Skip to main content

Interview for Academic Positions

Conference Interviews

For some fields, the conference interview is a prerequisite for being invited to campus for an academic position. A conference interview is conducted by someone at a conference. This person may or may not be the person ultimately hiring you.

Conference interviews are typically brief (about 30 minutes) but may be longer, so do not schedule interviews back to back. Focus on conveying the important information you want this person to take back to the campus search committee. Also realize that this person may see you throughout the conference and may be observing you.

On-Site Interviews

Those are intensive 1 to 2 day interviews, that will include a number of interviews types, one-on-one interviews, group interviews, research talk, teaching a class and social situations/meals.

The interviewer wants to know about your personal qualities, that you have the skills required for the positions, are able to get things done, can prioritize, overcome barriers, use time effectively, work as a team, resolve differences, share work and credit, and that you are an effective leader.

Preparing for the campus interview

  • If asked to give a seminar, practice your talk
  • Develop a cocktail party version of your research: the two minute sound bite
  • Prepare to talk about your research, potential sources of funding, your goals, your teaching and yourself
  • Research the institution you will interview with – do your homework and investigate the institution
    • Culture
    • Priorities
    • Needs
  • Know who everyone on your schedule is and what their area is
  • Find out what research areas the department is emphasizing
  • Know what you’re going to wear
  • Think about how you’ll stay at the top of your form
  • Before any interview, clarify all arrangements
  • Practice interviewing
  • Find out what courses the department needs you to teach

Before the campus Visit

  • Ask for meetings that will help YOU determine if position is a good fit
    • Assistant professors in the department
    • Potential collaborators in other departments
    • Graduate students in your area
    • Female faculty from other departments

Don’t leave without understanding

  • The tenure process, tenure criteria, and the tenure rate. Why was someone denied tenure?
  • The teaching load
  • The quality of your potential colleagues
  • Expectations about research $$ and supporting grad students
  • What are the strategic directions of the department?
  • Ask Colleagues: If you could change anything about the department, what would it be?

Academic Mock Interview Questions

  • Why do you especially want to teach at Nameless College or University? How do you see yourself contributing to our department?
  • What have you contributed to your field?
  • What is your research about and how can it be applied?
  • What are its implications?
  • How is it relevant?
  • What do you plan to work on next?
  • What is the cutting edge in your field and how does your work extend it?
  • Can you explain the value of your work to an educated layperson?
  • What is your basic teaching philosophy?
  • What courses would you like to teach if you had your choice? How would you teach them?
  • Tell us how your research has influenced your teaching. In what ways have you been able to bring the insights of your research to your courses at the undergraduate level?
  • We are a service-based state branch university with an enrollment of three zillion student credit hours per semester, most of them in the basic required courses. Everyone, therefore, teaches the service courses. How would you teach 101?
  • Your degree is from Prestige Research University—what makes you think you would like to (or even would know how to) teach in a small liberal arts college?
  • This is a publish or perish institution with very high standards for tenure review—what makes you think you would be able to earn tenure here?
  • Are you connected? (If you were organizing a special symposium or mini-conference on your topic, which scholars could you pick up the phone to call?)
  • How long do you really plan to stay? How does your family feel about moving to ???  If your spouse/partner is not moving, how will you handle the separation?
  • You’ve seen our mission statement. How would you see yourself contributing to our mission and campus atmosphere?
  • Is there anything that you are nervous about being asked?

Expect the Unexpected Questions

  • I don’t think you’ve accounted for the research of Holmes and Holmes. Aren’t you familiar with their model? I think it invalidates your main hypothesis.
  • Unpublished research in my lab shows exactly the opposite effect. You must not have done the proper controls.
  • I believe a simple non-linear equation explains all your data. Why have you wasted your time on such a complex model?
  • (To the candidate) Well you didn’t even account for phenomena x. (Aside to the audience) How can all this research be valid if he/she didn’t account for x?
  • How does this differ from the basic model that we teach in sophomore transport?
  • It looks like you’ve done some interesting modeling. Is there an application of this work?
  • What a wonderful little application. Is there any theoretical support?
  • Those results are clearly unattainable. You must have falsified your data.
  • You’ve done some interesting work, but I don’t see how it could be considered engineering. Why do you think you are qualified to teach engineering?
  • Your work appears to be a complete replication of Holmes’s work. Just what is really new here?

