The interview dinner

Since interview season is in full swing I thought I would get something up that has some relevance for some of the people I know going through this process. If you've missed Dr. Becca's TT advice aggregator, you may want to check that out as well. There's a lot of good advice there but I though I would tackle the interview dinner today. Typically, this is on the night between your two day interview, often after your formal seminar and with a small group of 4-6 faculty.

The purpose of this dinner is sort of a "get to know you" kinda thing. IME, the conversation is less centered around science and more for the group to get a feel for what you do outside of work and for you to ask questions about the department, the university and the area. People may talk about their families and the schools in the area and you can make a call as to whether or not you discuss your own family/relationship status. The main goal of the faculty is to determine if you would be the type of person they would get along with for potentially the next 20 years and your main goal is to figure out if you are willing to do the same. I have found the dinner to be the least formal aspect of the interview, but no less informative for both the interviewers and interviewee.

Although informal, don't assume that people won't notice a lot about you. As such, here are a few suggestions.

1) It should be obvious, but don't get sloshed. A glass of wine with dinner, sure. Three? probably a bad idea. A bottle or two might be bought for the table, but if people keep offering to fill your glass (and they might) use the "I want to be sharp for tomorrow" excuse and stick with water.

2) If you have dietary preferences or constraints, either make them known ahead of time or check the restaurant menu online to make sure it will be suitable. Better to not make everyone uncomfortable by revealing that you are a vegan while sitting in a steak house.

3) Remember that you are there for the interview, not the meal. Don't take forever deciding what you want to eat or have 34 caveats to your order. You don't need to subtly send the message that you are picky or really difficult. Again, if you are, check the menu ahead of time and decide then what you want. Less time looking over the menu, more time engaging the faculty.

4) Don't pick the most expensive thing on the menu, nor the messiest. A whole lobster is probably a bad idea, on both fronts.

5) Enjoy yourself. The dinner should be fun and an opportunity to get to know people a little. Having some humorous anecdotes and don't let the conversation lag into awkward pauses if you can help it.

19 responses so far

  • Dr Becca says:

    Further evidence that looking for a TT job is pretty much exactly like dating.

    In my experience, the dinner was a great way to see the dynamics of the group you'll be joining. In one interview I went on, they seemed like they were friends--conversation was lively, they gave each other shit (in a good way), and we talked about everything from Big Science Questions to cooking to Mad Men. In another interview dinner things were much more awkward silencey (this was the night before my interview was to begin), and everyone basically went around the table and said what their research topic was.

    It helps to come prepared with questions--about anything, really. People love to talk about the city they're in, so you can get quite a lot of mileage out of questions about the real estate situation, culture, dining, etc. Also, letting them blather on will give you a chance to actually eat!

  • Joseph says:

    "In one interview I went on"

    Whoah, you got more than one faculty interview? I'm struggling (and failing) to just get *one* and I've been told this is pretty much what I should expect.

    I went into the wrong field, I think.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    There were years I applied and didn't get an interview. Hang in there if it is what you want.

  • Joseph says:

    Glad to hear that I'm not the only one. Some days it really feels like I just completely suck and should pack my bags and go home.

  • Jen says:

    I was lucky enough to have two interviews this past month (still waiting to hear back from them...) In the first interview, dinner was at the end of the interview at a very nice restaurant. Since I had just spent the whole day with them, it was a fairly relaxed setting, and conversation revolved primarily around living in the town. Since I had questions about this, it was easy to keep the conversation going (even though I was dead-tired after a 14-hour day). In the 2nd interview, there were two dinners - one with half the faculty, the night before my interview (at the best restaurant in town), and another dinner after my interview, with the remaining faculty (at the home of one faculty member, whose wife prepared an outstanding meal). The only awkwardness came with the 2nd interview - I'm a teetotaler (although I certainly don't advertise it - I just order water). The first dinner's conversation revolved around all the great microbrews in the area, and the second dinner revolved around the host's impressive wine cellar. ( I think he was taken aback when I did not sample the wine.) Everyone else seemed really into/enjoyed their discussions of the best microbrew or wine, and since I couldn't really contribute, I just asked a few questions. Eventually, the conversations drifted to other subjects but I either (a) need to start brushing up on my knowledge of wine/microbrews, or (b) need to learn how to tactfully deflect/change the conversation. At least I didn't have to deal with a friend's situation, who was asked outright by the search committee chair if she was pregnant when she didn't order wine at dinner.

  • Dr Becca says:

    Joseph, last year I applied and had complete and utter failure--no bites at all. This year I improved my research statement a ton, got a little extra teaching experience, and it seems to have made a difference. Like PLS says, hang in there, but make sure you're taking steps to look better each cycle.

  • Joseph says:

    Thanks; is very good advice, I think. Just feeling very tired and getting bitter about the whole thing.

  • Allyson says:

    Just had my first TT interview last week, and agreed on all points. (Including that it's tough to even get the one interview, Joseph.)

    Other observations:
    +You don't get much chance to eat at dinner, so pick something that's easy to take a few bites and then talk. Going to a place with sushi was a good idea of my search committee.
    +Someone's earlier suggestion about having caffeine with every meal - good advice!

    Dr. Becca, the TT advice aggregator really helped this interview go smoothly - I should acknowledge you in my dissertation! Thanks all.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Sorry to be the one to break this to you, but if you think this feeling goes away once you grab the TT brass ring, you might want to browse the archives here and at some of the other junior faculty blogs a bit before you commit to this career trajectory. I'm not complaining and I do like my job, but getting the job is just a milestone, not the end zone.

  • Science Professor says:

    Not to focus on the negative, but here is another "do not do this" example for interviewees at these dinners: Don't ask the male faculty about research and the women faculty about schools and gardening.

    The worst dinner I went to as a faculty member was when the interviewee brought his girlfriend and they smooched, fed each other, and revealed their cute, personal nicknames for each other. I spent way too much time wondering if it would be bad etiquette for me to stab one or both of them with my fork.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    "I spent way too much time wondering if it would be bad etiquette for me to stab one or both of them with my fork."

    The answer is no.

  • brooksPhD says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how outstandingly stupid and unprofessional people can be sometimes.

    So, which did you stab first?

  • physioprof says:

    Here's another lively discussion of faculty job interview dinners:

    http://www.historiann.com/2011/01/27/candidate-dinners-skip-the-diaper-talk-willya/

  • Dr. O says:

    You're not alone - I'm there with you. I just keep reminding myself that it's a tough market to be in right now. On the days that I feel like packing up and changing careers, I focus on the parts of my job that I love, and try to forget that my career is hanging in the balance... ;)

  • fcs says:

    Some of those anecdotes in Historiann's blog are hysterical (in a black humor sort of way).

  • CoR says:

    Dude, I have a jorb and feel that way half the time. The other half I think I own.

  • CoR says:

    Don't use salt. Just eat the fucken food they put on the table and make nice.

  • FcRXa says:

    I recently got an interview for a postoctoral position at a big University. My girlfriend will be travelling and staying with me during the interview. I feel bad she will have to stay in the hotel for 1.5 days. Would it be ok if I bring her to the interview dinner?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    FcRXa, Others may have differing opinions, but I would say your girlfriend isn't part of the deal for the search committee. It's unfortunate that she will be spending a lot of time without you, but the interview is for you to get to the dept and vice versa. Bringing your girlfriend along to these events is unusual, and therefore maybe not the best play.

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