Traveling for Job Interviews

As folks who follow me on Twitter know, I’ve had my own personal March Madness this month, trying to keep work on my dissertation going while finishing a second masters–and traveling for job interviews. (While working as a TA and graduate fellow.) To encapsulate that in a single image……

My immediate hot take: to everyone who said it was bat-excrement crazy to apply for 110 jobs over Christmas break, take classes for a second masters, work as a TA/fellow, and try to write a dissertation…….you were right. Feel free to shake your heads and say ‘we told you so.’ Because you did.

A disclaimer: Maybe I’ll have something to say in the future about preparing for academic job interviews, strategies for practicing self-care during an academic job search…..or maybe not. We’ll see. Either way, this post covers some of my thoughts on strategies for handling travel logistics.


Where it’s worth spending

Get a suit

Doesn’t have to break the bank, but spend the time/energy to find a suit that (1) fits, (2) is comfortable, (3) is versatile, (4) looks professional, and (5) will be easy for traveling. My recommendation is stick with your style but don’t veer too far off the beaten path in terms of conventional business casual dress.

My choice:
Jacket/pants: Liz Claiborne, JC Penney
Shell: Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor Loft (both of these have jackets/pants, just a higher price range)

Get shoes that work with the suit

Most of my shoe purchases are made based on the Will it give me blisters/Can I walk 2 miles in this/Would I be able to wear this and outrun the zombie apocalypse criteria. Invest in a pair of business casual shoes that don’t look like they’ve been over-worn by an impoverished grad student. Again, doesn’t have to break the bank, but a good pair of shoes that (1) fit, (2) are comfortable, (3) are versatile, and (4) look professional goes a LONG way. Once you’ve found the shoes, double check you have socks/liners that work with the new pair.

My brands: Naturalizer, Lifestride, Easy Spirit/Street

Find a good coat

Depends on when you’re on the market and where you’re interviewing, but I found myself trekking through the Midwest and East Coast in winter weather. Shoutout to Burlington Coat Factory for a clearance London Fog wool coat that was a step up from the St. John’s Bay peacoat I’ve been wearing since 2010. Yes……2010.

My choice: Burlington Coat Factory- good prices, good selection, good quality

Invest in yourself

Yes- we need to have/keep having a conversation about gender, intersectionality, politics of representation, and power in the workplace. What my nails look like, whether I’m wearing makeup, how white my teeth are, or what kind of shoes I’m wearing don’t actually tell you how I’d perform on the job. And evaluating on those criteria reinforces some incredibly problematic structures of gender, race, sexuality, class, (dis)ability, etc.

That said, you’re going to be hard-pressed to substantively contribute to those conversations and advocate for change without some type of gainful employment. As much as I’d like to flip the bird in the direction of those structures of power…..I know they exist, and I know some of the privileges they afford me a cis-gendered, heterosexual, white, upper-middle class woman.

Side note–I’ll point to the fantastic online community of gender queer folks, people of color, and intersectional feminists who are also contributing to these conversations about how to navigate professional norms and academic structures of power.

But yeah, I got a haircut, used teeth whitening strips, had my nails done, and got a facial before hitting the road for interviews. Should I feel like I had to do those things- no. Did I have to make those choices- no. Do I think they had a positive impact on how I was perceived or ‘read’ while on interviews- yes.


Stuff that’s handy for traveling

If you can squeeze some funds out of a grad student budget, there are some fantastic travel hacks out there.

I’ve put together an Amazon list with some of my go-to supplies (many of which are available cheaper at Walmart), and the one-time purchases that have a nice long-term return on investment.

Luggage

On-campus interviews can last anywhere from a half-day to a dinner the night before/morning through early-afternoon the next day. The short version is you’ll usually only be spending one night on the road.

Save $$ & the hassle of checking luggage by having a couple of strategic carry-on pieces. I swear by my Weekend Shopper canvas satchel and Isabella Fiore Travel Tote ($20 at a Ross Dress for Less). Pair that with a couple of Shacke luggage tags, and I’m ready to go with a change of clothes, laptop, iPhone charger and external battery, book, mini-umbrella (Totes NeverWet micro is my favorite), and necessary toiletries.

Toiletries

Since I prefer to travel light, wanted to see if there was a way to avoid bringing a brush and a straightener. Behold the straightening hairbrush. Read the reviews, think about your hair type, but I’ve found this a time and space-saving hack.

Just buy a whole bunch of quart-size bags. Get the nice ones that won’t break when you stuff them full of snacks and liquids. Plus, it’s a handy bag size for organizing all your loose non-liquid stuff like deodorant, toothbrush, meds, etc.

Downy Wrinkle Releaser Spray. THIS STUFF IS MAGIC. Take off the wrinkled suit you spent all day flying in, spray the jacket and trousers, and it looks like you just picked it up from the dry cleaner. Seriously- magic.

Lint removers. I usually try to pack a mini lint roller and a foldable lint remover. But especially for folks traveling during winter with coats/scarves or folks who tend to find long brown hairs everywhere, this is a must.

Shout stain remover wipes. THESE ARE ALSO MAGIC. I’ve used it on everything from cotton tops to dry-clean only clothes and have yet to see it harm fabric. Plus, it gets out every single stain I’ve ever used it to remove. MAGIC.

Blister bandaids. THESE ARE A LIVE SAVER. I don’t normally do a lot of walking in dress shoes, so even when I’ve broken a pair of shoes in, blisters can happen. These bandaids cushion a blister that has fully formed and can protect a blister that is forming from getting worse. Even better–if you know where you’re prone to blister and put the bandaids on in advance, they can prevent blisters all-together. MAGIC.

