Academic Careers - Interview for Faculty Positions

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The tenure-track faculty interview process usually begins with a phone call, most likely from the search committee chair. Consider this the first round interview. While it may or may not take the form of a screening interview, it is your first chance to make a good impression. An invitation for a on-campus interview, round two, will follow.

Though an interview invitation is quite exciting, it can also be paired with apprehension. Knowing what to expect can help assuage that apprehension. Though no two departments will conduct interviews in the same manner, the interview usually entails one to two days of one-on-one faculty meetings, meetings with students and/or postdocs, and one or more presentations. A dinner with search committee members is almost always included.

Click below to learn about each stage of a faculty interview.


Round One

Before the phone call...

  • Compile a list of questions for the interviewer, e.g., talk content, format, and audience; point of contact, etc.
  • Prepare a valid excuse to use when you receive the phone call, e.g., "May I call you back in 10 minutes? I'm setting up an rtPCR." or "I'm driving. May I call back when I arrive at..."

When you receive the phone call...

  • Be enthusiastic. Politely use your prepared excuse.
  • Collect your thoughts and questions, and a pen and paper.
  • Call back from a private location. Be polite and enthusiastic.

If simply an invitation, expect and plan to...

  • Discuss potential interview dates.
  • Discuss who sets travel arrangements and your itinerary.
  • Discuss with whom you should communicate prior to your visit.
  • Discuss the talk details, expectations, and to whom you will present.

If a phone screen interview, expect...

  • Questions about your interest in and knowledge of the department/institution.
  • Questions about your research (originality/importance) and/or teaching.
  • Questions about your fit.

RESOURCE
What to Expect in a First-Round Interview
- Julie Miller Vick & Jennifer Furlong

Before Round Two

Prepare
Do your homework! Find out as much as you can from the department, including:

  • Your itinerary and travel arrangements
  • The people with whom you will meet
  • The format and audience for your talk(s)

Read about the people with whom you will meet, including their websites and one or two articles. Come up with questions for each of them.

Practice
Complete your job talk and, if required, your chalk talk. Schedule one or two practice talks with your lab. To provide an non-expert perspective, invite postdocs and faculty from outside of your lab.

Dress for Success
Choose, or buy, professional attire in which you feel both comfortable and confident. You will be on your feet all day, so choose comfortable, but professional, shoes. Break them in, if they are brand new. Beyond your clothes, bring a professional bag or laptop/tablet case.

Bring Everything You Need
Do not rely exclusively on your hosts. Bring what you need for success to prevent any worry, including:

  • Backup copies of your presentation(s) on an external drive
  • Any video adapters and power cords, if using your own computer
  • Your own laser pointer/slide advancer
  • A brand new set of dry erase markers (for chalk talks)
  • A water bottle or coffee mug
  • Snacks
  • Mints
  • Tissues

RESOURCE
Preparing for Your Interview
- Rob Jenkins

One-on-One

Format
Over the course of one to two days, both of which may be 12+ hours, you will be escorted around campus for one-on-one interviews with faculty members. These interviews are typically 30-45 minutes. Prior to your arrival, you should have known with whom you meet; therefore, you should have researched who they are, what they do, and read at least one of their papers.

With whom you will meet
Department Chair
Dean, Provost, or similar
Most or all of the faculty search committee members
Students and/or postdocs (perhaps in a group setting)

Discussion
Rest assured that the discussion will focus on your research and/or the research of your interviewer. Ask your prepared questions and be an active listener. If your interviewer was diligent, he or she may ask you about your published research and may even challenge your conclusions. Take any criticism in stride and respond politely and professionally. Your demeanor is also under evaluation.

The focus of the conversation, and the questions asked, may change depending on whether your one-on-one interview occurs before or after your job or chalk talk.

RESOURCES
What to Expect in a Second-Round Interview - Julie Miller Vick & Jennifer Furlong
What to Ask--and Not to Ask--in Your Interview - Rob Jenkins

Job & Chalk Talks

Job Talks
A job talk is a research seminar during which you present your past and current work to your future colleagues, usually a mixed audience ranging from students/postdocs to experts in your field. Unlike other scientific talks, a job talk is about you and your accomplishments. Personal pronouns are appropriate.

Your slides should be professional and support, not supplant, your speech. Use declarative sentences, not vague statements, for slide titles, e.g., "X is composed of Y and Z." not "Results."

Sample structure:
1. Background
2. Central objective(s) & talk outline
          a. Question
          b. Data
          c. Conclusion (repeat a-c for each question)
3. Overall conclusion that connects back to objective(s)
4. Future directions

RESOURCES
Giving a Job Talk in the Sciences - Richard M. Reis
How to Give an Effective Job Talk
- NIH Office of Intramural Training & Education

Chalk Talks
A chalk talk is an overview of your future work during which you will provide an outline of the two or three projects you proposed in your research statement. Think of it as the verbal version of a specific aims page.

Occurring after your job talk, the audience consists of only the faculty search committee members. Every department will be different - some will limit the presentation to one PowerPoint slide, whereas others may not permit slides at all, instructing presenters only to use a white board or chalk board. If the latter, request a few minutes to prepare the board prior to your speech.

It should be noted that not every department will require a chalk talk. In some cases, a chalk talk is requested during a third-round interview, especially in the case where a decision between two candidates needs to be made.

RESOURCES
Demystifying the chalk talk
- Charles Brenner
Example Chalk Talk for Job Interview
- A Guide to Academia; John Wiley & Sons

Teaching Demo

If you are interviewing at primarily undergraduate institution, or for a research position with a large teaching component, you may be asked to give a teaching demonstration. The demonstration may take on one of two forms:

  1. A guest lecture in an actual class (on a topic of their choice)
  2. A mock lecture (on a topic of your choice related to your research)

RESOURCE
The Teaching Demonstration: What Faculty Expect and How to Prepare for This Aspect of the Job Interview - CBE Life Sciences

After the Interview

With any luck, you were taking notes on each of your one-on-one interviews. If not, take some time to reflect on the conversations you had during your interview.

When you return home, first rest. Then, follow-up with and thank each of the faculty with whom you met during your interview. In the interest of time, you can send these thank you notes via e-mail. A hand-written thank you note may be posted afterward, if you desire.