Saturday, June 19, 2010

Surviving the Academic Interview: Tips and Suggestions

I just returned from my latest academic interview. As the experience is fresh on my mind, I'd thought I would blog about my own perspective in tackling this process - my experiences, and hoping that others will add their comments. I think sometimes the whole process is a black box and although there are some great resources out there, in the end it appears to be a little bit discipline and region specific. So assuming in my case, you are in Canada and applying for a medically related faculty position, here goes my suggestions.

1. Be prepared: The obvious one for sure. But this is really the take home message, and will evident through all my tips. If you aren't prepared, it shows.

2. Be yourself: There is sometimes this belief that you have to put on your 'game face' for these interviews. My suggestions is not to. The people interviewing you are looking to see your fit as a colleague and if you come across as something you are not, it is likely not going to work in your benefit. On the same vein, although you want to play up what you've been able to achieve, there is sometimes a fine line between being honest about your experience, and being arrogant. It is important to find that balance.

3. Research the institution and the department carefully: First, you need to know if this is a place you are willing to go, and more importantly, if you can be successful there. Look for potential collaborators - in my experience this often occurs via technique rather than subject area. Understand the strengths of the department, even if it isn't in your subject area. Look up the courses offered by the department and be prepared to discuss what courses you feel uniquely qualified to instruct.

4. Be enthusiastic. Again, a bit of a fine line. You want the people you are meeting to be excited about your subject area, and the best way is to be excited yourself. But it has to be genuine. Hopefully at this point, you really like what you do and it has to show.

5. Know how you will separate your research from that of your mentors. You should have already had this discussion with your mentor, and it should be clear how you can conduct your research independently and with a unique niche to ensure funding.

6. Be friendly to everyone. One interesting point that was pointed out to me was that often search committees will ask research support staff who arranged the interview about their interactions with the candidates. Usually, this is easy, because the support staff is an important and generally very friendly group, but its important to note that during an interview, its your interactions with everyone that matter.

7. Don't be afraid to ask for feedback. If you've been through another interview, it often doesn't hurt to ask for feedback from that group. They often bring up both strengths and weaknesses that you may not see. Also, give your presentation to colleagues who often give important feedback on positive changes you could make.

8. Ask questions. I had to learn this one myself. I used to be so focused on selling myself I didn't realize that I was also interviewing them. Ask things you really would like to know if you are going to this location i.e. what is the graduate student population made up of, what are the research support services?, what is the teaching/service loads? What do you think constitutes a good research plan?  

Other than that, for my own mental health, I try to keep these things in mind. Every academic interview is unique thus they rarely follow the exact same schedule of events. Be able to roll with the punches. Things may not go smoothly, and how you react to changes and bumps will be assessed. And lastly, there will be likely other candidates coming in, and in the end their qualifications on paper will be as good or better than yours. Thus, do your best, and the rest is really out of your hands.

If this is you, good luck!


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