On Interviews (1): Some Golden Rules

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.

We’ll be giving more Interview tips in the next few months, but in the meantime, GOOD LUCK ! If you get the job, great – if you don’t, well, we’ve all been there, often more than once, twice, three times, etc. Have a drink/a jog/a cigarette/a big moan to a friend, and then move on to next thing. Just keep at it.


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