I am the pre-interview contact point and these are my personal thoughts on that process, which blend background information and some helpful advice. This advice is designed to mimic – as far as possible – the conversation we might have if you knew me and called me up for an informal conversation. If I’m doing it right, no candidate will be disadvantaged by having no personal or other connection to the University before submission. There is also an update at the end.
Please see our Vacancy page for the details and ‘further particulars’ (FPs). The lectureship is almost certainly an ‘open ended’ contract and we do not have a ‘tenure-track’ system in which you need to prepare for a key hurdle while in post.
There are 10 politics staff in our division, so you will have the chance to play an important part of a group which is small enough to act collectively.
Why do we make reference to ‘feminist or post-colonial approaches’ in the FPs?
We now have a 5 women/ 5 men balance but almost all of our staff are white European. The latter sends one signal about our recruitment to date, but we hope that our FPs send another. We are not interested in projecting the sense that we support any staffing imbalances that currently exist. So, we worded the further particulars to ‘signal’ that we have realistic hopes of producing a more diverse and gender-balanced short list. Usually, job adverts will have a pro-forma statement about equalities, but we are trying to go one step further to signal – albeit with rather subtle cues – that we have thought about this issue a bit more; that we’d like to expand our networks and the ways in which our staff approach the study of politics. We are trying to make sure that our current set up does not put off people of colour from applying, signal that we have had some success in recruiting from a subject pool in which there is (I think) a relatively good gender balance, and signal support for research topics that might help expand our current offering.
These notes are also there to address a potentially major imbalance in the informal side to recruitment: if you do not have the contacts and networks that help give you the confidence to seek information (on the things not mentioned in the further particulars), here is the next best thing: the information I’d give you on the phone. However, if you reach interview stage, we really should talk. This post is no substitute for more in-depth questions from a small group of candidates about to take the final step.
We hope to make this kind of informal advice a routine part of the application process, as part of our commitment to innovative best practice and Athena SWAN. Therefore, if you find it useful, but have some advice on how to make it better, please let me know.
Here are some tips on the application and interview processes.
The application process:
- At this stage, the main documents are the CV and the cover letter.
- You should keep the cover letter short to show your skills at concise writing. Focus on what you can offer the Division specifically, given the nature of our call and further particulars.
- Shortlisted candidates at the SL level will likely be established lecturers with a strong record on publications, income, and leadership, so what makes you stand out? Lecturers will be competing with many people who have completed a PhD, so what makes your CV stand out?
- Note that you will have the chance to play an important part of a group which is small enough (10 in Politics, as part of a larger Division with History) to act collectively. You can, for example, influence its research direction (as a group, we hold regular 90 minute research workshops for that purpose) and make key contributions to our teaching programme reviews. If so, what would you say?
- Focus on what you have already done when discussing what you will promise to do over the next five years. Those plans seem more realistic if there is already some sort of track record.
- We take teaching very seriously. Within our division, we plan an overall curriculum together, discuss regularly if it is working, and come to agreements about how to teach and assess work. We pride ourselves on being a small and friendly bunch of people, open to regular student contact and, for example, committed to meaningful and regular feedback. You might think about how you would contribute in that context. In particular, you should think about how you would deliver large undergraduate courses (in which you may only be an expert on some of the material) as well as the smaller, more specialist and advanced, courses closer to your expertise.
- There is a lot of advice out there about how to write a cover letter, including describing your teaching and research philosophies. Some of it might be universally applicable, but beware advice geared (for example) towards a US market in which the assumptions and requirements can be very different. I tend to be quite ‘practical’ when reading them at the first stage (as one of several people doing the shortlisting). I am looking for efficient ways to identify who meets/ does not meet the criteria listed in the FPs and, to be honest, at this stage I am more interested in the ‘nuts and bolts’ issues on things like publication record and the specific courses you have taught (topic, size, duration of experience, etc.) than your wider philosophy. My colleague from the Faculty across the lake, Dr Peter Mathews, also describes his process here:
The interview process
By the interview stage, you should almost certainly have a conversation with me to make sure that you are well prepared. For example, here are the things that you really should know at that stage:
- The teaching and research specialisms of the division and their links to cross-divisional research.
- The kinds of courses that the division would expect you to teach.
