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Career Advice

Preparing for the tenure-track interview

Here’s what the big day has in store for you.


Congratulations! Thanks to a combination of factors – luck, hard work, persistence, a well-worded cover letter – you have been invited to interview with a selection committee for a tenure-track position. Your carefully crafted application stood out from the pile and passed the scrutiny of designated faculty. Maybe you’ve even successfully cleared a preliminary phone or video-conference interview hurdle. Now you must prep for the big day on campus.

You likely will be picked up at your hotel by a member of the search committee. Most candidates wear a suit or at least a collared shirt. Ensure you have fresh breath for the ride to campus. A full day will be scheduled for you, most likely consisting of:

1. A job talk

You’ll give a 45-minute (or so) research presentation using PowerPoint or Prezi. The audience may consist of a few search committee members, or  you may find a lecture hall filled with faculty, university staff and students. Begin your presentation with some personal background, mentioning what you can bring to the position and to the university. You cannot be over-prepared. Rehearse several times beforehand. Make a video of yourself rehearsing and watch it. The audience may be answering questionnaires about your talk for the search committee, commenting on your strengths and weaknesses, comparing you with other candidates and stating whether they recommend you for hire.

2. Sample teaching

You may be asked to teach a class, usually with faculty members and university students invited to watch. Often, the committee is interested to see how you engage with students. The audience may be evaluating your performance and completing a similar questionnaire about your lesson. Again, you cannot be too prepared.

3. A sit-down interview

These are likely the top interview questions you will be asked. Plan your answers to these and many other questions on cue cards:

  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • Which of our courses do you want to teach?
  • On conflict: Discuss a time when you had a conflict with a supervisor. With a colleague?
  • How do your knowledge and experience prepare you for this position?
  • Talk a bit about the theory that guides your practice and authors who influence your work.
  • Do you have any questions for us?

Memorize your key points. Convey your collegiality; that you’ve done your homework about the position and institution; the potential contributions you can make based on your unique knowledge, skills and experience; and your ability to secure grant funding.

4. Lunch, campus tour, other meetings

Treat the in-betweens like informal interviews. Do your research so that you can make informed small talk. Read key publications of hiring committee members. Scour the university and faculty websites for their vision, mission, traditions and long-range plans. Google news stories about the university. Be ready to say how you can help achieve the goals of the faculty and university.

What they won’t tell you
It’s exhausting. If traveling a long distance, aim to arrive hours or a full day ahead to adjust. The interview day is packed and can last up to 14 hours if they take you to dinner. Some interviews are scheduled over two days. If the night before is a sleepless one, the process will be brutal. Bring a sleep aid and ear plugs, request a wakeup call from the front desk and set an additional alarm.

Keep all your receipts so they can reimburse you. Some schools will pay for all your travel expenses and meals, others just for the flight. Find out beforehand so you can plan accordingly.

Search committee members are not supposed to ask you personal questions, but other staff may do a little fishing. You may be asked casually about your significant other and whether you have kids or others who would need to move with you to your new city.

After the interview, send a thank-you email to everyone you met. Wait six weeks before inquiring about the status of the position; the committee may have other candidates to interview before making a decision. If they extend a job offer, the call will come from the dean. This process can take time, so be patient after your interview. Spend the days productively, reading up on how to negotiate faculty job offers and apply for newly posted positions, just in case.

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  1. Pradeep Sharma / February 11, 2015 at 12:50

    Very nice advice, revealing various hidden aspects of an academic job interview. Thank you so much for posting, Ms. Katherine Becker and Ms. Libbi Miller.

  2. Gurpreet Singh Dhillon / February 11, 2015 at 16:21

    Thanks a lot for this valuable information.

    GS Dhillon

  3. JCVeletta / February 12, 2015 at 17:19

    Why the need for all this gamesmanship? If someone is qualified, then give him/her the job. No wonder some universities strive and others are on the wane.

  4. AD M / February 16, 2015 at 12:42

    Sure, this is a good short list of tips. To add to this, you will have to keep a game face on for anything from 1-4 days, depending on the interview. You will probably meet with a Dean. You will probably asked to outline your first grant.

    I would recommend interviewees to remember that they are interviewing the university too. Talk to grad students/postdocs (if you can) to get a pulse on how collegial the department actually is, how well students are supported, and whether it is easy to attract students to the school. Ask to see lab or workspace (you’ll be surprised how this gets evaded, even when requested).