Panel Discussion: Academic Interviews

I recently attended a panel discussion which focused on academic interviews. The five member panel consisted of University of Waterloo faculty members from applied health sciences, arts, computer science, economics and engineering. Below are a few ideas and suggestions I learned from the panel that made a strong impression on me.

  1. Do not apply to a top university if you have no publications. This is unrealistic but do not sell yourself short either. Apply for positions that you think you might get and also that you want. If, for example, there is a position available at a location where you do not want to work, do not apply.  Word travels fast in the academic world and if the position is offered to you and you decline because of the unsatisfactory location, this may reflect poorly upon you.
  2. Applications are often selected for interviews based on the number and quality of publications, letters of reference and candidates fit for the position. The importance of post-doctoral experience is discipline-dependent.
  3. Before the interview, assess what you have to offer to the position, research group, department and university.
  4. If the position is at a research intensive university, it does not mean that you can have a weak teaching background. Emphasis on teaching is becoming more and more important and candidates are often required to have both strong research and teaching experience.
  5. Interviews often consist of a research presentation (as well as a teaching presentation). Focus your talk on one specific topic that you know very well and that is relevant to the position. Not everyone will be able to attend your presentation so have a 5 minute summary prepared for those who did not attend.
  6. Expect unexpected questions. For example, who do you admire and why?
  7. You should also have some questions for the hiring committee. Prepare questions in advance.  Do not make your questions into an interrogation. They should flow and be a part of the conversation during the entire interview process.
  8. Some type of meal sharing is common with academic interviews. This is an opportunity for the hiring committee to get to know the non-academic side of you. The conversation should be personable, engaging, honest and positive. Avoid controversial topics such as politics and salary.
  9. When appropriate, express your appreciation and strong interest in this position.
  10. Lastly, remember that the hiring committee interviews you as much as you interview them.
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