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Preparing for a Job Interview: Questions, Answers, and Tips

  1. Content of the job talk:
    1. Keep the talk very simple - try to present no more than three key points and make sure the audience is very clear on what those points are. "Tell 'em what you're gonna say, say it, and tell 'em what you said."
    2. Consider using a few, well-designed view-graphs rather than reading (but keeping reading as a backup option). "Talking to" the audience while pointing to a viewgraph helps keep you focused on and engaged with the audience. Doing it well takes practi ce so make sure you have practiced enough to do it well.
    3. Be prepared for likely questions - have colleagues and mentors put you "through your paces" and ask the hardest questions they can think of.
    4. "Know your vulnerabilities." Make sure you know as much as possible but be ready to admit that you don't know about certain things.
    5. "Plant" questions that you know you are prepared to answer.
    6. Explicitly address at least one rival explanation to the argument you are making. This demonstrates that you have thought of, and think about, alternative arguments and know how to deal with them.
  2. Format of the job talk:
    1. Be prepared and practice your job talk: Make sure you know how long it takes to present it
    2. Practice enough so that you exude confidence about your research at the same time that you do not appear defensive.
    3. Be confident of what you are presenting so that you don't need to read the whole thing
    4. Never exceed your time limit, and try to come in under it. Nobody has ever been criticized for being too brief!
    5. Use accessible language, avoid jargon
    6. Know how to cut your losses if you make a mistake
    7. Have a fully written job talk ready and return to reading if you start "freaking out."
  3. Answering questions during the job talk:
    1. ok to take time to process the question
    2. ok to write down one or two words to remind you of the question parts of a long comment, but don't write too much
    3. make sure you are prepared for the hardest questions possible and practice being "under attack" to make sure you don't get flustered
    4. have some "prepared" responses to questions that you know you won't know how to answer
    5. have some standard phrases (write them on your notepad if you need reminders) that allow you to respond positively to aggressive questioners, e.g., "That's a good question that I have been thinking about recently," or whatever.
    6. don't answer questions to the satisfaction of the questioner, answer questions to the satisfaction of the rest of the audience.
    7. Remember to give short answers that directly answer the question. Don't go on too long.
    8. Don't interrupt or talk over people. Always make sure you leave plenty of space for others to talk.
    9. Always answer the actual question asked, regardless of the "subtext" or political element of the question. If a questioner wants to raise politically sensitive issues, engage them, but make them do it explicitly. Don't ask for trouble by raising suc h issues because you think that was what the person was "really" asking.
    10. If you become flustered during questioning, take a deep breath, push back from the table, or whatever you need to do to regain your composure fully but quickly. Everyone giving a job talk is nervous, and everyone in the audience will give you some sl ack to be a bit nervous, but try to avoid it getting out of hand. Again, of course, practice helps reduce the need for these things.
  4. Know the institution you are applying to, the criteria they will use in the hire, and the process they will use in making a choice. Ask the chair for information about whether teaching or research or both are important. Will you be presenting to fac ulty, grad students, undergrads, or all three? How long will the job talk last? What other elements of the interview process will you have to go through? Should you bring syllabi for certain courses and be prepared to discuss them or not? Make sure you know the answers to these sorts of questions.
  5. Remember, the chair is usually on your side and is sincerely interested and invested in making sure that you do the best possible job you can during the interview and that you have the best (but most honest) view of the institution you may be hired fo r.
  6. Demonstrate that you would be a good colleague.
  7. Demonstrate a sincere interest in the work of the people in the department you are interviewing with. Don't say you have read someone's book if you haven't but do know enough about a few people's work so that you can ask them questions, for example, about how they would approach a current research question you are working on.
  8. Never let your hair down. You are interviewing from the moment you step off the plane until the moment you get back on again. Do not give any person any reason to think poorly of you. Do not "badmouth" any of the people you meet to others, or ask ot hers what they think of Professor X.



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