Perspectives: Interviewing Basics for Academic Jobs

Perspectives: Interviewing Basics for Academic Jobs

Interviewing for an academic job can be pretty stressful, what with the pressure to not only be affable but brilliant as well.  There is no magic formula for giving a winning interview – there are too many variables beyond your control.  However, there are a number of time-tested strategies you can use that will help you present the best and most authentic version of yourself and your work.

A job interview consists of multiple working parts.  These may include a job talk, a demonstration of your teaching, one-on-one meetings with faculty as well as time with graduate students.  Most likely, you will also be taken out for lunch and/or dinner as well.  These are all opportunities for the department to get to know you and for you to get to know them, and all of these interactions should be treated (and prepared for) as part of the interview process.

Do your homework on the school and department where you’ll be interviewing.  Study their website.  In addition to familiarity with the research foci of the department and faculty, you’ll want to think about how you see your own work fitting into the department.  Are there holes that your research fills?  How does your work articulate with others’ in the department?  How large is the faculty?  How many graduate (and undergraduate) students are there?  How diverse is the department?

Develop a short speech that neatly summarizes your research – focus, contribution and future directions.  This is something you will be asked again and again by different individuals during the course of your many interactions, so develop a brief summary of your work that’s easily communicated.

Job Talk: This is your opportunity to showcase your research.  You’ll need to demonstrate thorough knowledge of your subject matter (literature/theory, methods, findings/conclusions) and be able to defend your work.  Schedule a practice job talk with your advisor and/or other faculty as well as other graduate students.  It can be helpful to have folks from outside of your department, too, so that you’re sure your work is easily understood by everyone.  If you can, attend job talks at your home institution to get a sense of how they’re done and what seems to work or not.

Teaching Demonstration: You may be asked to give a teaching demonstration.  This is different than the job talk in that: 1) your intended audience may consist primarily of students (with some faculty, probably from the search committee, present); and 2) it is your opportunity to demonstrate your pedagogy and how you present information to non-experts.

Dress The Part: Know what you’re going to wear in advance and plan out your wardrobe accordingly for the days you’ll be interviewing.  Err on the side of more formal dress rather than informal.  Business suits are typical for women and men, though this may vary depending on the institution and department.

Finally, remember to treat yourself well.  Get plenty of sleep before your interview (if possible).  Eat well.  Get some exercise in (it can help settle nerves).  Stay hydrated.  Breathe deeply and, as much as you can, enjoy yourself.

Dr. David Simmons is the Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. He also is an Associate Professor in Anthropology and Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior. View information on the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Contact Dr. Heather Brandt at

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