continue with part two of our four part series on interviewing at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. Part One of the series focused on general interviewing tips.

This post will focus on interviewing for a job at a research university By “research university” I mean a “Research One” or Ph.D degree-granting institution. Nearly all of these universities have small teaching loads (usually 2 courses a semester–sometimes less) and high research expectations. Of course there are only a few of these jobs in your field each year and thus few graduate students will get the chance to put this advice to good use.

If you are fortunate enough to have landed an AHA interview with a research university you will probably be interviewed in a hotel suite. (If you are not in a suite, take this as a possible sign of budgetary problems in the department. Don’t ask about the financial state of the university in the interview though–save it for the on-campus visit). These departments usually have larger budgets than other search committees and they can thus afford a suite. The historians in these departments also see themselves as the elite members of the profession and thus want to provide more space and luxury than the schools interviewing in the “meat market.” In other words, they want to send the message that they do things professionally.

If the members of the search committee are hospitable–and in most cases they will be–one of the interviewers will take your coat and hang it up for you. You will be offered food and drink. (I recommend taking the drink–preferably water–and declining the food. The last thing you want is a piece of bagel or cheese in your teeth while you are talking). Get yourself settled, shake hands with everyone, and settle into your seat.

Try to talk as much as possible without notes or anything in front of you. You may, however, want a legal pad in front of you with a few questions on it that you want to ask the members of the committee. When someone says “Do you have any questions for us?,” pick it up and look at it. This will send the message that you are interested in the job and thought about things in advance.

Expect anything. Professors usually have agendas or strange personality quirks that might surface during the interview. Do your best to “read” the room. Try to figure out who on the committee is in your corner. (Somebody championed you during the selection process!). You may also learn rather quickly if a member of the committee is not in your corner. Scholars think that they can disguise the dysfunction of their departments, but it will inevitable shine through–if not during the AHA interview then definitely during the on-campus visit. Research universities are filled with scholars with big egos. When they tell you that “everyone in the department gets along,” be skeptical. In other words, if there is an underlying tension in the room you will probably pick it up. Do your best to navigate these types of situations with grace. but try not to make too much of all this. You are there to interview, not to play amateur psychologist. Don’t lose focus!

A good deal of your interview will focus on your research. Go into a bit more depth when discussing your dissertation or current book project than you would normally do in an interview with a non-research university. The committee will not only want to know the content of your work, but they will also ask how your work makes a significant contribution to your sub-field. There may even be one or two members of the committee who are familiar with your sub-field.

If you have a book contract you will have an advantage over your competitors, but you should also expect that many of your competitors will have contracts. This, after all, is how they have made it this far in the application process. If you don’t have a book contract, tell them about publishers or editors who have expressed interest in your work. The members of a research university history department will also ask you questions about where you are headed as a scholar. Do you have future projects in mind? You better. What will your next book be about?

There is a common misconception that research universities will not be interested in teaching. Every research university that I have ever interviewed with has made it abundantly clear that they take teaching seriously.

Having said that, don’t expect too many questions about your teaching philosophy or classroom style. The committee will want to know more about how you might contribute to the department’s curriculum. What kinds of new courses can you deliver? One of the fun things about teaching at a research university is that you get the opportunity to teach very specialized courses in your area of expertise. Even if you have spent most of your graduate school career teaching survey courses, you should definitely imagine a course with a name like “The Social World of the Enlightenment” or “Encountering the Other in Early America.” You should even write a syllabus for such an imagined course.

You can show that you are eager to plug into the curriculum by asking how the department defines the nature of 100, 200, 300, and 400-level undergraduate courses. Try to suggest (this will have to be off the top of your head, but since you are reading this you will be ready!) a course that you might teach at each of these levels. You may be asked if you are willing to teach a survey course. If asked, say yes. Since many professors at research universities do not want to teach these courses, your willingness to teach them will show that you are a team player.

You will also need to come up a with a few graduate courses that you may want to teach. Go to the department website and see the way in which it structures the coursework in the graduate program. Suggest one or two “reading” courses and a research-based course. These courses may be more general than the upper-division undergraduate courses you will propose (“Readings in Colonial America” or “Research in U.S. Women’s History”), but it all depends on the department.

Hopefully the interview went well. When you leave the suite take a deep breath, find the elevator, and feel the anxiety subside as you descend to the lobby! If you are being interviewed by a research university you probably have other interviews as well. Regroup and get ready for the next one!

Interviewing at the AHA: Some General Tips

I have now had two readers ask me to do a post or two about interviewing at the American Historical Association annual meeting. I was unsure if I was really qualified to do this kind of thing, but then my wife reminded me that I have had many, many AHA interviews over the years and might have something worthwhile to say on the subject. I have had interviews at research universities, non Ph.D-granting state schools, liberal arts colleges, and church-related colleges. I have advanced to on-campus interviews in every institutional category and I have not advanced to on-campus interviews in every institutional category. I don’t say this to brag, but I do feel that I might be able to offer some advice about interviewing. In addition, I have sat on the “other side of the table” as an AHA interviewer.

I thought I would break this up into several posts. This post will focus on general tips for interviewing. The second post will focus on interviewing for a job at a research university. The third post will deal with interviewing for a job at a teaching college. The fourth post will deal with interviewing for a job at a church-related college, with particular emphasis on evangelical colleges. Hopefully I can complete this series before the AHA meets on January 7th in San Diego. I will do my best.

