The Faculty Interview Presentation

This is it, the Big One.  Probably the most important hour you spend during your interview, possibly the single most important determinant of you getting a job as a faculty member.  The letter of application and CV just get you in the door and your references just prove you’re not a monster. The decision to hire a faculty member is made at the interview.  And no single hour is as important as your presentation.

As a result, the presentation has to do a lot of heavy lifting.  Let’s go over the goals of the presentation:

  1. Demonstrate you are a competent teacher.  Unless you are applying for a research-only position, this will go from a small variable (an administrative position) to a large variable (lecturer position).  You have to demonstrate you are AT LEAST competent, if not stellar. As usual, make sure to Aim for Zero. Remember how easy it is to hit -1 while aiming for +1.
  2. Demonstrate you are a competent researcher.  Unless you are applying for a teaching-only position, this will go from a small variable (administrative position, clinical-track) to a large variable (tenure track).  As with teaching, you have to be AT LEAST competent.
  3. Demonstrate confidence.  For better or worse, our culture places a heavy emphasis on confidence and the belief that confidence = competence.  Some people know better, but sadly the reality is that people like confidence. If you don’t project AT LEAST a basal level of confidence, attendees will assume you are not competent.
  4. Demonstrate communication skills.  You need to be able to communicate in any veterinary job.  You need to demonstrate that you can do this basic skill.
  5. Show you are the best candidate.  For some attendees, this will be the only contact they have with you.  Take the time to share how you are unique and interesting as a professional and why you are interested in this position.

Those are the goals, how do we get there?

1) Competent Teacher can be broken down into three domains: content, delivery, and engagement.

CONTENT

Your content needs to be accessible enough that the average veterinarian- regardless of their specialty- can follow along.  If the content is esoteric, that’s fine, you just need to present enough information in the introduction so that everyone understands your content.  I strongly advise you to deliver your presentation to non-content-specialist friends of yours to see if they can follow along. When in doubt, make it simple, then make it a little simpler.

Content also includes your slides.  The purpose of your slides is to present visual information and to remind you what you want to talk about.  There should be no more than 5 lines of text. There should be good contrast between background and text. I’ve heard design specialists advocate a white background and black text.  Have a relevant image with your text if at all possible. DO NOT READ YOUR SLIDES. Don’t include lengthy quotes. Don’t use smaller than 24 point font. Don’t use weird fonts.

Some institutions want you to present on a topic of your choice (often, but not always, your research) as well as spend some time presenting your teaching philosophy.  When choosing your topic, if it is your research project, make sure you understand and convey why you did it and what the next steps are. Coming out of a residency, your major project may form the basis for your early faculty work.  If you don’t choose to present a research project, make sure you know the topic better than anyone else in the room and that it is interesting and engaging for the audience. Two non-research topics I present on include Motivation (emphasizing self-determination theory) and Medical Error.  I have a strong psychology and sociology background, making it unlikely any veterinarian attendees know more than I do about Motivation, and I have read all the important works and published some of the first studies in veterinary medicine about Medical Error. While I present myself as a (relative to veterinarians!) content expert, I also ensure my presentation is accessible to non-experts.

For the teaching philosophy component, do some research if you have never thought about it before.  In half of the new faculty presentations I attend, the presenter says, “I honestly never thought about my teaching philosophy until asked to talk about it at this presentation!”  While honesty can be disarming and make a connection with the attendees, I always found this a little off-putting. I don’t expect new faculty to know the ins and outs of social learning theory, but I do want them to have some deliberate, intentional ideas in their approach to teaching students.  I like to hear things like “engagement”, “practical”, and “active learning.” But different attendees will have different feelings about this, so present it as authentic to yourself.

DELIVERY

The delivery doesn’t have to be perfect- particularly if you are just finishing a residency and don’t have much lecture experience- but the better you can deliver, the better impression you will make.  Speak slowly and deliberately. Enunciate. Find filler words in your routine delivery and excise them from your vocabulary. Change your pacing. Include pauses and silence. Watch this TED video.  Then watch it again.  Then practice. Then watch it again.  Practice practice practice. Video record yourself delivering your presentation.  Have students, house officers, friends- anyone available watch you give your presentation and solicit their feedback.  Those who give TED talks say you have two options: 1) know the content so completely you can wing the whole thing or 2) memorize your talk.  You probably can’t pull off #1, so aim for #2. Memorizing the whole presentation may be a bit much, but have it down very very well.

ENGAGEMENT

Engagement is critical in any lecture encounter- you don’t want attendees bored or, worse, taking naps.  They are evaluating you as a teacher- teachers engage their students. I make a goal, “I want the attendees to understand this concept.  I want to TEACH them something new.” Your goal isn’t just to get up there and present, you want attendees to walk away with new, ideally interesting, knowledge.  

