Career Development for Graduate School Students

The Academic Interview

Video 1: Making a Great First Impression

The academic job search is competitive. Each step is important, because it opens the door to the next step.  This video focuses on making a great first impression in the initial screening interview—to improve your chances of being invited for a campus visit.

Video 2: Answering Tough Questions

While you’ll never anticipate every question a search committee might ask, it helps to think through the possible topics with which you’ll be presented. This video offers preparation hints as you enter the academic job market.

Video 3: Surviving the On-Campus Interview

You made the short list! You’ve been invited to the campus for an interview! You are probably elated and scared at the same time. This video helps you prepare for an intense 2-3 day visit, with practical advice that should help your time on campus go as smoothly as possible.

Interview Types and Preparation


Screening Interviews

Phone

  • Use landline, if possible; if not, make sure you have excellent reception
  • Answers should be 2-3 minutes long
  • Smile when you answer; you’ll sound more animated
  • Verbalize everything—no non-verbal cues to rely on (“That’s an excellent question—let me think about my answer.”)
  • Speak distinctly and slowly (think Fareed Zakaria, CNN); you may speed up when nervous, so speaking slowly will help with that

Skype

  • Prepare for phone interview, plus…
  • Check the background of a Skype call where you’ll be sitting (no dirty clothes piles, no partisan posters on the wall, etc.); do a trial run with a friend, so they can see your background
  • Dress professionally; may not require suit, but still professional; if in doubt, wear a suit

Convention Interviews

  • May be in conference room, hotel room, lobby—anywhere
  • Check with your mentors on whether a suit is expected for your discipline/convention
  • Don’t schedule back to back interviews

Campus Interviews

  • Short list of 2-4 candidates invited to campus for 2nd round interview; 1-3 days

Appropriate Attire

  • Business for interview day (suit); 2 days = 1 suit + 2 shirts/ties/blouses
  • Varies by discipline, geographical location, institution; ask professors for norms & expectations in your discipline
  • Business Casual for informal receptions/dinner (ask departmental contact for details); if they say “casual,” clarify whether that includes jeans

Job Talk

  • Often seen as most critical component of the campus interview
  • Discuss your research’s importance, plans for future; save on laptop & flash drive; take hard copies
  • Practice! Prepare to answer questions about what your research has accomplished—and also, its limitations;  if challenged on how you approached your topic, be tactful and respectful of differing opinions; stay well within time requirements

Teaching Demonstration

  • Infrequent, usually associated with teaching-focused colleges/universities
  • Ask for details (lower/upper level, topic); could be teaching students or faculty
  • Practice! If possible, practice on other students; stay within time allotment

Interviews/Meetings

  • Selection Committee: interview questions about research, teaching, future scholarly plans
  • Department Head: questions about research, teaching interests/experience, may ask for estimate of “start-up costs”–have a rough idea of what it will take to get your research off to a good start (e.g., travel funds, Graduate Assistant, computer software, lab equipment)
  • Dean or Associate Dean: questions about research (may or may not be expert in your area), why interested in their university; typically will tell you about institutional support for new faculty

Social Events

  • Lunch, dinner, mingling, receptions
  • Events with food are not for eating:  take a snack in your bag to eat beforehand
  • Event with food are for talking: ask people about their work, their hobbies, what they like about the university/city; prepare to answer similar questions of you
  • Beware the effects of alcohol! Safest choice: don’t imbibe when on an interview

Other possibilities

  • Students (both graduate and undergraduate), faculty (individually or in groups); campus/city tours

Interview Questions

  • Teaching: what classes taught or comfortable teaching, type, former responsibilities; how you would teach a particular course/what texts or readings you would use
  • Research: past, present and future; know what is cutting-edge in your area of expertise;  prepare both 30-second intro and 3-minute answers to “tell us about your research”
  • Interest in the job: why that college/university/position
  • Fit with the department: how does your work fit with their current faculty?
  • Questions you may ask them
    —  Departmental goals in next 3-5 years (unless found on the website!)
    —  How they see you fitting into their plans
    —  Greatest strengths of this university/students/department
    —  Spouse/partner seeking academic position (2-body problem): if not a deal-breaker, no need to mention; if so, some suggest waiting until job is offered; others say earlier is better; only you can decide what works for you
    —  No questions for which answers can be found on their website

Practical Tips

  • Be prepared: research the department/university; take copies of all documents that support your application
  • You are always being evaluated: treat the executive assistant who sets up your travel arrangements as respectfully as the Dean
  • Ask questions ahead of time: you will have a contact for that purpose
  • Wear comfortable, but professional shoes (broken in, NOT brand new)

 

Additional Resources

Interviewing with the Deans: Advice from 4 VU Deans
Academic Job Interview Questions
The First Interview: Chronicle of Higher Education
The Academic Interview Revisited: Chronicle of Higher Education
Academic_Interview_handout

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