I just got back from APSA in Toronto and wanted to divulge the details of the Interview Placement Service for those of you interested. First off, I went with nothing but positive expectations so keep that in mind. I have heard all the negatives, “it’s a meat market”, “the APSA interviews don’t matter”, “hardly any schools interview at APSA”, “it’s just not worth the trip”, and so on. Whatever. My attitude was that it would be valuable in some way, and I was right. Yes, it’s a bit of a meat market. You sit in a waiting room with the other candidates waiting for interviewers to come in and call your name. Like a “Price is Right” for job interviews (though tempted, I didn’t run down the aisle with arms flailing in the air when my name was called). Then, you got to a huge room and sit at a tiny table with 1-3 interviewers for 15-45 minutes, depending on their schedules. Awkward moments include interviewing at the table next to the table where you just had an interview earlier that day. Remember what you say each time and keep it consistent. There is a 10-15 feet radius of 4-5 other schools that can clearly hear your interview. Also, they are interviews and people are dressed as such. Suits for both genders. So you get to walk around APSA in a nice suit for 4 days. And yes, not all schools that are hiring interview at APSA. But lots do and the consensus among the LACs was that these interviews are important. This included top ranked LACs who have just as high research standards as many R1s.
Specific comments (and why you should go when it’s your turn):
1) You can find out an amazing amount about the school if you ask the right questions. APSA has a list of interview questions schools have agreed to answer, but think about what you really want to know about the department and figure out the best way to ask. If you do interdisciplinary work, ask how open the dept/college is about that kind of work. They will tell you. If you want to know about collegiality, ask, they will tell you. I was pleasantly surprised at how candid some interviewers were. Some schools I previously didn’t give much thought to became front runners in my search because of these questions. You can also find out here about the balance between research and teaching, the connections of the school to the community, the community itself, and all sorts of other things. The interviewers were all more than happy to talk about their department, school, and community- just like you would if asked about UNL.
2) You become adept at talking about your dissertation, research agenda, and pedagogical philosophy (better have an answer for that one) within a few interviews. This is perhaps the best thing to come out of the APSA interview process. No where else do you have this opportunity in grad school. The interviewers don’t know anything about you and until now you have most likely worked with faculty who do- there is a big difference in how you frame your research agenda or teaching philosophy to an uninformed and highly intelligent audience.
3) You learn a lot about yourself just by hearing how the interviewers perceive your cv and what kinds of related questions they have for you. They see strengths (and weaknesses) you may not have thought of before. Example: if you come from all large universities and apply to a small LAC, they will ask you why. I didn’t realize this would be an issue for me. You might found out what your issue or strength is BEFORE you write cover letters. Again, invaluable information. Knowing how you are perceived on the job market can be important before you draft your application packets and wait for interviews.
4) You get to talk to other candidates. Find out who else is looking for jobs. What kind of struggles they are having. Group therapy, if you will. Meet future colleagues, friends. Just talk to people.
5) You get feedback about exactly what to put in your cover letter (buzz words to include, strengths to emphasize), the time line of the hiring process, where you fit (or not) with the job description, and what to expect from an on-campus interview at that particular school.
Overall, I would highly recommend going to APSA for the interview service. If you go to APSA for no other reason, go for this experience. It is worth the price of admission. Be sure you follow the APSA guidelines if you do, you have to contact the hiring schools in the months before APSA and request interviews. They don’t contact you (well, maybe they do, I heard mixed rumors on this). You send an email and you cv and wait for an interview slot. Simple and free, for the cost of the APSA registration fee.