Academic Job Interviews
Convention interviews are a popular form of interviewing applicants because they take advantage of the draw of annual conferences to attract newly minted PhDs anxious to network and present their work. This serendipity, allows search committees to 'check out' short-listed applicants in order to determine who to invite for a campus visit without having to incur added expenses since many faculty members will be attending the conference for professional purposes.
A few days before the start of a major annual conference (e.g. the MLA), representatives from the hiring committee will contact short listed applicants and arrange to meet during the conference for short (30-60 min) interviews in a hotel room. Because there is not much notice for these interviews, applicants should begin preparing for such occasions as soon as they begin their job search. Preparation can include:
- Buying a suitable and comfortable 'professional' outfit;
- Developing and practising 90 second and 4 minute explanation of their research so it can be tailored to the question asked;
- Accessing as much information from colleagues and the web about the university and department as possible;
- Researching the interests and backgrounds of the interviewers to determine areas of mutual interest [the names of the interviewers should be provided, if not applicants should ask];
- identifying a few points of interest about the town or city in which the university is located (for small talk purposes and to show interest and knowledge in the locale).
Conference interviews are notorious for being nerve-wracking and seemingly unorganized, but a prepared applicant will be well-equipped to weather the unexpected with (relative) calm and professionalism.
Because transportation and accommodation expenses for campus interviews are borne by the university, only the top 3-4 applicants will be invited. The formal interview will be a small portion of the visit, which usually spans a couple of days, but every aspect of the visit should be perceived as an interview since the applicant will be carefully scrutinized at all times. Many otherwise strong applicants have lost out on job offers for indiscreet comments made before and after the formal parts of the visit.
Before the visit, applicants should carefully prepare to discuss their dissertation and any other research experience, their teaching experience and philosophy and their future research plans. By examining the job posting and current course offerings in the target department, applicants should be able to identify both courses they could teach and courses they could develop to enhance the current offerings.
Preparing one or two good course syllabi for such courses, would be an impressive addition since it would demonstrate ability to design courses and understanding of a particular department's needs. It is also prudent to be able to discuss how one's research interests complements (without replicating) that of a few faculty members.
Few, if any, of the faculty on the interview panel will have expertise in the same area(s) as the applicant so it is important that explanations be accessible to the non-expert and connected wherever possible to common areas of interest.
At some point during the campus visit, or before, in some fields, the applicant will be asked to make a presentation (typically around 30-40 mins. in length, plus questions). This is often a formal 'paper' to faculty members and/or graduate students, but could be a guest lecture in an undergraduate class, an informal talk before a social event or another venue.
It is important for the applicant to get as much information about the topic and the audience as possible to ensure the presentation is targeted appropriately and to leave time for questions. The committee will be looking for sensitivity to different learning styles and competencies and an ability to deliver an interesting and engaging presentation. If the applicant is just finishing their dissertation or has recently defended, this research will likely be the focus of the presentation. If there has been a year or more since the dissertation, the talk should demonstrate the most recent research interests of the applicant.
Time spent carefully preparing this presentation and practising it in front of colleagues is well spent. This is the part of the process that defeats most applicants. Ensure the register, language, visual aids (if any) and structure is accessible to the type of audience (e.g. undergraduates, graduates, non-expert faculty or expert faculty).
Take a look at these sample questions to help you prepare for your next interview.
Articles in the Chronicle of Higher Learning By Mary Morris Heiberger and Julia Miller Vick