Sarah Nicolazzo (Literature) and Kirstie Dorr (Ethnic Studies) provided sound and thorough advice interviewing in the academic job market at the Center for the Humanities’ latest Humanities for Hire workshop.
Normally, there are two stages of the academic interview: the short 20-40 minute interview that occurs remotely or at a conference, and the on-campus interview lasting one to two days. Below are some general words of wisdom and specific advice for various steps in the process.
Build a bank of rhetorical tools that can help you to answer questions in a clear manner. Consider creating short “scripts” that you can deploy in a genuine and polished way. Don’t be afraid to write things down or pause before answering.
Remember to think about the search committee’s anxieties. We often get so caught up in our own worries, we forget to consider their perspective. Below are three big question the hiring committee will have on their minds. Speak to and address these concerns.
- Collegiality. They want to pick someone that they can work in close quarters with for a long time.
- Willingness to work. There’s a lot that goes into running a department, and they will seek a candidate who will pitch in to fill the needs of the department, both as a teacher and a colleague.
- Ability to get tenure. Demonstrate your ability to do great work and get it out the door to the presses.
Tips for the Short Interview
- Spend two to five minutes answering each question, but be prepared to elaborate. Think of answers as beginning with a topic sentence, and then provide evidence for that point. Have nice closing statements. Give them the option to ask for more.
- Practice answering the question, “Tell us about your dissertation” with a clear understanding of how you would frame the answer for different audiences.
- Review the faculty profiles of the people who will be interviewing you.
- Have a few questions prepared to ask them. Focus on collaboration and the ways they are building their program. Save more in-depth and technical questions for the campus interview.
- For the conference interview: Interviewing at a conference is a presssure-cooker. Be sure to spend time away from the conference venue. Also be prepared to run into colleagues in the interviewing spaces.
- For the Skype interview: Practice the set-up. Make sure you have a reliable internet connection. Practice looking at the camera and be sure your background is not too distracting.
Tips for the Campus Interview:
- On teaching: Be prepared to discuss what survey courses and upper level courses you could teach with some depth. Show flexibility and adaptability in courses you could teach. Take this as an opportunity to create “dream syllabi.” Be prepared to talk about your philosophy on teaching and mentoring graduate students.
- On being asked inappropriate questions: Come up with some strategies to deal with questions that delve into areas not appropriate for a job interview. One suggestion is to redirect the question by saying, “If you are asking me about x (a more appropriate professional topic of conversation, then…” Most prodders will get the hint and others may notice the grace with which you handled their inappropriate colleague.
- Don’t be critical, snarky, or otherwise complain about anyone in the field or in your graduate program. Academic worlds are small!
- Prepare small-talk conversation starters such as, “Tell me about the area,” or “How has the department changed over the years?”
- Afterwards, send a thank-you to the search committee and any administrative staff that helped plan the visit.
How to Prepare for an Interview
- Practice as many steps in the interview process as possible. Form groups of 3-4 to support this and go through the whole ritual.
- Schedule your travel for an on-campus interview with time for delays, recovering from jet lag, etc. Do not check your suitcase and bring weather-appropriate clothes. Look up the hotel ahead of time to see if they have internet and printing services.
- Let them know of any dietary restrictions ahead of time and provide tips on how they can help meet your dietary needs.
- Brainstorm strategies that keep you going strong on a long intellectually-taxing day. Bring snacks. Take silent moments (even if in the bathroom).
- Wear something “professional,” and that you will feel comfortable and confident wearing.
- If you are asked to do a teaching demo, create a lesson that is pedagogically effective for a group that has not read anything, does not know you, and can appeal to a variety of levels.
Preparing Your Job Talk
- Consult with your mentors about what constitutes a good job talk in your field. Generally, we suggest giving a brief outline of the project, explaining the questions you are trying to answer and detailing the substance of one chapter or case study. Be sure to frame the piece within the scope of the whole project.
- Do a mock job talk and Q&A.
- Print our your job talk. Reading off a screen can be distracting.
- Thank the search committee and all those who helped make arrangements.
- Engage with curiosity and generosity in the Q&A rather than with anxiety and defensiveness. If faced with an aggressive question, stay calm and try not to babble or back down. If someone is overwhelming the floor, suggest that you discuss the point more at the reception.
- Channel your teaching persona. If there is no teaching demo, this will also be where people evaluate you pedagogically.
At the end of the day, be confident in your abilities and do your best to represent your strengths as a scholar, teacher, and colleague.