Then you’ve got all the other travel toiletries: Toothpaste, toothbrush, face wash, hand sanitizer, lotion, chapstick, deodorant, ear plugs, hairspray, medications, Excedrin (even if you don’t normally get headaches/migraines, bring it)

Snacks

The empty clear water bottle is a pretty ubiquitous airport hack now, but make sure you pack it. I swap out my normal insulated polar bottle for an old Camelbak, but there are lots of collapsible/foldable options if you’re tight on space.

I really despise trying to find healthy airport food options. Affordable is a pipe dream, and healthy can be a frustrating challenge. My solution is to pack a bag of snacks for the trip, which I can dig for an airport meal and use during interview breaks to recharge.

Think fiber, protein, fruit, and energy. My stash of Clif Bars, fruit leather, individual Emerald nut packs, and Hersheys milk chocolate nuggets has been a lifesaver. Throw it all in a quart-sized bag, and be prepared for TSA to flag the snack bag for additional inspection (doesn’t take long–they just visually inspect the contents and swab the outside each type of food item).


Before you go

Interviews and traveling are stressful enough without the added hassle of frantically searching through your phone for a confirmation number or reservation details.

Plan ahead

As much as you can, plan or schedule your travel logistics before you actually start traveling. That includes plane tickets, car rentals, shuttle transportation, hotel reservations, airport parking, etc. If you can reserve or pay for it in advance, do.

Not sure what’s best in terms of driving/flying/getting to a campus? Ask your contact person on the hiring committee, if they haven’t already provided that information.

You can’t predict what all might happen during a trip, but try to leave some margin for error. If you can avoid it, don’t take the flight that gets in at 11pm when your interview starts at 8am the next day. If you can avoid a 40 minute connection, look for other possible options.

Once you’ve made the reservations, then start to block out what that means in terms of your personal travel schedule.

Example:

Flight leaves Des Moines at 11am –> I need to be at the airport by 9am
The Des Moines airport is 2.5 hours away–> I need to leave my apartment by 6:30am
I leave home by 6:30am –> I need to wake up by 5:30am to have time to shower, eat breakfast, and double-check packing
I wake up by 5:30am –> I need to have the car filled up with gas, purchased all of my toiletries/snacks, laundered all my clothes, and at least organized what I will pack by the night before I leave

Everyone has their own process, but if your normal brand is crisis, lower the anxiety level by planning ahead where you can and writing those plans down on your normal calendar system.

Once you know your travel schedule, let instructors/supervisors/etc. know what you’ll be missing, why you’re traveling, and how you plan to stay on top of your obligations or commitments. That said, I set up an auto-reply for emails that come in while I’m traveling, just so I don’t feel pressured to stay on top of email while traveling.

Organize your documents

When I was a high school sophomore, I did a round of east coast college visits with my grandfather (a story full of adventure for another time). We had reservations for flights, rental cars, hotels, campus tours, etc. Before we hit the road, my dad put together binders (yes, binders) that had a detailed schedule, as well as all our confirmation/reservation documents. We knew exactly where we were supposed to be, when we needed to be there, and how to find where we were going. It was kind of amazing.

For each interview, I put together a travel packet that is totally different from my interview prep notes. I lead with the interview schedule, a campus map, then copies of my flight confirmation, hotel reservation, and rental car or shuttle arrangements. I print out a hard copy and email myself the PDF.

Go paperless where you can (mobile boarding passes, Google maps, etc.), but nothing beats having the shuttle company’s number at your finger tips when your flight gets delayed and you’ll be getting in later than expected.


As you’re going

8 or higher bro from Beau Graham on Vimeo.

How I Met Your Mother fans might remember the ‘8 or higher’ rule Marshall and Lily institute after baby Marvin is born. It’s a longer story line, but the short version is the new parents are so overwhelmed that they have to rethink how they allocate their mental and emotional energy.

Traveling for interviews is a brutally exhausting process. (Granted, not on the same level as having a newborn in the house, but go with the analogy.) Airports are crowded, gate agents can be short-tempered, flights get delayed, hotel accommodations are not always luxuriously comfortable, interviews are draining, and flying/driving late at night after an interview is pretty unbearable.

If the goal is to do the best you can interviewing for the job, everything else has to be moved further down the emotional/mental energy scale. Do what you can to prevent travel hiccups, but also just recognize that at some point you’ll just have to readjust your perspective.

Difficult row-mates? Great, grab your earplugs and read a book, or put in headphones and jump into an audio book. Let that be a 2, not an 8.

Shuttle that’s getting you from the airport to hotel gets rear-ended by a semi, you end up in the ER with a whiplash injury, and are in excruciating pain/can’t move your head or neck on the day of the interview? That’s actually an 11, but in the moment you’ve got to somehow make it a 5.

For folks who are having a rough experience on the market or are just exhausted and discouraged by the job search, hang in there. And for folks who are looking ahead to an academic job search in the future (particularly women), hopefully there’s something in here that helps.


DISCLAIMER: I’m approaching traveling and interviewing as an able-bodied person with minimal physical, mental, and emotional (dis)abilities that directly impact or impede my travel and interview experience. That is not everyone’s experience. Expecting someone to just “get over” or “move past” a travel issue ignores the reality there can be a whole spectrum of (1) real and (2) legitimate conditions or factors that make it impossible for someone to just “rise above” an issue or complication. Ableism is real, and let’s check our privilege before just telling folks to get over it and fix their attitude.