Preparing for a Job Interview: Questions, Answers, and
- Content of the job talk:
- 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."
- 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.
- Be prepared for likely questions - have
colleagues and mentors put you "through your paces"
and ask the hardest questions they can think of.
- "Know your vulnerabilities." Make sure you know
as much as possible but be ready to admit that you
don't know about certain things.
- "Plant" questions that you know you are prepared
- 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
- Format of the job talk:
- Be prepared and practice your job talk: Make
sure you know how long it takes to present it
- Practice enough so that you exude confidence
about your research at the same time that you do not
- Be confident of what you are presenting so that
you don't need to read the whole thing
- Never exceed your time limit, and try to come in
under it. Nobody has ever been criticized for being
- Use accessible language, avoid jargon
- Know how to cut your losses if you make a
- Have a fully written job talk ready and return
to reading if you start "freaking out."
- Answering questions during the job talk:
- ok to take time to process the question
- 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
- make sure you are prepared for the hardest
questions possible and practice being "under attack"
to make sure you don't get flustered
- have some "prepared" responses to questions that
you know you won't know how to answer
- 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.
- don't answer questions to the satisfaction of
the questioner, answer questions to the satisfaction
of the rest of the audience.
- Remember to give short answers that directly
answer the question. Don't go on too long.
- Don't interrupt or talk over people. Always make
sure you leave plenty of space for others to talk.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Demonstrate that you would be a good colleague.
- 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
- 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