I have been putting off writing this post for a while because it’s just so overwhelming. All of your application materials have one job: to get you the interview. The interview is the high-stakes encounter when you are applying for a faculty job. The decision by the search committee is largely based on your performance during the interview. In addition to general interview advice and preparatory research, we have to talk about what to say, how do to a great presentation, and what to ask. I have a separate post planned for the presentation, so let’s focus on the other two domains.
What to say
In general, you want answers to be meaningful but not expansive. If you are giving an answer longer than 2 minutes, it’s probably too long. You can leave them wanting more and allow them to ask follow-up questions. For example, you will always get the question, “Why this institution?” You should be prepared for this. Instead of giving an in-depth analysis based on your extensive research which touches on all the things you know about it, you can start with a highlights reel. “Well the faculty all seem to have a good quality of life, I hear the students are keen and engaged, and the work done in my discipline by the folks here has been notable.” Now they can ask follow-up questions if they like.
Do not give excessively short, clipped answers which leave the questioner with nowhere to go. Faculty interviews are almost never a series-of-question rapid-fire sort of affair. They are usually casual and conversational. If you approach it like a conversation- they ask a question, you answer, you ask a question, they answer, it will be a more natural flow.
Be positive. For god’s sake don’t say you want the job because your current job sucks. You must maintain a positive approach throughout. I don’t care if you are being bullied in your current position- you want to go to this new job because it is great, not because your old job is terrible. Avoid this temptation. I understand it can be hard- I have faced it myself- but you must remain positive.
Be specific. This is up to your preparatory research and conversations you have throughout the interview. If you meet with someone at the beginning of day one who says something which intrigues you, such as “It’s easy to do research with undergrads here because of our undergrad research office,” bring that up in subsequent discussions. “Well, Dr. Jones mentioned your undergrad research office, and that is a distinct interest of mine as well.” Speaking in generalities will not convince the committee that you want THIS job, just A job. You have to be SPECIFIC.
You do I do. An easy and effective formula for any interaction is: “You do this thing well. It matches what I do well.” For example, if they have an active learning approach (or want to start one), you can say, “I understand you are encouraging faculty to engage in active learning modalities. I taught a course last year which was primarily a flipped classroom, from which I gained a lot of experience in how to do active learning.” Take what they give you- what are they excited about- and reflect it back with how you can enhance that.
What to ask
Remember, you are interviewing this institution as much as they are interviewing you. The goal is to find the best fit, not necessarily the objectively “best” institution. So you need to ask some serious, incisive questions which will help you get a real sense for the place.
What are your challenges? This can be framed a variety of ways, such as “What don’t you like about working here” and “What would you change about the job”. The point is you want to find out what existing faculty members believe the current problems are. EVERY institution has its problems. The question isn’t “Do you have problems?”, the question is, “Are the problems you have ones I can cope with or not?” Hopefully, you know this about yourself. If not, reflect on it more.
What do you like about working here? This is the flip side of the first question, and hopefully elucidates the strengths of the institution. Again, the goal isn’t to hear, “Everything is perfect!” but rather to hear what specific things the current faculty and administration like about the institution. Do these things align with what you think is important in a job?
What is your ideal candidate? This will help you determine if what they are looking for is what you want to do. If they say, “Someone who will really engage with the students on a personal level” and you struggle to learn students’ names and want to spend time on research, maybe this isn’t the best fit. Follow up/alternative: What do you want this candidate to bring to the program/institution?
What is the next step of the process? You need to know the timeline for decision-making. They may also tell you how many other candidates there are and where you are in the order of interviews. This is essential information if you are interviewing at multiple institutions in the same span of time. If your top pick isn’t making a choice for 3 more months, and you get an offer before then, will you be willing to wait?
The scope of the information about the faculty interview cannot be covered in a single post or even several. I will dedicate other posts to this topic, but I wanted to get the most important elements written before drilling down on some details or expanding on what is covered here. What do you think needs to be brought up during the faculty interview?