Landing a job is usually the end goal of a graduate program, but that's easier said than done. Here's some helpful advice on how to prepare for interviews at academic institutions.
Prepare, Prepare, and Prepare More
Overall, the most important point stressed in the MANY responses received (thank you, members!) was for applicants to prepare for each stage of the interview process. Failing to prepare and “do homework” on each institution is typically very obvious to the search committee and those applicants will likely NOT advance past the first stage.
To organize the feedback received, points of information were organized according to the various stages of the search process:
1. Application Stage
--Know the type of institution: research one (R1) or teaching. Tailor your application materials so that it is clear you understand the difference between the two. One suggestion made was to ask colleagues at those institutions to review your applications materials in advance of actually applying. For example, a proven record of publication is becoming more important – particularly for candidates applying to institutions with a research component.
--Tailor each cover letter to the needs expressed in the job ad. While search committee members/chairs recognized that candidates are applying to many institutions, they also noted that it was obvious when form letters were used instead of tailoring cover letters to each specific institution. Suggestions of areas to tailor letters included: (1) specific classes you can teach, (2) research center on campus you could work with, (3) colleagues whose work complements your own, and (4) benefits of geographic area in terms of research or long-term interests.
--Ensure your CV is free of any errors (grammar/spelling) and well-organized. Several members noted that the CV is the first document reviewed during the search process. Thus, if it is not clear, poorly constructed, or doesn’t convey how the candidate is a good fit for the advertised position – the committee will likely move on to others in the pool.
--Similar to the previous suggestions, research the departments – especially if your background aligns closely with a faculty member already in residence. Be prepared to discuss what is unique about your background and what assets you can contribute to the department.
--Carefully organize the documents you submit to the committee. Submitting many pages of documents – without highlighting what is important – can be frustrating for the committee to sort through upon receipt. For example, it was suggested that candidates prepare a table of courses taught (by number and title), semester, enrollment, and scores on the relevant items (e.g., effectiveness of the course, effectiveness of the instructor, scale measurement as in “mean of 4.0 out of 5.0”).
--If the application calls for a teaching portfolio, organize this document with a table of contents and the relevant materials. One PDF is likely preferable to many separate PDFs.
--Follow the directions outlined in the job advertisement or online system. In other words, if an upload calls for a CV, do not upload a cover letter into that area instead. If the web portal does not specifically call for letters of recommendation, do not include them.
--Track your submissions so that you can monitor where you’ve submitted applications and when those submissions occurred. Also, due to the timing associated with most searches conflicting with the holidays, realize that you may not hear back from any institution until late January.
2. Interview Stage*
*suggestions on the Job Talk are in a separate section
--Prepare for the interview by writing down an assortment of typical interview questions and your responses to these questions. For example, one member noted that a typical interview question is to ask candidates about their preferred textbook for an Intro or Methods course. The search committee may also ask candidates how they would teach an Intro, Theory, or Methods course.
--Prepare to talk about your future plans (e.g., your research plan or courses you’d like to teach). Demonstrating that you are thinking ahead about the future and have a clear direction will present you as a faculty member and not a student.
--Avoid revealing information that is illegal for the search committee to request (e.g., children, marital status). If you “open that door,” think very carefully about the consequences that could occur.
--Do NOT ask about salary. However, asking about resources for faculty development, graduate students, and travel is perfectly acceptable.
--Candidates should practice the interview – preferably with someone willing to role play the interviewer. This practice should include all formats: phone, Skype, and in-person.
Specific suggestions regarding PHONE interviews:
a. Stand up while speaking to sound more energetic
b. Do NOT schedule interviews while in transit to avoid seeming distracted
c. Do request a callback if the reception is bad
Specific suggestions regarding SKYPE interviews:
a. Dress professional and practice with a friend to assess the lighting/location using Skype
b. Do NOT schedule interviews while in transit or during any time where you cannot ensure the connection
c. Do request a callback if Skype malfunctions
d. Do appear energetic and engaged with the conversation
Specific suggestions regarding IN-PERSON interviews:
a. Practice your handshake: a limp or vice-grip handshake generally does not make a good first impression.
b. In addition to researching the overall department, research each faculty member – especially the search committee. As noted by one member, “…search committee members may not agree with each other, so you need to convince each one that you are the person for the job.”
c. When socializing with search committees -- be personable! However, do not forget that you are still on an interview. When at eating establishments, avoid being the first to order if possible to gauge the situation (e.g., whether ordering an alcoholic beverage would be acceptable). If others order beer/wine, it is suggested to only order ONE drink.
d. When socializing with graduate students, remember that they are NOT your peers. Thus, do not drink with them or act as if they are your friends in any part of the interview. It should be clear to the search committee that you understand that you will be a mentor to the students.
e. Do ask specifics about the rest of the search process (e.g., when the search process will conclude). This should be addressed to the chairperson.
f. Do send follow-up “thank-you” emails (that are slightly different from each other) to each search committee member personally and promptly answer emails and phone calls.
3. Job Talk
a. Follow the directions provided to you regarding the job talk and teaching demonstration. One member noted that although a presentation may be excellent, if it does not address what was requested, that candidate will not be hired.
b. Keep the job talk relatively short (~35 minutes) to allow plenty of time for questions and answers.
c. Ensure you address the questions asked of you. For example, one member noted that candidates have dismissed questions and have instead used Q&A time to discuss other things about themselves or other work.
Other Important Points of Information
1. The Importance of “Fit”
Do not underestimate the importance of “fit” within the department. Fit not only means how well a candidate meets the needs of the department, but also refers to personality fit. Several members noted that it does not matter how strong one’s record is - if the person does not “fit” within the department (either by addressing needs or personality), he/she will not be hired.
2. Teaching Effectiveness
At an R1 institution, it is common that the only required items are evidence that the applicant has taught (on the CV) and teaching evaluations. However, several respondents from very high research institutions also noted using peer evaluations and letters from students. Therefore, at the very least, candidates should send teaching evaluations (including qualitative student comments) and peer evaluations.
Other documents noted from less research-heavy institutions included:
a. Detailed Syllabi (used to assess rigor of the course)
b. Your self-reflection on student evaluations (e.g., issues surrounding course such as new prep, issues with publishers)
c. Your self-assessment of your teaching or the critique of your class by a senior faculty member
d. Your teaching philosophy
As put by one member, “…effectiveness, to me, is that you can demonstrate that you take your teaching seriously and work to make it better. Clearly, we have all had a “bad class,” that’s OK – but what did you do to make it better? Please note that getting all high scores on the quantitative student evaluations does not tell the committee that you are a great teacher. Nobody is perfect.”
Finally, it is important to remember that there are many excellent candidates for any given job. As one member noted, “We can never invite all the candidates that we think are excellent for a campus visits and we can’t make offers to all of those who would make excellent colleagues.” Thus, try not to take rejections personally or burn bridges.