Monday, March 17, 2014

Tips for job interviews

I have completed my academic job interviews for this season. I am cautiously optimistic. In the meantime, while it is fresh in my mind, I'd like to write out some of my suggestions. For a more light-hearted and graphical overview of the interview process, check out Hope Jahren's, "How to get a faculty job" comic **(see my addendum below). Also, see this list from Matt Might that focuses on the whole academic application process.

Before the interview
  • Prepare presentations. You will need to prepare at least one presentation that features your past and current research. You may also need to prepare a chalk talk, or a teaching talk. 
  • Practice. Practice your research presentation, and your chalk talk and/or teaching talk, to several different audiences if you can. Practicing saying things out loud is useful, even if it is just to an empty room. 
  • Prepare questions. The campus interview is a two-way street, for the department to get to know you, and for you to get to know the department. Think about what is important for you to know before going somewhere (e.g., research facilities, teaching responsibilities, support for students, tenure expectations, etc. For more ideas see this list from Dartmouth.). 
  • Look up scientific backgrounds of each of the people you will be meeting with. Save either as an electronic document or print out for reading on the plane. I've heard some people suggest reading a paper from each person you are going to meet with, but I think this is not reasonable. Some departments are vast, and you will not have the scientific expertise to internalize 16 new disciplines. That said, you should have a general sense of what each person does, how you might potentially collaborate, and prepare one or two notes or questions about their research, to facilitate conversation. 
  • Consider questions they might ask you, especially the ones they aren't supposed to ask, but might anyway: see here for questions you should never be asked on a job interview.
Traveling - Before
  • Pack light, so you don't need to check luggage, and risk having your bag not arrive when you do. Make sure you still have professional clothes and layers. Layers are important.
  • Keep all important items in your carry-on (especially **laptop, backup presentation, adaptors, and power chargers**).
  • Pack two snacks. Likely your flights will be delayed or the layover too short, and it will be nice to feel like you don't really need to pay $7 for that bag of almond M&Ms.
  • Bring headphones and non-electronic reading material. The flights can get long.
  • Keep dental floss in your bag, and make a bathroom check after lunch, for your peace of mind.
  • Bring a water bottle or a reusable coffee mug (works for hot or cold) to stay hydrated.
  • Choose mints over gum. Less distracting. Cough drops are also nice to have, just in case.
  • Bring pens and paper so you can take any important notes for following up.
  • Don't over-caffinate. Be careful not to drink too much coffee/tea, it seems to flow non-stop.
  • Decompress for 30 minutes (use the gym, take a bath, listen to music, watch youTube).
  • Don't obsess. If you have a second talk (chalk talk or teaching presentation), go over it one more time, update with potential collaborations after what you've learned on your first day, but then let it go.
  • Get some rest. The first day is so exciting with all the new people and places. You need to be just as enthusiastic the second day.
Traveling - After
  • Thank you notes can be started on the plane ride home, when the visit is fresh in your mind. Just save in a text file and then you can proof and send them out when you return.
  • Stretch. The combo of nerves during the interview and the not-so-comfy airline seats can hurt your neck/back, so take care of yourself.
After the Interview
  • Enjoy your time at home!
  • Catch up on emails, lab work, writing, family and friends.
  • Do not obsess. You've done all you can do. Now, patience, and distraction, are your friends.
  • Good luck!

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**My addendum to Hope's comic:

#5: Just ask for a bathroom break when you need it.
#15: I found that ordering an alcoholic drink was an easy way to avoid the "might she be pregnant?" unasked, but burning, question.  
#18: Even if you feel sure that you're a great fit, you still might not get the job. And that really stinks.


EllenQ said...

Ha! I also had a drink at dinner to allay pregnancy concerns. The other unasked question I tended to volunteer was that I have a trailing partner, but one with an easy to find job. It isn't fair, but that stuff does enter people's minds - especially with female academics.

Brendon said...

We also should take notes of the questions being asked. We should judge the employer with their questions the same way they judge the applicants with their answers. If they start asking inappropriate things, don't continue.

mathbionerd said...

Ellen, it is the game we play.

Brandon, thank you for sharing. I'll add that link to the post.

Mark P said...


Coming from the "other side", our Department had three tenure track searches this semester and thus has been in continuous recruitment mode since December. If I was creative I'd write a "How to be on a Search Committee" comic book, but.......

mathbionerd said...

Mark, if you do, let me know. I'd be happy to give some suggestions, from a candidates perspective. What some departments did that was really great, and how some kind of dropped the ball.

Anonymous said...

For some easy job searching tips, you can easily find it in Australian Careers because there was a lot of vacant jobs on their website. I already find my job there and it was really nice to work on that country.

Hope Jahren said...

#15 of the Addendum is a brilliant point and I seethe with regretfully envy that I did not think of it myself. Pressed for constructive input, I might only add that slamming back a handful of pills might also serve to negate any unfounded suspicion premised upon mineral water.

pam said...

tip for women - wear a jacket or something with pockets to put the mike in when you are speaking

mathbionerd said...

Good one, Pam. I did something different - I bought a small black sling purse that could fit a microphone. Can also fasten mic to strap.