We recommend visiting any institution where you would consider accepting a position. It is best to keep an open mind early on; you may be surprised at what you find. Do not, however, visit institutions where you would not consider working under any circumstance. Doing so is a waste of everyone's time, money, and effort. If you are invited to several institutions, time constraints may require you to be selective about which ones you will visit.
Before you go to an interview, familiarize yourself with the institution and its faculty. Find out from your mentors and division chief, and from any colleagues you may have at the host institution, which faculty members you should meet. Obtain an interview agenda early and conduct medlinesearches on the faculty members with whom you will be interviewing. Visit the institution's Web site, if one is available. Finally, prepare questions for each person on your interview list, based on their areas of expertise and positions within the institution.
The goal of the first interview is to determine whether or not you are a good fit for the position, and vice versa. It is important to sell yourself, but also to be honest. Ask your hosts what they are looking for in a new faculty member and tell them how you might fulfill their needs. Also address your own needs. During your visit, which typically lasts 2 days, ask yourself: Would I be happy working here? Does the institution have the resources I need? Are there potential mentors and collaborators? Will the job as described allow me to be productive? How committed is the institution to generalism? (For example, how have generalist faculty fared in promotion and tenure?) Will my partner, children, and I be happy living here? Is the institutional environment supportive of junior faculty members? To answer the last question, it is essential to speak with junior faculty at the institution and to gauge their morale and ability to be productive. If there are no junior faculty members on your interview agenda, ask to have one added. Take notes during your interviews. You may have as many as 20 interviews in 2 days, and you may not be able to remember everything you learned during your visit.
A word of caution. Academic positions are typically described in terms of percentages of time allocated to various endeavors (e.g., 20% clinical, 80% protected for research). Beware that different institutions use different accounting to calculate these percentages. For example, an attending month on a ward service may count for 5% of your work year at one institution and 10% at another. Moreover, many institutions will define all nonclinical time as “protected” for scholarly work. An institution may offer a position with 70% clinical time and 30%“protected time,” but if they also expect you to perform administrative tasks that will occupy 1 day each week (20% of your working hours), only 10% of your time is truly protected. Thus, it is useful to find out the absolute amounts of time you will be expected to devote to various activities (number of clinic sessions, ward months, etc.), and to compare job descriptions on the basis of these numbers.
Usually you will be asked to give a formal talk during your visit. The “job talk” is one of the most important aspects of your visit; it is when you are on display, for your would-be employers to assess the product in which they are considering investing. Find out who the audience will be and tailor the talk accordingly. For example, if you are asked to speak at a housestaff conference, you should discuss your work in a broad clinical context. If the audience is mainly research faculty, you should focus largely on the methods and results of one or more fellowship projects. If you are interviewing for a clinician-educator position, you may also be asked to precept in a resident clinic or to demonstrate your teaching ability in other settings.
After your visit, review your notes and discuss with your colleagues and mentors what you learned in your interviews. Through this process you will begin to shape an image of the institution and will better understand if it is the right place for you. After you have finished your first round of visits, step back and take stock. Are you excited about any of the jobs you have looked at? Why or why not? Is it possible you are looking for the wrong type of job? Refine your goals as they become clearer throughout your job search.