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The Academic Interview

Candidates for academic positions go through at least two rounds of interviews before being offered a position: an initial round, typically lasting an hour or so, and a final round which typically lasts for one to three days. The first round of interviews are commonly held at a central location such as the site of a professional convention. Most often they take place face to face with a committee of interviewers, but sometimes they are held by phone. All finalists for academic positions are asked to visit the hiring campus and participate in on site interviews—an event known as "the campus visit."

This section of the tutorial provides advice on interviewing as well as things to consider if you're asked to participate in phone and/or on campus interviews. Accessing the video scenes on the left will provide an opportunity to watch excerpts from interviews and hear feedback on them from job search consultants.

Interview Advice

The hardest work of the interview takes place long before the actual date itself. Preparation is paramount.

Early in the process, begin to think seriously about your work, your teaching, and your academic persona. How do you want to present yourself? Take a moment to imagine yourself on the interviewing committee. Think about what you would want to see in an ideal candidate. It's probably someone who is smart but not arrogant, someone who values both teaching and research and who can easily talk about either in some detail and with some excitement. And it's probably someone with whom you'd want to work, who is pleasant and collegial.

Most candidates find speaking about their research not to be a major challenge. They have been steeped in it for several years after all. Be sure, though, to think about how your work is related to your teaching and the department's larger goals. If you have a vision for research beyond your dissertation, be sure to mention this even if you haven't gone particularly far down those new paths.

Depending upon the type of school to which you are applying, your main responsibility is likely to be teaching. It's important that you can converse at length about your teaching history, philosophy, and technique. You'll likely be asked about how you might teach particular courses in your field, and it'll be important to respond in depth and breadth. Think about the broad strokes of the course: what themes, what skills, what concepts are essential. What do you want your students to leave the class knowing?

Think about your teaching technique:

  • How would your methods change in a large lecture course versus a seminar?
  • What have you done to combat student passivity?
  • Have you used a course management system such as Moodle or Blackboard? What elements did you find useful and why?
  • What classroom assessment techniques have you used to get a sense of your students' progress?
  • Have you had to work with sensitive topics such as gender, race, or religion; and if so, how did you handle it? How might you handle it in the future?

You can prepare answers to many of these questions with short narratives of your experiences. Think about specific instances in your teaching history that could illustrate your point. If you're having trouble, get together with your friends and other instructors in the field and talk through your stories. Everyone has a war story or two and a new approach.

Once you've spent some time reflecting on your own academic experience, you'll want to research the specific schools to which you are applying. Peruse the school catalog and promotional materials to see how the college is selling itself. What kind of students are they attracting? Review the department's web site. Ask yourself what courses you might be prepared to teach. What new courses could you add to the curriculum?

Take note of the questions you want to ask your interviewer. Schools expect that you are interested in them for a reason, so you need to be prepared with specific and informed questions about their institution.

Phone Interview Guidelines

With increasing frequency, many departments are conducting phone interviews before compiling their "short list" of candidates they will invite for an on-campus interview. These phone interviews may be impromptu or scheduled, but the following guidelines should help you in either case.

  • Introduce yourself and ask interviewers to introduce themselves and to identify themselves when they ask a question.
  • Write down names and jot down notes.

Keep your job search information for each application in file folders by the phone; include the following materials:

  • Job description and your notes about institutional fit
  • Copy of cover letter
  • Faculty & specialty areas in the department
  • Courses offered by the department
  • Mission statement of university and department, if available
  • Student population (size & demographics)
  • Departments (other disciplines present for the interview; interdisciplinary interface)

Common On-Campus Job Interview Experiences

Typically, an on-site academic job interview takes approximately two days. Surviving it and performing well requires stamina, pacing, and good preparation. You need to know all that you can about the institution, department, faculty, and students. During the time you are on campus, you will likely be asked to do most of the following:

  • Meet with undergraduate and graduate student groups—any departments take their students' input very seriously
  • Teach a class in your specialty area—faculty observers and students will likely provide feedback to the committee
  • Give a research presentation to the department (12-25 people asking difficult questions)
  • Participate in an interview with the job search committee (4-6 people asking questions specific to the position and the institution)
  • Have lunch, dinner, and conversation with faculty from the department
  • Have one-on-one meetings with the department chair, dean, provost, and or president.

For further information on academic interviews, such as the kinds of questions you are likely to be asked and negotiating tips should you be offered the position, see our online resources.