When it comes to general tips about interviewing, I would direct my readers to Ari Kelman’s post at Edge of the American West. It is outstanding– one of the best things I have read on the subject.

After you get the exciting phone call (or e-mail) inviting you to interview at the AHA, send an e-mail to the head of the search committee with some general questions. (Assuming that they did not already give you this information during the initial contact). You can tell a lot about the department based on the level of professionalism displayed by the head of the search. A good search committee chairperson should answer your questions quickly and thoroughly. Ask which members of the department will be conducting the interview. Ask how long the interview will be. Where will the interview take place? Will it be in a hotel suite or at the job center (affectionately known as the “meat market”)? A good search committee chair will leave the door open for you to contact him/her with any additional questions that may arise between the initial contact and the AHA interview. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of such offers, but don’t appear too needy.

Once you find out who will be doing the interview, start researching. By this point you should have already familiarized yourself with the department web site, but now you want to go a bit deeper. Find out as much as you can about the people who will be seated on the other side of the table. What courses do they teach? (You do not want to propose a course that gets too close to the “turf” of another professor in the department). What are their research interests? (You may want to mention how your work has some theoretical connections to the work of a particular interviewer). All of this stuff is pretty straightforward and most good candidates do not need to be told any of this, but you might be surprised to learn just how many people come to an interview unprepared.

If you can help it, do not arrive at the conference on the day of the interview. You need time to relax in the hotel room, gather your thoughts, recover from jet lag, and get a good night’s sleep. Perhaps you may want to catch a session or wander through the book exhibit. I usually spend most of the night before an interview in the hotel room. I order room service (be sure to eat healthy–if sugar makes you dreary, as it does me, don’t order desert!), practice my responses to basic questions about teaching and research, and do some last minute research about the department and the interviewers. (If you have to pay $9.95 for Internet access, you may want to consider biting the bullet). I have occasionally gone outside to get some fresh air. A short walk in the general vicinity of the hotel does wonders for clearing the mind. While I know that many like to use the AHA to network and party with friends, the night before the interview is not the time to do this.

While I realize that the AHA offers an opportunity to get a hotel room at a reduced conference rate in a major American city, I am not sure it is a good idea to bring your family with you to the conference, especially if you have kids. You don’t need these kinds of extra distractions and worries.

As soon as you arrive at your hotel and after you have unpacked, get a quick “lay of the land.” Are you staying in the main conference hotel? Is the job center in your hotel? In the past I have literally walked from my room to the job center so I know exactly where I am going on the day of the interview. Don’t underestimate the power of knowing where you are going. It is a great stress-reliever and one less thing to worry about.

I break out a nice suit for the interview. A tie is optional–it all depends on your personal sense of style. (Perhaps a female reader can weigh in with advice on what women should wear to an interview). I make sure all of my clothes are pressed and “ready to go” the night before. I would also recommend getting a haircut before the conference.

The entire interview will revolve around questions related to two themes: teaching and research. (A third theme–institutional fit–will be an important part of interviews with church-related schools. I will comment on this in a later post). How much time the interviewers spend on these themes will depend on the nature of the institution. Again, more on this in future posts.

Try your best to be relaxed during the interview, but not too relaxed. The committee needs to see that you are taking this interview seriously. Sit up straight, shake hands with all the members of the committee, and be sure to look them in the eye. You want to come across as serious, but you also want to smile. Feel free to laugh if you think something that one of the interviewers said is funny. Remember, the committee is not only looking for a good scholar and teacher, they are also looking for a future colleague. They are imagining popping their head into your office for some friendly conversation. Some of these things cannot be taught. Some people have it, some don’t.

If you have not already sent the search committee copies of syllabi or scholarly works, bring them with you. When you talk about your research, pull out a copy of an article for each member of the committee and give it to them. As you talk about potential courses, provide them with a sample syllabi. Make sure you have plenty of c.v.’s with you. If your c.v. has changed significantly since you originally applied for the job, make sure that you give the committee an updated version. Having said this, try not to overwhelm the committee with too much paperwork. Save the course evaluations and statement of teaching philosophy. You should have already sent these when you applied.

Search committees, especially those from teaching college or small colleges, want to know that you are interested in the job. Make sure you come across as someone who would be eager to work at the given institution. If you have experience with this kind of institution or might connect in a unique way with the student body, feel free to bring this up. For example, if the school attracts a lot of working-class or first-generation college students and you were raised in a working-class family or were a first-generation college student, you should look for a chance to mention this.

When you leave the interview, make sure you are clear on the “timetable.” When will you hear back from them with a decision? A good search committee will tell you this without you having to ask.

When the interview is finished, and this is your last interview, go have fun. If you have more interviews, go back and prepare for the next one. If you have more than one interview, your last one will probably be the best. You will learn from your previous mistakes and your answers to basic questions will be sharper.

As soon as you get home, send a thank-you note to the chair of the search committee. (You may also want to send one to the other members of the committee as well). I like to send a “snail-mail” note rather than an e-mail. It is a nice touch.

Stay tuned for our next installment: Interviewing with the research university.