Questions to Prepare for

One applicant was given these four topics in advance:

  • Future research plans: What directions do you see your research taking in the next 5–10 years? What will be the topic of your first major research proposal as a new faculty member, and where will you submit it? What balance do you anticipate between field research and lab/office based research? If field work will be important, what field sites would you want to consider in the first few years?
  • Education: Given our curriculum needs within the X group, how will you contribute to the undergraduate and graduate curricula? In particular, what graduate course(s) would you like to teach, and what will be your basic teaching model (e.g. lecture, lecture + lab, discussion, etc.)?
  • Graduate and undergraduate research: How will you engage graduate and undergraduate students in your research program? That is, what style of advising/mentoring will you use?
  • Resources: What critical resources do you need in order to establish a successful research program? What critical resources may already be here? What kind of help would you want from the X group, the department, and the University for you to achieve your goals?

From Everham & Smallridge, ESA Bulletin Dec 1994:

  • What is the main point of your dissertation?
  • What are your professional goals?
  • What is your concept of teaching in a 4-year college as opposed to a research university?
  • What specific research will you pursue if you are selected? How do you anticipate funding it?
  • How has your experience and training prepared you to teach the courses required?
  • What other courses might you teach?
  • Why do you want this job?
  • Why should we hire YOU?
  • What strengths would you bring to the department?
  • What would you expect from this department and administration?
  • What kind of start-up funds, facilities, and equipment would you need?
  • What experiences or interests do you have in college-wide activities and service?

From an underground primer by Peter Kareiva (UW–Seattle) and Dan Doak (UC–Santa Cruz):

  • What research will you be doing when you show up here?
  • What projects will you start next?
  • Why would you want to come here?
  • What teaching would you like to do?
  • What is your philosophy of grad student training? How will you support students? What types of projects do you expect them to work on?
  • What will you contribute to the department that is not already well covered by the faculty?
  • What makes you think you could ever get any outside funding?
  • What is the best idea you ever had?
  • What do you do? (the 3–5 minute summary of your entire research agenda)
  • Where do you see your work going in the next 10–20 years?

From an underground list of questions used by graduate students at the University of Arizona:

  • What kinds of tools would be available in your lab for grad student use?
  • In what areas do you think your work would uniquely contribute to this department?
  • With whom in the department do you envision interacting the most? Outside the department?
  • What meetings do you attend? What societies do you belong to?
  • What do you envision as your ideal lab: # grads, undergrads, postdocs, techs, participation of grads who are not your own students?
  • To what degree do you see integrating grad students into your research program?
  • Is their work usually closely related to your research focus or is it fairly independent?
  • How do you help grad students get started on a project?
  • What’s your perspective on grad student funding?
  • How would you respond to a student who is floundering (early vs. late)?
  • What types of mentoring have you experienced—and what would you do similarly or differently?
  • What courses have you taught before?
  • What do you see as the major challenges of teaching at a large (small) university?
  • What do you want to teach (grad, undergrad, seminars)? Statistics?

Questions that Might Catch You Off Guard

  • The illegal questions: spouses, children, etc. For example: will anything need to be done for your spouse/partner (like find them a job)?
  • Would you take this job if it were offered to you?
  • How would you handle an interpersonal conflict in your lab?
  • What happened in a break-up between two members of the lab who were involved?

How to Respond

If faced with a potentially discriminatory question during an employment interview, you are under no obligation to provide an answer. Be aware that such questions might be examples of stress questions, and you should be prepared to respond to them. Based on your personal preference and experience, you may choose to answer such questions briefly, but you should understand that volunteering such information may have negative consequences. Understanding the employer’s concern, however, might help you to structure a response.

Indirect Response

Address the employer’s underlying concern without directly answering the question. If an employer asks a question about your plans for marriage or family, the underlying concern is likely to be your ability to travel or to be at work during business hours, or your commitment to remain with the organization. Although you need not answer the question directly, you might acknowledge the employer’s concern and give assurance that your personal life will not interfere with your career responsibilities. Example: “I understand that you are concerned about my abilities to carry out the responsibilities of this position, and I assure you I will be able to.”

Direct Response

A more direct but less comfortable response is to mention your concern that the issue has no apparent bearing on your qualifications or ability to do the job. You may ask for clarification of the reason such information is requested or how it relates to the job discussed. Example: “It’s not clear to me why you are asking about this. Can you please explain?”