Perhaps most importantly, you need to be able to articulate why you want to come and work at Stirling. ‘Why Stirling?’ (then perhaps ‘Why this division?’) is almost always the first question in an interview, so you should think about it in advance. We recommend doing some research on Stirling and the division/ faculty, to show in some detail that you have a considered reply (beyond ‘it is a beautiful campus’). We will see through a generic response in a heartbeat and, since it is the first question, your answer will set the tone for the rest of the interview. You might check, for example, who you might share interests with in the Division, and how you might develop links beyond the division (for example, the Centre for Gender & Feminist Studies in our school) or faculty (such as the Faculty of Social Sciences) – since this is likely to be a featured question too. Try not to depend too much on our website though (just in case it’s out of date in some respects).
- Then you might think about what you would bring to the University in a wider sense, such as through well-established (domestic and international) links with other scholars in academic networks.
- Further, since ‘impact’ is of major importance, you might discuss your links with people and organisations outside of the University, and how you have pursued meaningful engagement with the public or practitioners to maximise the wider contribution of your research.
The presentation plus interview format
In our system there tend to be presentations to divisional (and other interested) staff in the morning, with interviews in the afternoon. The usual expectation is that if you can’t make the date, you can’t get the job (although we can make accommodations to, for example, help you interview via Skype).
- We recommend keeping the presentation compact, to show that you can present complex information in a concise and clear way. If in doubt, keep it short. Presentations are usually a mix of what you do in research and what you will contribute in a wider sense to the University.
- Almost all of the interview panel will not be in the audience for your presentation (I’ll be the likely exception), and they will not be briefed before your interview. So, treat them as separate exercises for separate audiences.
- The usual interview panel format at this level is five members: one subject specialist from the Division (me), one other member of the Faculty (not necessarily from our division), the Dean of Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Prof Richard Oram), a senior manager of the University (in the chair), and a senior academic in another Faculty (for example, Dean of Natural Sciences Prof Maggie Cusack).
- So, it is possible that only 1 member of your panel will be a specialist in Politics. This means that (at the very least) you need to describe your success – in your cover note, CV, and interview – in a way that a wider audience will appreciate. For example, you would have to explain the significance of a single-author article in the APSR or ISQ! Or, if you prefer, you would have to explain why you would publish somewhere more appropriate.
It sounds daunting, but we are a friendly bunch and want you to do well. You might struggle to retain all of our names (nerves!), so focus on the types of question we ask – for example, the general question to get you started will be from the senior manager, and the research question from the divisional representative. There are often more men than women on the panel, and they are usually all-white panels, but I hope that we are providing other more useful signals about our commitment to equality and diversity.
I am happy to answer your questions. We can try email first – firstname.lastname@example.org – and then phone or Zoom if you prefer.
I’ve spoken with a few candidates so far, and here are some things that come up fairly regularly. I’m more direct/ frank on the phone, but you can still get the idea here:
- I’m telling potential applicants that it’s not really me they need to impress. Instead, I help them think about how to frame their CV and cover note in relation to (a) what they are good at and (b) what we need. The answer to the ‘why Stirling’ question is often about the good fit between candidate and position.
- I’m describing the difference between immediate needs (in a team of about 10) and longer term benefits. For example, it would be good to describe your contribution to learning across many degree subjects, but better to project that you could organise and teach on at least one of our four sub-honours modules (British Isles, Ideologies, Comparative, Political Thinkers) or take on the 3rd year methods course, which is currently, the biggest job of our departing SL. You wouldn’t actually teach/ coordinate more than one, but the ability to do so gives us an idea of your experience (and the difference between someone who has done it or would be doing it for the first time). Another example is research. Interdisciplinarity is great. I am a convert and a big fan. However, more immediately, we need you to show us how you would boost our Unit of Assessment’s submission to the REF.
- People occasionally wonder aloud in some way if I’m doing all I can to recruit a woman of colour. Instead, I’m trying to do one small thing to address our context, which can be simplified as follows: (a) if we provide a generic statement of the post and a pro forma on equality and diversity, we often find that about 3/4 of the applicants are men (and almost all of the people contacting me directly are men); (b) if we project just a little bit of self awareness, about half of the applicants are women. The last time we advertised this specific post, more than 3/4 of applicants were men and the shortlist of five was all men. This time, I expect 50/50. I’m not confident about how to encourage a more ‘level playing field’ for people of colour as effectively, so I’d appreciate any sensible suggestions.
- I have never heard any senior manager rule out the best candidates for immigration reasons.
- It’s not cheating to send me an email
Some older advice about interviews