Academic Job Interview “Do’s and Don’ts”

In June, Dr Sue Currell, BAAS Chair and Reader in American Literature at the University of Sussex, outlined some invaluable advice for when applying for academic jobs. In today’s post, Sue turns her attention to the interview process.

Academic Job Interview ‘Do’s and Don’ts’

The following advice is for a full-time research position: there may be other expectations for other types of job interviews. Most academic job interviews in the UK consist of two parts over one day: the presentation and the interview. In many ways, these two components are quite distinct and as such will be dealt with separately.

The Presentation. You will be given specific instructions about what you will need to present and for how long, both of which will depend on the type and level of the role you are applying for. The presentation is generally followed by a short Q & A. Usually the interview panel will not ask the questions, instead giving other staff or students the opportunity to question you and to feedback an opinion about you to the interview panel based on the presentation alone. With that in mind, you shouldn’t presume that your questioner has seen your work or CV/application.

DO…
• Remember that the audience want you to do well, they are looking for a great new colleague and you have been shortlisted for a reason
• Follow the rubric or instructions that you are given for the presentation
• Keep to time but don’t rush
• Expect to present to a wide range of faculty and students who may not be in your research specialism
• Show enthusiasm for your work/ideas/teaching plans
• Answer the questions carefully and thoughtfully
• Ask a questioner to clarify a point you don’t understand, or thank them for pointing out a new area to investigate that hadn’t occurred to you before
• Engage and respond to the audience, make eye contact, smile etc
• Show that you are a good presenter and lecturer ; even if you are asked to only talk about your research try to show how you will engage with students

DON’T…
• Just read out a research paper or lecture
• Mumble or dissemble
• Go over the time given
• Patronize the audience
• Decide that you can’t answer a question and just talk about something that you do know instead
• Decide that you will present something other than what you’ve been asked to present on
• Get defensive or hostile during the question period

The Interview. The interview will usually be with a small panel which often includes the Head of department or school, a senior Dean or equivalent from outside of the department, a faculty member from elsewhere, senior faculty members from within the department.

DO…
• Presume that you will be asked why you want the job
• Presume you will be asked about your research more specifically and in detail: i.e what is your key question, who are your influences
• Be prepared to give clear and specific details about the stage that each research project has reached (i.e is the book contracted or just in progress)
• Presume you will be asked about future research plans (they may want to hear what you will be doing in five years, for example) as well as funding applications
• Presume that you may be asked questions about the impact or importance of your work. For more senior roles this might include questions on HE policy such as REF or Open Access, for example
• Presume you will be asked about your teaching and pedagogical practices for both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. Be prepared to talk about your past, present and possible future teaching contributions
• Check out the department so that you are conversant with the programme and staff specialisms
• Be prepared to ask any questions about the job that has not been made clear to you already
• Be patient if you don’t hear: sometimes it can be days or weeks before the leading candidate accepts or rejects the job and you may be the reserve candidate
• Ask for feedback if you are unsuccessful

DON’T…
• Mumble or avoid difficult issues that arise
• Say that you want the job because you hate the one that you have
• Avoid answering questions directly
• Rush to answer, but don’t take too long either
• Lie about publications
• Expect to be contacted immediately
• Get discouraged: every interview helps you to sharpen up your interview skills and techniques and gets you closer to landing the job you want
• Get discouraged 2: everyone gets turned down for a post at some point. There may be all sorts of reasons why someone else got the job instead of you, including research area fit, teaching needs, overlap with other faculty. Some people interview at the same place twice and get the job second time around, so you may have made a good impression that will benefit you later on.

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About Sue Currell

Sue Currell is a Reader in American Literature at the University of Sussex and the Chair of the British Association for American Studies (BAAS). Sue specialises in 1920s and 1930s America but in the past she has published on a wide breadth of topics that include eugenics in thought and culture, modern leisure, print culture and the jazz age. Over the course of her career she has been awarded several fellowships and grants from The Leverhulme Trust, The Fulbright Commission, the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and the University of Maryland. She can be found at: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/26701
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