Today, the annual November rite for aspiring law teachers and law school hiring committees, the AALS Faculty Recruitment Conference (FRC), more commonly known by the affectionate name, the "meat market," begins. With all due respect to The Smiths, the meat market doesn't have to be murder, as long as you manage your stress. A candidate alumnae of my law school asked me for advice on what to do before and during the conference, and I thought I might share a few practical tips that I gave her.
Between now and when you leave for DC, make sure that you have your interview stuff organized. There are different ways to do it, and I'm sure that others can offer their suggestions, but I made a separate file for each school, labeled with the name of the school, day, time, and room number for the interview, with all the stuff they sent me (glossy bulletins, correspondence); a list of the committee members (if they told me) and printouts of the committee members’ web-bios, highlighting anything that I might have in common or be able to connect with them on (same school, same teaching or scholarship interests, runs marathons, knows a colleague or friend); and anything else you've gathered (notes/emails from other people about the school, Barron's or NALP summary sheet, notes about the town or university).
I also did a quick one-page summary sheet for the front of each file with "tickler" information (size of school/university, location, main areas of focus, joint degrees, clinics, big name/key faculty, new dean) and questions that I might like to ask, so that I could glance down during the interview and say something informed like, "So you have a part-time/evening division? Are faculty assigned, or do they volunteer, to teach in it?" "How will the law school use the recent endowment money it received for bioethics?" "Your university has a wonderful medical school; would I have opportunities to collaborate with faculty there?" That sheet is also a good place to jot down a couple of notes to yourself when you leave the interview (whether you liked them or not, something you learned, quick reminders about the people in the room (mine usually went something like "Buckeye tie," "weird voice," “pink lipstick,” or whatever helped me at least draw up a mental image later).
Also, make sure that you have clear, succinct answers to the questions:
• What are you working on? (a/k/a your current research project, described in a clear, 1 - 2 sentence thesis)
• What is your scholarly agenda, (a/k/a What are you working on next?)
• Why do you want to go into teaching/academia?
• What kind of teacher do you think you are/want to be?
• What is your ideal teaching package?
Once you get there, mostly focus on trying to stay calm, relaxed, and above the fray. One practical suggestion: The Marriott Wardman Park is a very confusing set-up, with multiple towers, elevators banks, and a huge main lobby. You have to go back and forth among the towers all day, inevitably getting caught in elevator traffic, getting lost, and running late. Most committees entirely understand that, but it’s nice to reduce as much of that stress as you can by mapping out your interview schedule, based on room assignments. Some people even do a “dry run” of their schedules the night before, walking around the hotel with their lists, finding elevators (and stair options), to see how to get from one room to another in 10 minutes or less (while writing those helpful post-interview notes to yourself). You can add notes about interview locations/route to your “tickler” sheet, too.
When you finally do find the interview room, unless the door is open or a note says otherwise, knock at the time of your scheduled interview. It’s customary and expected, even if you feel like you are interrupting or being rude. The committees count on candidates to help them stay on somewhat on schedule that way.
Also, identify and plan in breaks. If you have a longer gap between interviews, or at least over the lunch break, go back to your room, get rid of files, brush your hair, check email, drink and eat (very important – keep your energy up!). Keep in mind that it’s not uncommon (but not at all universal, so no worries if you don’t get these invitations) for interview teams to invite candidates whom they particularly like on the first day for a drink that night or lunch on the second day. My point is that you may “lose” windows of downtime that you thought you had, so take it when you can.
Otherwise, relax. Watch TV, go for a run, go to dinner (preferably with a non-candidate friend in the area – Lebanese Taverna is one of my favorites), do work for your regular job or class prep for next week, read a novel, sleep, go to the zoo, walk to Adams-Morgan or Dupont Circle. I highly recommend avoiding the lobby bar at the Wardman at all costs. For me, it was Ground Zero for stress and anxiety, with self-congratulatory groups of candidate kvetching, comparing notes, and “complaining” about how many top-20 schools they had interviews with, what interview questions they got asked, what firms they worked for or judges/justices they clerked for.
Finally, have fun. Seriously. How often do you get to spend two days talking to groups of smart, interesting people about scintillating intellectual ideas – and yourself!