So earlier this year I posted about the perils and opportunities of holding an interim position. As I noted there, I decided to be an applicant for the permanent position and I just concluded that interview process (no word yet on whether or not I got it–will update accordingly once the news is in). So what I’d like to offer now are some reflections on being the internal candidate for a position.
This was the first time I found myself in this position. It’s important to note that I was a candidate for an administrative spot, and I think there would be some slight differences were it a faculty job, but I’ve tried to offer some general suggestions.
1. Take nothing for granted. Make no assumptions. I have been at this institution for twenty years, and yet I didn’t assume that anyone knew what positions I had held previously, what courses I had taught, or what topics my research covers. I have been here longer than many current administrators and faculty and so it was important to explain my qualifications to them. Even colleagues who have been here as long as me do not necessarily know the details or relevance of my experience and skills. Further, I had to meet with the members of my department. Even though it had only been eight months since I chaired that same department, I came prepared to discuss my research. Many of them knew me only as their chair, but this meeting was meant to highlight my scholarly activity. So I came prepared to outline the significance of my previous work and the contours of my current project.
2. Be sure you are being treated like the other candidates. Case in point: my interview schedule included time for me to prepare for my public presentation. But a room for that prep time was not identified, because the organizers assumed I would simply go back to my campus office. But of course doing so would not have afforded me any peace and quiet and would have instead exposed me to questions from my staff, a ringing phone, and the temptation to check email. So I asked the chair of the committee to provide me with a neutral space for that time. He did and it made a big difference in my preparation.
3. Resist the temptation to be too familiar. There will be no escaping the fact that you know some of the people you’ll be interacting with really well. Certainly, it gives you an advantage and removes some of the nervousness that other candidates will have, but try to avoid letting conversations become too personal or devolve into discussions of your kids’ school, where you board your dog, or the new grocery store that just opened. You are there to be interviewed and most of the discussion should be focused on that.
4. Don’t try to do your day job AND interview. I had one day where I was done with my interview schedule at 3:30. I considered going back to my office and getting some work done, but thought better of it. I had already had a busy day and the part I was playing during the two days of my interview was job candidate, not interim director. So I went home and rested instead.
In all, it is a delicate balancing act to be the internal candidate. Familiarity with the institution and your colleagues should ease your anxiety, but not detract from your status as candidate. Your colleagues’ familiarity with you may lead them to unintentionally make assumptions or get too personal, so you need to be your own advocate and ensure that you are taken seriously as a candidate.