On Interviews (repost)

A series of posts on Interviews (mostly for the UK market) from 2015 have been combined for this repost. See below for tips on GOLDEN RULES and, more importantly, PAST QUESTIONS divided thematically.


Getting an interview invitation triggers a rush of validation and excitement for most young academics – finally someone thinks you deserve a job! But before you start (1) going on national rail website to see how you can commute to your potential-future-new-uinversity (2) checking rightmove.com for the latest properties within walking/cycling/driving distance to the university (3) pondering which picture you’ll submit to the departmental website, you have to actually make it through the interview.

Interviews are stressful. They are few and far between, and they are stressful. Aside from working hard at interview prep – the presentation ; course outlines ; the dreaded Q&A session – and perhaps doing some breathing/yoga exercises in the run up to the big day to relax, here are 3 Golden Rules we think can help you through this terrifying/exhilarating/emotionally draining process :

  1. What contribution are you making ? You need to know this, for both your current and future research projects. The answer needs to be brief, straightforward, confident, convincing, and on the tip of your tongue. Also make sure it is clear to a non-specialist audience (most people on your panel will not be specialists in your field). Of course, no one likes a bragger – but being confident does not mean you cannot have a realistic degree of humility. You need to have give the panel the sense that you fully understand the value of your project.
  1. Make a list of 5 points you really want to get across – and get them into your interview answers. The 5 points vary from person to person : perhaps you have a great IMPACT suggestion ; there might be a name (or two) of a member of the department which you want to drop in to show you have looked into what they research and want to propose a collaborative project ; maybe you just got an article accepted in a prestigious journal a few days beforehand, and you want to make sure the panel know about it ; maybe you have a super original and inspiring anecdote about teaching. Whatever those 5 things are, list them, and think of different ways you can insert them. Then run them over in your head, again and again. You may not be able to get all of them in during the interview, but you’ll probably manage at least 3 or 4 of the points, and this will hopefully show them your strengths.
  1. DO NOT RAMBLE. Answers should generally last 1-2 minutes maximum. They want to ask you questions – they don’t want to hear another presentation. If you hear yourself going on after 2 minutes JUST STOP TALKING.


In 2012-14, European historians collected questions from various academic job interviews, and when looking at the UK job market you certainly see recurring themes: past and future research; teaching; funding; impact/REF; admin; other. Below, you’ll find a list of these questions organised by theme. You can practice answering them with a friend and/or colleague in order to get yourself better prepared for the big day, but you don’t even need another person: this is one of those moments where talking to yourself out loud can pay off. Thanks to all of you who have shared your interview questions with us!


Why did you apply here ?

What’s so special about us that you want to come here?

Tell us why you want to work at this department in this university.

Why did you apply to X and how do you see yourself fitting in?

Why should we choose you ?

What’s so special about you that we should hire you?

What kind of skills and experience will you bring to us?

What kind of a colleague are you?

How would you fit into the department/colleagues/university/city?

How do you see yourself fitting here?

I see you do diplomatic and political history, how are going to fit with the department that has a clear socio-cultural dimension?

Where do you see yourself fitting in the department and with who would you collaborate?

With whom in the department could you collaborate, and why?

You mentioned in your presentation your methodology is mostly qualitative, would you work across methodologies? With who in the department?

What plans and ideas to connect work to the wider university and the city of X?

Could you reach out to other departments?

Are you interested in working/collaborating across departments/disciplines?


If you were on the BBC for an hour what would you talk about?

Why would you give up your two year post doc to get this job?

You seem to be involved in a lot of different engagement and research projects. By doing everything, are you not worried you will be remembered for nothing?

What do you think your colleagues say about you when you aren’t there?


The 5-year (or 10) plan :

What is my publication schedule over the next 5 years ?

What is your 5 year plan?

Also what kind of a historian do you think you will be in a couple of years?

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

How important is your topic?

How important is your topic compared to other priorities in the field?

Why should we care?

What are the broader implications of your research?

How does your work fit into your field/different fields ?

How does your work fit into the different fields you contribute to?

What are the major developments in your field in the past 50 years?

What main question drives your research projects ? What is the point of these projects ?

How do you use traditional approaches & methodologies ?

Presence of/view on the tradition of social history in your project?

What are the challenges of your multi-archival and multi- level analysis?

Future Projects ?

What is your next project?

After you finish your new/next project, what will your third project be?


What are your broad plans to bring in funding ?

External fund raising plans?

Describe any projects you think you could use to bring in funding.

How do you plan to continue raising funding?

What are the specific plans?

What research grants applications do you have in mind?

What funding sources would you look to for research ?

What about networks and collaborations ?

Do you have ideas for networks or collaborations that will bring in external money?


Teaching Experience

You mentioned you taught this course before, what other teaching experiences have you had ?

Which university did you prefer teaching at : X or Y?

Can you teach courses a bit (or even well) beyond your period?

The course you offer

What’s the rationale behind your course on offer?

Can you tell me what would students get out from this course on (X)?

Attracting students

How do you plan to attract students to your course?

Your third-year course sounds interesting to us as academics, but how would you recruit students who have no background in your field and might not see the merits?

How would you get one of your students (who you are mentoring) interested in history ?

Explaining your module

Pretend this is your first class of the undergraduate and you have to introduce yourself and the module.

What is the [Cold War]? Why will student take your course on this topic?

You mention nations other than X in your course description, but how much do you really engage with them ?

Other Courses

Tell us about what thematic second-year course you would offer.

Tell us about what specialist third-year course you would offer.

How would you differentiate your MA courses from your undergraduate ones, apart from the specific content?

Dealing with students and diversity

How do you teach in specific locales/motivate undergrads ?

How would you deal with students who are hungover and haven’t done the readings?

How would you deal with teaching MA students who are 50 years old and haven’t been in formal education for many years, especially when they are in the same class as recent undergraduates?

As a historian who works with languages, how would you confront the challenge of teaching research-led courses to students with no foreign language abilities?


What of digital humanities and how it might help the department ?

What do you think of Blackboard/Moodle ?

What about postgraduate level ?

How would you attract PhDs?

What is the difference between teaching at UG and PG level?


How would you teach existing optional modules ?

How would you teach existing core courses ?

We have always really struggled to get students enthusiastic about the core methods and research course we offer here in 2nd year : how would you improve it ?

What is the biggest criticism that you have received in student feedback ?

Do you believe in exams?


Do you know about the impact factor in the REF?

What kind of impact would your work have?

How can you contribute to Public engagement and Impact ?

What about outreach and working with schools ?


What kind of service/admin duties would I be interested in ?

In terms of administration, can you tell us about a time when you have actually been able to change something? For instance, a process or a regulation.

Are you willing to take on admin roles? Would you be interested in contributing to internationalizing the university?


PhD advising – how is this going to develop?

Are you thinking of developing any research centres ?

When do I hear back ?



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Society for the Study of French History logo