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The Art of the Academic Interview

Once you submit all of your application materials for an academic position (particularly, though certainly not exclusively, for a faculty position), the waiting game starts.  It can take anywhere from several weeks to several months for the interviewing process to begin.  Academic interviews often occur in two rounds, which we will discuss in more detail below, and each round has its own particularities you will need to consider as you prepare.

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General Tips on Preparation for Academic Interviews

  • It is important to know up front that the interviewing process is intellectually, emotionally, and physically demanding and rigorous, but proper preparation can help combat this.
  • Focus on what you can control:  your level of preparation.  You CANNOT control the make-up of the search committee or the needs of the department, but you can certainly control the quality of your application materials and your readiness for the interview itself.
  • Do as much research as you can on both the institution and on the particular department/academic unit for which you are interviewing.  The more informed you are about programs, courses, opportunities, etc., the better prepared you will be for the questions you will be asked. 

First-Round Interviews

Many academic positions will require a first-round interview before moving to the next step.  This is not true for all positions, but it is common enough that you should prepare for it.  Getting a first-round interview usually means that you have made a short-list of outstanding candidates but are not yet a finalist.  First-round interviews can take many forms:  a phone interview, a Skype or video interview, or even an interview at an academic conference, which often happens in the humanities.

Tips for First-Round Interviews:

  • For phone interviews:
    • Make sure you have all the details correct — When will the interview take place?  Which phone number will the committee be using?
    • What is great about phone interviews is also their drawback:  none of the committee members can see you.  This is important for a few reasons.
      • First, you can dress however you like.  Some people like to field phone interviews in the most comfortable clothes they have because it puts them at ease.  Others elect to dress as if it were an in-person interview and wear professional attire.  The choice is yours.
      • Second, you can use the notes you took while you were preparing for the interview.  Have your notes out in a place where you can easily see them.  The caveat here is that you shouldn’t use these notes to create “canned” answers, because this will be evident to the committee.  Instead, use the notes to help guide your answers and to assist you if you need to recall important facts and details.
      • Third, you will not be able to take body language into account as you give your answers.  In a face-to-face interview you can look at the members of the committee, and it can be easy to tell if someone is interested in your answer, confused by it, if you are going on too long, etc.  To remedy this, some candidates put up pictures or rearrange furniture in whatever room they are interviewing in order to simulate looking in different directions and responding to different people.  Because you can not see body language or be attuned to the nonverbal cues that occur when you are interviewing in person, it can be difficult to know when to wrap up an answer.  As a result, many candidates spend too long answering one question and then do not have enough time to successfully answer the others.  Keep your answers brief and to the point.  Two to three minutes is a good target, and be careful not to go on tangents.
    • Phone interviews will usually last between 30-45 minutes, but the time goes by very quickly!
    • Expect to encounter questions about your interest in the position, your background and experience, your teaching and research (for faculty positions; note:  teaching and research questions will be prioritized differently depending on the type of institution), your ideas for programs (for administrative positions), as well as other, less predictable questions.
    • This last tip is an important one, and it applies to all academic interviews.  At some point in every interview there will be a time when the committee, the hiring officer, or others will ask you if you have any questions for them.  You should always be prepared with a variety of specific questions about the position.  Doing so demonstrates both your genuine interest in the job and an important level of professionalism.
  • For Skype or video interviews:
    • These interviews are very similar to phone interviews, but they have the added factor of technology.  Make sure that everything is working properly prior to the interview.  Some committees will offer to do a test call to as a trial run with the technology, because this aspect of the interview can often be a source of stress for candidates.
    • Since the committee will be able to see you, professional attire is a good idea.
  • For conference interviews:
    • These are only common in some fields (e.g., English and History), but they are held at the major conference sponsored by the primary professional association for the field.
    • Professional attire is a must.
    • Conference interviews also tend to run between 30 and 45 minutes.
    • You will encounter the same sorts of questions as in the other types of first-round interviews, but you will be able to gauge the body language of the committee members, which is a tremendous help.
    • Consider bringing one or two sample syllabi with you as a way to make your answers about teaching issues more concrete.

Campus Interviews

If you are chosen to be a finalist after the first-round interview, you will then be brought to campus for another, more extensive interview.  Campus interviews are exciting, because you have the opportunity to see the institution, meet potential colleagues, and tout your experience and strengths.  They can also be quite grueling affairs, though, because they often take place over multiple days.

You can expect to take part in some or all of the following activities at a campus interview:

  • Many meetings with stakeholders, which could include the search committee, faculty, chairs, deans, and other members of the university community.
  • A teaching demonstration.
  • A job talk or another kind of professional presentation.
  • An information session with HR.
  • Meals with interviewers.

These various elements all carry with them their own complexities and to go into too much depth on each individual piece of the campus interview would require more space than is possible for one webpage.  In order to address some of these specific concerns, though, we have provided some resources at the bottom of this page.  However, some general advice about campus interviews follows.

Tips for Campus Interviews:

  • Everything is an interview.  From the moment you arrive at your destination until the moment you leave, you are being assessed.  This includes meals and car rides and even something as simple as walking from one meeting to the next.  Maintain a professional, polite, personable demeanor at all times.
  • Bring a small snack.  Because campus interviews are long and because candidates usually are answering questions during meals, it is important to bring something small that you can eat quickly during a break in case you get hungry.
  • Always be engaging.  Whether you are teaching a class or making a presentation, it is important to engage your audience.  Show those who are interviewing you not only the breadth of your teaching abilities but the ways in which you would be a good colleague.
  • Once again, professional attire is a must.

Resources

From James R. Beebe’s academic website:  “Academic Job Interview Questions.”

Kimberly Delgizzo and Laura Malisheski (2003), “Preparing for Campus Interviews.”

Dan Shapiro (2012), “Grim Job Talks Are a Buzz Kill.”

From the University of Michigan’s Career Center:  “Academic Interviewing.”

From the University of Minnesota’s Center for Teaching and Learning:  “The Academic Interview.”