On this page:
- Be prepared at academic conferences to make both your research interests and your career aspirations clear to the other professionals in your field.
- If conferences have recruitment sessions or application workshops, attend, even if you're two or three years from the job market.
- Ask to sit on search committees at your institution so you get a sense of the interview process
- Be aware of the different policies and expectations amongst Canadian, US, and international institutions.
- Research the schools you want to apply to: Who do you want to work with? Where could you see yourself living?
- Follow the application instructions carefully. Applying for academic positions requires a lot of paperwork OR email attachments. Be clear which format the application committee is expecting.
- Avoid blanket cover letters. Tailor each to demonstrate a fit between your research and teaching and the faculty to which you are applying.
Before the Interview
- Use common sense: select your interview attire, plan to arrive early, etc. The interview may last as little as a few hours, or it may span several days.
- Plan to bring your own equipment to avoid problems with technology (e.g. laptop, projector, and so on).
- Learn in advance about the city and the university in addition to the history of the school and faculty biographies. This demonstrates a well-rounded and genuine interest in the position.
- Keep your materials organized! Compile everything required, but bring other materials (e.g. course outlines, teaching philosophy, teaching evaluations, etc.) for you to access quickly if needed.
- Prepare your five-year plan (this is a common question when hiring for tenure-track).
- Be prepared to discuss how you would contribute to the three areas of academic life: research, teaching, and service.
- Find ways to prepare that help reduce your anxiety. While committees try to make candidates comfortable, the interview is still a high-stakes process. Work with your peers and mentors to determine the questions you might expect, develop strategies to gracefully answer questions you could never have anticipated, and practice your Job Talk.
The Screening Process
Some hiring committees will pre-screen potential candidates before they are even short listed for an on-campus interview. Be prepared for the following:
- Some disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, particularly at American schools, do preliminary interviewing at major annual conventions such as the MLA (Modern Languages Association) and the APA (American Philosophical Association). These interviews are scheduled ahead of time, so pay attention to conference announcements or get in touch with conference organizers if you are interested.
- A hiring committee might interview you over the phone during the screening process. Often, this happens as a conference call. The challenge is that because you have no visual feedback, it is harder to gauge the effect of your responses. To compensate, and to keep track of the conversation, take notes and ask for clarification when needed.
The Short List: An Academic Interview
- After the screening phase, a hiring committee will contact shortlisted candidates to schedule their campus visit. It is customary for departments to reimburse for travel and accommodation expenses. Ask any questions you may have about accommodations, the schedule, the people you will be meeting, or what you will be expected to do in a job talk or teaching a class.
No Short List, No Interview
- Academic jobs are competitive, so don't get discouraged if you do not get shortlisted for an interview.
- You might try to politely follow up with the hiring committee, thanking them for their time and consideration, and perhaps asking for feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of your application package. Don't harass them, though - one follow up note is enough!
- Do further research on the school and program you are applying for, specifically referring to your notes. What did you miss? What questions could you have handled better?
- Be realistic about the job market. To find academic work, you may have to move. What new opportunities will that create? What are your limitations?
This varies from institution to institution, and in degree of formality, but the day of the interview generally includes:
Candidates will usually be interviewed by the hiring committee and can expect to be grilled on all aspects of their portfolio, from previous research, to teaching, to future publication plans. Questions need to be answered directly and the candidate should not hesitate to ask for clarification if something is unclear, or to ask their own questions: you are also evaluating the department’s suitability for you.
Showcase your knowledge of the department, either through questions you ask or by contextualizing your answers in an appropriate way; for example, if asked what courses you would like to teach, you can respond both by describing your teaching interests, and by pointing to courses currently offered that you would be suited to teach.
You may also have several one-on-one meetings with other faculty members, the department chair, or graduate students. Keep in mind that everyone you meet may be involved in the final hiring decision. Use any further meetings with department members to find out more about the department, demonstrate your acquired knowledge of the work there, and discuss your own research.
Many departments formally include graduate students in the hiring process and they will often recommend a particular candidate. Some departments have a graduate student on every search committee, and some even have graduate students form their own parallel committee and then make recommendations to the main committee. It is, therefore, crucial to demonstrate an authentic interest in the work of the graduate students you encounter.
Finally, at many universities or colleges, you will also have a meeting with the dean of the faculty or other university administrators. Since it is unlikely that these people will be from your discipline, this is where you have to be prepared to briefly explain your work in layperson’s terms. However, meetings with the dean usually focus on non-academic information such as the administrative set-up of the university.
Formal interviewing events may include:
- Meeting/interview with the hiring committee
- Meeting with other faculty
- Meeting with program Chair or Dean
Informal Meetings or Social Events
You will have at least one if not several social events to attend, such as lunches, dinners, or receptions. While these events are purportedly removed from the interviewing process, you are still being scrutinized, since this is the hiring committee’s best opportunity to get a sense of your personality and to evaluate your collegiality. Try to relax and behave naturally: if you are at a bar and don't drink, club soda is a non-alcoholic way to share a drink with your peers. Follow the lead of others on topics of conversation, and try to avoid any contentious or tense situations on hot-button topics, though you should not shy away from expressing a position if called upon to do so. For more advice read the Business Etiquette guide in My Career.
Social events may include:
- Meeting with other faculty
- Meeting with program Chair or Dean
- Dinner or drinks with the hiring committee, faculty members, and/or the Dean
- Departmental reception
The Job Talk or Research Lecture
- Likely the most universal element of the campus visit, this is usually a presentation lasting forty to sixty minutes (including question period) that is open to the entire department, including all faculty and students. This is your opportunity to discuss your research and demonstrate its significance. Some points to remember:
- The real challenge in the job talk lies in the question period, where the search committee gets to see how you think on your feet. Try to answer questions thoughtfully and do not become defensive, even if one or two people seem particularly intent on trying to expose chinks in your armour. Be prepared to acknowledge any gaps or weaknesses in your research, particularly when the program you are applying for is interdisciplinary.
- One strategy is to reveal about three of your ten key points or five per cent of your dissertation. The rationale is that there is a better chance your key points will be remembered. Done right, questions about these key points will lead you to discussing the rest of your dissertation.
- Try to balance specialized versus non-specialized language and description; it is better to assume that you are speaking to non-specialists, and offer to address any technical points in more detail in the question-and-answer period or in a one-on-one session with those interested in the details.
- Keep in mind that your delivery style and the verve with which you present are being just as carefully scrutinized as the content of your talk, so be as engaging as possible and use the tips you have gleaned through any mock job talks. Also consider attending job talks that your own department might be hosting to see what works, and what doesn’t.
Some departments may ask you to do a sample lecture of an undergraduate class, usually one connected to your area of research. However, you may be asked to speak on a pre-assigned topic. If this is the case, you can try to incorporate your research into it, first making sure you are familiar with the course. Since you will have been informed ahead of time and have likely obtained a copy of the course syllabus, you should have a sense of what the course is about and what the students have been reading or studying. If you have concerns about your teaching skills, consider attending sessions offered by the Office of Teaching Advancement (OTA).
While you should never harass the hiring committee about their decision, a brief "thank you" letter or email with your contact information is an appropriate and thoughtful follow-up.