Academic job interviews
For jobs in higher education, panel interviews are most common, with from two up to ten or more interviewers. These may be drawn from across the university, not just from your discipline. Sometimes, you will also be seen informally by a number of departmental staff before or after your panel interview. This is a chance to learn more about the department and your potential future colleagues.
To prepare for your interview, revisit the job description and essential and desirable criteria. Talk to others about their experiences of academic interviews. Try to organise a mock interview - perhaps with job-searching contemporaries. Look again at the research you did into your own skills so that you have plenty of evidence to support your suitability for the job when answering questions.
Look at the general advice on interviews, and these tips when facing academic panel interviews:
- Dress smartly - these are formal occasions
- Shake hands with the interviewers as you are introduced and try to remember their names
- Be ready to show that you have the skills for the job, you understand the department and institution and that you have clear ideas about how you and the job will develop in the future
- When answering questions, look primarily at the person who asked the question, but do glance along the panel from time to time to include all the members
- Think through your answers to the questions below so that you can communicate your ideas coherently in the interview.
Sample questions for academic interviews
Here are a few examples of the types of questions you may face in an academic interview. Obviously, they are fairly general. In real-life interviews, they would be tailored to the relevant job criteria.
- What were the key achievements of your research project/PhD?
- Outline the project you would undertake if you were awarded research funding
- Who are the key researchers in your area? How does your work compare with theirs?
- In this institution, we are keen to develop collaborations between departments. What opportunities for multi-disciplinary work does your research offer?
- What plans do you have for publication of your current research?
- How do you get on with other members of your current research group? (evidence of constructive professional relationships)
- The university is keen to serve the wider community and economy. Does your planned research have any potential in these areas?
- If your current funding application is unsuccessful, what alternatives do you have in mind? (looking for knowledge of the funding infrastructure)
- What support would you expect from the institution? (eg training, research networks, help with funding applications)
- How have you managed your research project?
- What advice would you give to a new researcher about supervising students?
- If you were starting your project again today, what would you do differently?
- Describe a research problem you have faced. What did you learn?
- What experience do you have of teaching and what areas of teaching do you want to work in?
It is common to be asked to give a presentation, such as an outline of your recent research or a short lecture. Look at the general advice on giving interview presentations and on giving lectures. Talk to your supervisor and other academic researchers about presentations they have given at interviews.
- When preparing, keep to the brief you are given. If unsure, ask
- Anticipate your audience - try to find out as much as possible who will be present and their interests
- Practise your timing - you may be cut off in mid flow otherwise
- Have a clear structure - begin confidently
- Speak clearly to the whole audience - ensure you include everyone with regular eye contact
- Use audio-visual equipment if it enhances your presentation. Take care that any electronic files you bring are compatible and prepare good- quality visuals
- Consider taking prepared handouts for the audience
- At the end, invite questions
- Thank your audience.
Moving on in your Career: Ali, L and Graham, B: Routledge Falmer 2000. A thorough self-help manual aimed specifically at research staff, ISBN 0-415-17870-3
The Academic Career Handbook: Blaxter, L, Hughes, C and Tight, M, Open University, ISBN 0-335 198279
Lifting a Ton of Feathers: A Woman's Guide to Surviving in the Academic World: Caplan PJ, University of Toronto, 1993. ISBN 0802074111
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