Schools Training

How to shine in an academic interview

7 FEB 2014

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Many dread going to job interviews. Yet it is a fact not often acknowledged that interviews are pretty predictable. You can prepare for them without feeling as if you are submitting to a dark ritual in the face of which passive acceptance is the only option.

My aim is to point out some of the thinking behind interview questions, and a few ideas for practical ways that you can prepare.

Talk to others about their interview experiences

I’m starting with this advice, because I’m frequently surprised by many people’s resistance to sharing interview experiences with their peers and colleagues – except, that is, for the odd comically embellished horror story. Gathering anecdotal evidence from others will help you to spot patterns and anticipate potentially tricky questions.

What kind of interviews have they had? What questions did they get? What else was included in the assessment process? Who was on the panel? What surprised them?

And what about people you know who have sat on interview panels: what do they think? Start having these conversations right away; don’t wait until you have a scheduled interview. Top tip: I recently met a postdoc who, with a group of fellow researchers, kept a secure web document of all their interview stories and questions – a shared resource as easy to set up as it was invaluable.

Do as much research as you can

You can’t do too much research before an interview. What has that group published recently? Who funds their research and what are the funder’s requirements? What techniques are others in the group using?

Or: who works in that department and what do they work on? Who ought to be interested in what you do? Where do you fit with their existing specialisms?

Or: what kind of students does that university have? What are their mission and values? What strategic goals do they mention on their website? How do they present themselves to the world?

Clearly, you don’t have to research all of these questions, just as you don’t have to memorise all of the answers. Look for information that enables you to demonstrate how you align with your prospective employer’s goals and image .

What is unique about you (and why is that good for them)?

Is it your professional background, your particular skill set, international networks, language skills, leadership experience, financial management training, innovative teaching ideas? If you’re not sure, then ask colleagues and mentors.

And once you’ve identified your unique factors, strengthen your case by thinking through (and thus being able to say) why these make you better able to do the job.


Read full article: The Guardian