The Academic Interview

I have seen a few posts recently giving advice and perspective on applying for academic posts – such as Nadine Muller on her early interview experience and Steve Joy’s annoying-but-good advice on CVs . I can’t give any useful advice on doing a good interview, since I have messed up every time (even the feedback from my 2 successes was that, to some extent, I got the job despite the interview). Only point 7 is based on my experience at that side of the table. However, I have sat on a few panels in the last few years, so can give some practical advice from that side:

  1. There is a range of processes, from the entry-level to the higher grades (and from University to University), which affect your preparation. Most notably, you don’t always do a presentation and interview to the same people. For a lectureship, you might present to the department then have a completely separate interview process (perhaps the following day) with people who did not see the presentation. For a research job, the (often very brief) presentation is part of the whole. If so, you may be doing a presentation to 3-5 people.
  2. In either case, assume that the interview audience is the one to impress – the departmental audience may have a minimal input.
  3. To a panel of 3-5 people, interviewing 5 people in a day, a lengthy powerpoint presentation can be particularly awkward. If you are swithering about keeping to time, or cramming in information, go for the former. If you get it right, it will show that you can explain complex ideas concisely.
  4. Doing an interview remotely is very high bar. It is difficult to maintain a constant connection between you and your audience, and to pick up vital social cues.
  5. Don’t haver when you are asked the generic question: why here, why now? For many panels, this is not just an ice breaker. We want to know if you have done your homework on our institution. We want to hear particular evidence that, at least, you have checked our website for a sense of who is here and what we are doing – then how you might fit in and make a contribution (although, note that University websites are often out of date).  We want to know if this is just one of many applications you have made. We want to feel special.
  6. At the entry-level, the interview performance may count a little bit more. At the chair level, a lot has already been decided since you are being judged on your long record in your CV (or, in the UK, if you are appointed near the census date for the research assessment exercise, you may be judged on your ‘best 4’). At the entry level, there is a bigger judgement to be made about potential, which is difficult (but not impossible) to judge on short CVs – particularly when all the shortlisted candidates have a PhD and a small number of publications. I have seen a few people rocket up the short-list rankings after a good interview performance, where they are well prepared for questions and can think on their feet (since many of us academic types like to think that we are creative; that it’s not just a job that anyone can do well).
  7. Don’t drink too much coffee then tell the panel that you are wired.

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Filed under Academic innovation or navel gazing

One response to “The Academic Interview

  1. Pingback: We are recruiting a Lecturer or Senior Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Stirling | Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

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