When a search committee is impressed with the credentials elaborated in your cover letter, CV, and dossier, you may be invited for an interview. The interview is the most personal part of the job search process and will have a large impact on your success as a candidate. It is an opportunity to demonstrate how you will interact with faculty, administration, and students at the institution.
Although there are commonalities across disciplines for interviewing in general, there are also differences in the type of preparation and research you must know for your specific field (whether in the sciences, humanities, or social sciences). Therefore it is imperative that you always check with your individual advisor and department for guidance regarding this preparation process. To improve your general interviewing skills, utilize CCE’s interview resources, refer to books and online resources on academic interviewing, and/or meet with a CCE counselor for a practice interview.
Throughout your academic job search, you may find that the interviewing process differs from institution to institution; some interview very early, and quickly, and for others, the process may entail multiple rounds over a longer period of time. The academic market is highly competitive, and effectively interviewing can help you demonstrate the ways in which you are the best fit for a given position.
How Academic Interviews Compare to Industry Interviews
An academic interview is different from an industry interview primarily in the structure and format of the questions asked. Whereas for industry interviews you are often asked general behavioral questions to determine your relevant traits and characteristics (e.g., “Tell me about a time when you led a team”), the academic interview is more directly focused on your research, teaching, and evidence of scholarship. You will be asked to explain your research—both your current work and what you plan to focus on in the future. This “job talk” may take many forms, varying in length and content, and must be tailored to the given audience. At a first-round conference or phone interview, for example, you may just briefly describe your dissertation in two minutes, while at an on-campus interview you may be asked to speak in greater detail for a scheduled block of time. You will also be asked about your teaching experience and your ability to teach specific classes at the institution. If interviewing at a small teaching college, greater or equal emphasis may be placed on your teaching compared to your research.
Similar to an industry interview, preparation is of paramount importance. You must research the institution and specific department and prove that you are the right “fit” for that position. One of the main goals of the interview is to determine your collegiality—how you will fit into the department and with the rest of the faculty. You will likely be asked what you can contribute to a department just as you would at an industry interview.
Types of Academic Interviews
This is an initial “screening” interview that lasts from 20 to 45 minutes, undertaken by the committee members at a national conference. This interview is challenging because you must present yourself as a very strong candidate in a very short period of time. The search committee may or may not have reviewed your materials at the time of your interview. Be certain to bring extra copies of CVs, teaching statements, and any other needed materials. These interviews are often held in hotel rooms or noisy public areas, so maintaining concentration can be a challenge. Try to focus on the questions at hand and engage your interviewers.
An alternative to the conference interview, this screening interview is undertaken if the institution will not be attending the conference or if it is during a time of year when there are no conferences scheduled. This interview is challenging because you cannot read nonverbal cues in response to your answers, nor can you use facial expressions and gestures to communicate your energy and enthusiasm. Be certain to speak clearly and use tone and volume appropriately to convey your passion about your work and your interest in the opportunity. There may be long periods of silence (during which they are probably taking notes). Maintain your confidence, end your answers with finality, and wait for them to continue the questioning. Do not go on at length to fill the “dead air.”
If you have been invited to a campus interview, you have made their “short list” of candidates (usually departments only invite two to three people to campus following the screening interview and materials review). This interview is usually an all-day or multi-day process that can be quite stressful, so preparation is essential.
How to Prepare for a Campus Interview
- Research the institution - It is critical that you market yourself to the needs and characteristics of that particular institution. Be prepared to be specific about how you might enhance any one of the department’s programs or initiatives. The atmosphere of the campus interview is usually quite pleasant and collegial. Keep in mind that you are being evaluated at all times, so maintain your professionalism even in “social” situations.
- Regularly read The Chronicle of Higher Education and publications from the professional association within your field - If you meet with administration (i.e., the dean), you may be asked to comment on topical developments and general trends in higher education. This is also a great opportunity to discuss the importance of your subject matter and your field as it relates to current events and trends within higher education. You will also want to know discipline-specific information when meeting with the department and faculty in your field.
- What to expect - Your interview will start the moment someone picks you up from the airport and continues through a social breakfast, individual meetings with most or all of the departmental faculty members, lunch, potential individual or group meetings with graduate students, your job talk, an interview with the chair and/or the Dean of the Graduate School, dinner, and possibly cocktails (keep moderation in mind). This rigorous schedule can occupy either one full day or be spread over two days.
- Prepare your job talk - Your presentation is likely to be the most important part of the interview. Before you prepare your talk, ascertain the department’s needs, find out who your audience will be, how long they expect you to talk, and whether they want you to give a formal paper or an informal seminar on your research. How you handle questions will be closely evaluated. Be prepared to talk about your research often and in detail to different constituencies of the department and university (i.e., be comfortable discussing/explaining your research to all levels of familiarity with your subfield or research topic).
- Teaching - Be ready to specifically discuss your teaching background and teaching philosophy. It is ideal to prepare specifics on how you would teach at least three undergraduate courses and one graduate seminar (e.g., to have prepared syllabi). Most of these should be classes you know they expect you to teach. One course should be something unique to your strengths and research that other candidates would not be able to offer. Some campus interviews include a sample lecture instead of or in addition to a job talk. Find out if this will be presented to an actual class or to a group of faculty.
General Academic Interviewing Tips
- Practice interviewing within your department: Ask several faculty members to interview you as if it were a conference interview and then give you feedback.
- CCE offers mock interviews with feedback — utilize the center for practice on presenting your dissertation research to those both familiar and unfamiliar with your specific field.
- Remember that the committee is interested in who you are as a researcher, teacher, and colleague, so be able to convey all three dimensions through the following:
- The trajectory of your work and specific ideas for future projects
- Published conference paper(s), article(s), and/or chapter(s)
- Grant(s) awarded (and have ideas for how you will obtain future funding, particularly if you are in the sciences)
- Syllabi prepared for course(s) specific for the needs of the department and student workload expected from that institution. You may also be asked what texts you would use to teach a given course, so be prepared to discuss this issue.
- Keep in mind that the interview is a dialogue. Show interest in and the ability to intelligently discuss their lines of research, current projects, etc.
- The best interview results in the department feeling as though you are collegial and will fit well into the department.
- Address everyone in the room; do not focus all of your attention on one person.
- Always send a thank-you note to your interviewers at each stage of this process.