One effective way I saw this done was an interview presentation about pulse oximetry.  The interviewee paused several times to engage the audience in a discussion or question/answer.  This can be very difficult to pull off because faculty attendees are notoriously difficult to engage.  An even better approach was someone who handed out three cards when people walked in the door- a blue, silver, and gold one.  At various points during the presentation, she introduced a 3-option multiple choice question and asked people to raise the color card associated with their guess as to the answer.  Everyone loved that presentation and the applicant got the job.  

My personal preference is to use an anonymous polling system, such as Pollev.  I will solicit ideas from the audience at various points as well as check their understanding at the end of the presentation to confirm they learned what I was hoping to teach.  You can provide the same multiple-choice question at the end and at the beginning to compare responses. I usually create a free choice answer and, as the answers come up which indicate learning, I highlight those.  People can use their phone to respond anonymously so it is a very easy, low-barrier approach to participation.

Engagement can be facilitated by verbal delivery, but it can also be facilitated with nonverbals and movement.  Don’t just stand behind the podium. Get out from behind it and talk to people as actual humans rather than viewers at a movie.  Use visual aids. Pass around handouts. Have short videos in your talk to emphasize important points. Go to the whiteboard for part of your talk.  You want to vary the delivery to help create and maintain engagement without appearing to be disjointed or all over the place.

2) Competent Researcher can be difficult to demonstrate during a presentation but can be broken down into three domains: collaboration, curiosity, and future potential.  

COLLABORATION

Discuss the process you went through to get your project idea or get it going.  If you were just handed a project on a silver latter, which required you to talk to no one or discuss a plan, that’s no good.  You want to explain the discussions you had with your mentors, collecting feedback on your methods, and what others contributed to the process.  As always, you want to demonstrate humility- you didn’t do this project alone, talk about what others brought to the process.

CURIOSITY

If you are interviewing for a job with anything but a small research FTE (i.e. >10% research FTE), the attendees want to know that you are interested in research.  Fundamentally, research is amazing because we are curious about the world and want to answer questions in a systematic, objective, and meaningful way. What did you learn in the process, what surprised you, what intrigued you?  How did it relate to what other researchers have found? What was interesting about this project idea to begin with?

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Unless you are applying for a clinical track position, the research you are presenting should not be an end, it should be a beginning.  What questions were you left with at the end of the project that you would like to answer? What is the next step? If your research has gone in a slightly different direction from this project, talk about future ideas and what is exciting to you to move to next.  I have to admit I don’t do this anymore, because I let my CV speak for itself when it comes to my research potential. But most new faculty need to make sure the attendees know they aren’t a one-trick pony.

3) Confidence is demonstrated by posture, practice, delivery, answering questions, and general approach.  If you are worried about seeming confident, watch this incredible TED talk.  The more practice you have and the better you know your presentation, the more confident you will be.  When answering questions, be declarative but willing to hear different ideas and acknowledge that you don’t know it all.  There’s a narrow line between confidence and arrogance. A confident person is secure in who they are and what they know, but want to learn more and are willing to accept feedback and other ideas.  An arrogant person is insecure and covers it by crushing any ideas not their own. Make eye contact with the attendees during your talk. Smile. Try not to fidget. Cut filler words out of your presentation.

4) Communication Skills are demonstrated by how you greet the attendees, how you interact before and after the presentation (for example, the search committee chair or department chair will often chit-chat with you as people are filing in), how you answer questions, your delivery, and evidence in the content of your presentation that you work well with others, communicate with them, and understand them.

5) Show you are the best candidate by introducing yourself a little bit.  Don’t tell your life story, but hit the highlights of your CV- where you went to school and your subsequent training.  Talk about what interested you most throughout your training, mentors whose approach to medicine Spoke to you, and why you chose your research topic.  Also, share your interest in the position- what about this institution is most intriguing to you? What connection do you have with the institution- such as personal experience at the institution, connections, and knowledge of prominent faculty or programs.  This doesn’t (and shouldn’t) be a 10-minute-long introduction, but a slide or two with some appropriate pictures on each of these points will help you connect with the audience and convince them you are genuinely interested in the position. See posts about what to say in an interview for more on this.

This is the longest blog post I have written for The Vetducator, and I put it off for a while.  The faculty interview presentation is a daunting task. It requires a significant amount of work to do well.  You can’t phone this in. I have seen positions with only one applicant where the search committee did not recommend them because of a terrible presentation.  I have seen numerous presentations where the applicant phoned it in and I thought, “Are they only interviewing to get an offer and then use that to get a retention offer from their current institution?”  Do a good presentation and the job is yours. If you need help, reach out to me.

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