The Secret Lessons of an Academic Job Interview

Job Interview Secrets

© Written By Jimmy Sweeney
President of CareerJimmy and Author of the new,
"Job Interview Secrets"

An academic job interview is no different than a job interview for any other position or industry. The target organization is looking for a candidate who meets certain criteria and is capable of performing specific tasks. Just like in any other kind of industry or position, the strategy of the academic job interview candidate is to discover what the institution is looking for exactly, and determine how to convincingly portray himself or herself as that individual. The first piece of that puzzle should be relatively easy for an academic, since it requires research. The candidate should use all his or her available resources to discover what the institution is looking for in a candidate.

Some of the research that someone should do for the academic job interview is a basic review of the written requirements for the job. Each academic job should have some advertisement and job description for the candidate to become familiar with. Additionally, each university and department has a mission statement and description of its purpose, which should give some clues to the kinds of staff the university wants to hire. Other aspects of the candidate's research should be more personal. Academic departments are notoriously political and driven by the personalities of the people in them. It should be the candidate's goal to talk to all the people he or she can to discover the unstated, informal requirements that the candidate needs to have.

More Cramming for the Academic Job Interview

Once the candidate for the academic job interview knows what the institution is looking for, then it is his or her job to portray himself or herself as that kind of person. Some of this work will be done through supporting documentation, such as transcripts and lists of publications or dissertations. Other aspects will be conveyed through the interview itself. If the candidate has discovered that certain kinds of experience and personalities are more valued at a specific institution, then the candidate should have some stories ready to tell which show that they have those attributes. These specific, personal kinds of examples and anecdotes are likely to make the candidate seem more believable, more interesting and more memorable than answers given in an abstract, general manner.

In terms of the mechanics of an academic job interview, the candidate should follow all the typical interview etiquette. Dress professionally, at least one step up from the rest of the office or department staff. Show up on time, even if that requires that you leave the house far earlier than you need to, and have your directions printed up ahead of time. Allow the interviewer to open the conversation and to steer the topics. Afterwards, jot down the key points you talked about with each contact. Then write a short thank you note after the interview expressing appreciation for the time and a continued interest in the position. It often takes institutions some weeks or months to fill a position, so feel free to follow up every few weeks until you have been hired or someone tells you the position has been filled.

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