A job interviewVirtually all universities, even those abroad, interview prospective faculty members in person. While getting short-listed and invited for an interview is itself an accomplishment, success in the interview is crucial in obtaining a job offer. The interview, held over one or two days, and involving meetings with a variety of faculty, students, and perhaps administrators, is also very stressful for most candidates. To help you, we have compiled questions which chairs and department members use when assessing candidates, some advice on how to prepare for the interview, and some sample interview questions. Reviewing this material may help you in the interview and reduce your stress level.

Information may be found in Kronenfeld and Whicker, Getting an Academic Job: Strategies for Success, available in the Centre for Teaching Excellence library (LB2332.72.K76 1996). Further resources are available at Centre for Career Action.

What are departments looking for in candidates?

Scholarly potential

  • Will this person be a good scholar with a program of research that will enhance the department’s reputation?
  • Will this person be able to get started on a research program quickly?
  • Does this person have a range of scholarly interests and skills consistent with the general department and area goals?
  • Based on the presentation of the research, how well does this person convey ideas orally, and how well does he/she answer questions?

Undergraduate teaching

  • Does this person have the competencies to cover courses at the undergraduate level that we need to teach?
  • Does this person have a good range of teaching skills outside his/her own research area?
  • Is there any evidence to indicate how effective an undergraduate instructor this person would be?
  • Can this person teach large classes, small classes, seminars, and laboratory sections, equally well?

Graduate teaching and supervision

  • Does this person have the competencies and skills to meet the graduate teaching needs in his/her area?
  • Would this person’s research area be seen as attractive to graduate students?
  • Will this person be a good team player?
  • Does this person have graduate teaching skills beyond his/her special area of research?

General

  • Does this person bring the level of scholarship and teaching skills needed in the department?
  • Do you see this person as having the potential to enhance the reputation of the department?
  • Would this person fit into the department and be a good colleague?

What questions are likely to be asked of candidates?

Research

  • What are your future research plans (beyond the doctoral or postdoctoral work)?
  • How will you fund your research? What granting agencies will you apply to? When?
  • What kind of equipment do you need? How much does it cost?
  • How much space would you require to conduct your research?
  • Do you see yourself doing collaborative research? What kind?
  • Define the major concepts in your area.
  • Describe your research in lay terms that would be understood by undergraduates in first or second year.
  • What are the current issues in your research area?
  • Where do you think that your area is headed in the future?
  • What do you see yourself doing (in research) in ten years?

Teaching

  • What undergraduate courses would you be able to teach? What graduate courses?
  • What new undergraduate or graduate courses would you add to the curriculum?
  • How many courses are you willing to teach?
  • What is your teaching philosophy?
  • How would you structure a course in ______?
  • How would you structure your courses, as a function of class size?
  • How would you handle a large section with a number of teaching assistants?
  • How do you grab students’ attention in a class?
  • What was your worst teaching mistake?
  • Describe a situation where you handled a teaching crisis well.

Supervision

  • What is your supervisory style?
  • What makes a good supervisor?
  • Describe the kind of supervisory relationship you would like to have with your graduate students and with your undergraduate students.
  • Graduate students may be especially interested in your attitudes towards sharing authorship in publications, the importance of teaching experience, and the balance between work (i.e., research) and leisure (i.e., family or personal time).

Service

  • What do you think the split between teaching, research, and service should be?
  • What types of committees would you like to sit on?
  • What is your attitude towards service?

General

  • If you could speak to one person, living or dead, in your discipline, who would it be? Why?
  • Why are you interested in this department or program (if it is a different field than your doctoral program)?
  • Why are you interested in this institution?
  • Why would you want to come to this part of the country?

Questions that should not be asked but are worth preparing for:

  • How old are you?
  • How do you handle your (physical) disability?
  • Do you have a partner?
  • Will your partner be looking for a job?
  • (Women only, usually) Do you have children? Do you plan on having a family?
  • What child care arrangements will you make?
  • What salary do you want?

What questions should you ask the department before you visit?

  • Background and interests of the department
  • Faculty research interests
  • Backgrounds of the undergraduate and graduate students
  • Current teaching needs

Some questions may be better not asked, at least until the visit:

  • Salary
  • Benefits
  • Teaching load
  • Criteria for tenure and promotion
  • Startup funds, travel money, and other amenities

Job resources

teaching tipThis Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: The Academic Job Interview. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.