I’ve been busy over the last few weeks (independent of the artificial busyness that has arisen from reading every-single-article about #Brexit I could find, as I’m sure most of the nation has been doing since last Friday’s result). I’ve been busy doing two seemingly incompatible things that I’m trying very hard to make compatible: interview preparation and being calm and relaxed about the upcoming interview.
Beyond that, though, I am back in the thick of interview preparation. This is for another of my top-list jobs (that is the jobs I really want and would turn down other jobs for). It’s in a department I think is lovely, and a place I feel will actively support me (which I gather from both having visited the department during conferences and from talking to as many people as I know who have any connection to the university and department, no matter how tenuous). So, for anyone who is also in the same position, I wanted to let you in on what I am doing to get prepared. I’ll talk about this in two sections related to the two parts of the process: the presentation and the interview.
I’ve been asked to give a 20-minute lecture on an aspect of my current research. I’m giving a more lecture-style version of a research paper I gave at a conference, that fits into the course I mentioned wanting to develop in my application, and also is post-PhD work, so demonstrating that I’m still an active researcher, and that I am moving a few project forward.
I don’t really know what I can say about this. Everything I’ve read indicates that the best thing is to give a lecture rather than a conference paper: don’t read it. I do have a complete script (from the conference), which I’m going through and making a lecture outline which I can discuss from, and that includes full texts of quotations and things like that. I have been practicing this on and off, and tonight and tomorrow will be dedicated primarily to going over this material and getting my PowerPoint finalised.
Here’re some of the tips I’ve gleaned:
- The most useful thing has been to talk to other people about their experiences of watching job interview presentations, and having watched some myself. A lot of departments will open presentations up to current staff and postgraduate students, so if you get the opportunity at any point during your PhD to watch an interview presentation, then do go.
- Almost unanimously the advice that I’d read suggests that you should not treat this like a conference paper. The point is that you are demonstrating many things simultaneously – your research, interests, presentation and lecturing style, how you interact with the audience. You (and I!) want to try and convey all of that in this presentation!
- Practice! Having said that, practice. The more I practice things the less nervous I feel. I assume a lot of people are pretty similar. And after all, it can’t hurt.
Here I feel on much shakier ground, although I’ve had a few interviews already which have gone well (from my end and from the feedback I’ve received), so I am feeling nervous-but-slightly-confident that I won’t really mess this up too badly. My general preparation for this has been to read as much about the department as I can, the academics there, scouring the course catalogue, looking at the general structure of the degrees, and talking to people who have direct experience of the department.
So, some preparing-for-the-interview tips:
- Practice saying answers out loud. This is something I am starting to do now, as I get a bit closer to the interview. I’ve been writing out bullet point answers to sample questions so that I have at least an idea of how I want to answer various questions about teaching, research, administration, and the department. I have found two sets of sample questions. One very comprehensive list from LSE is here, the other is from the career’s service at the university I’m interviewing at. I found it by Googling ‘[University] sample academic interview questions’ – though, remember – there’s no guarantee that either the LSE list or a university specific list will actually contain the questions you’re asked!
- SCOUR THE INTERNETS! Look for everything you can find about the department, particularly from the perspective of students. Look at the research pages of department members and think about how you might collaborate. Pull the course catalogue, pay particular attention to any courses that were mentioned in the vacancy notice, and if you’ll be asked to propose a new course think about how it will enhance the department’s current offerings. Be specific about this – ‘My proposed course X will complement Y and Z courses, giving students who have taken those courses the opportunity to view A,B,C through this new lens’, or even ‘this course may be used as a suggested prerequisite for Y class’, or ‘Y course would be a fitting pre-requisite for my proposed Honours course’.
- I had a loose mock-interview with my PhD supervisor the other day, which has given me some time to reflect on my performance, think about anything I couldn’t answer or didn’t answer well, and fill in any gaps in knowledge about the department I need before the interview itself.
- Prepare questions that you want to ask, and take them with you.
Although it most likely won’t come up in this interview, I am making sure that my five-year career plan is cemented in my head. That’s about feeling confident, feeling like I’m a good fit for this job, assuring myself that I have both the skills and ability to do the job (because I do!). And, if it comes up, I’ll have an answer.
And, last but not least, just try to relax.
I got a lot of really lovely feedback from my last post, Falling at the Last Hurdle (dealing with post interview rejection), and a lot of people, including some senior scholars, got in touch to let me know that I am absolutely not alone in the sadness and disappointment that I expressed after not getting an offer after an interview I thought went really well. Thank you to all who got in touch.