New Resource: Questions for Academic Job Interviews

It’s (just about) getting to the time of year when people are having job interviews for next academic year. I’ve had a few interviews over the past few years, some successful and some not, but I always found the best resources for interview preparation online.

For example, an important idea that I took away from The Professor is In was the idea of having a five-plank platform. Every part of your written application, and every answer you give in an interview, should refer back to the elements of that platform (in your head – don’t do this out loud!). With a little bit of practice, this (a) really starts to help you figure out how to field tricky or unexpected questions, by bringing the answer back to emphasising what’s good and different about you, and (b) helps make you memorable candidate with a clear “story” and a convincing future direction.

So, for example, for one set of interviews I did a few years ago, my platform was (and I’m referring to my actual notes from the time here):

  • Specialist in epigraphic languages of ancient Italy
  • Working at the intersection of Classics and historical sociolinguistics
  • Interdisciplinary and broad experience, but grounded in hands-on epigraphic and sociolingiustic methods and strong linguistic skills
  • Dynamic publishing and conference record/future plans, and a book manuscript in press
  • Innovative and dedicated teacher with a commitment to helping students feel both comfortable and challenged in the learning environment
The emphasis and details of this might change over time, of course, and I wouldn’t necessarily present myself in exactly the same way now – for example, these days I might make one “plank” about my wider contribution to the Classics community – but overall, I’ve found this approach helpful.

The most important thing, though (I think) is planning answers to possible interview questions  – particularly those you really really don’t want to be asked. Before I started going to job interviews, I scoured the internet for lists of questions other people had been asked, and planned out really detailed answers to all of them – even the hard ones. Especially the diabolically hard ones. I also make sure (on the advice of Steve Joy at the Cambridge Careers service – whose whole blog is worth a read) to practice these answers aloud, not just on paper – it makes all the difference.

If you’re looking for a list of questions to prepare, here is the list I made over the past few years. It’s arts and humanities focused, so scientists may need to supplement it, and some questions may not be relevant to the post you are applying for. It’s also based on the UK higher education environment, and so includes questions about REF and Impact. (Do not neglect REF. I was asked for my four REF 2021 outputs as early as 2015 – I was glad I’d made a mental list. The Stern review complicates this, but plan for all eventualities – four publications, two, etc, etc.) If you’re in the sciences or in the US, in my experience there are lots of lists of questions out there that you might find more relevant – if you’re in the arts and humanities in the UK, this is for you!

Questions were drawn from various sites (including two posts by The Professor is In, the Vitae website, and a couple of blogs that seem to no longer exist), suggestions from friends, and questions I have been asked in interviews. Please use and share this list, and comment if you have other questions to add – and feel free to reach out to me on Twitter if you ever want to chat about job interview experiences.


Academic Job Interview Questions

Introductory/General 

  • Why did you apply here?
  • How do you see yourself fitting into this department?
  • I see you work on x – how would you fit into a department with strengths in y and z?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What skills and experience do you bring to the department?
  • What makes you different from the other candidates?

Research

  • How does your dissertation/project intervene in the field of xx?
  • What are the main developments in your field in the past 50 years? 10 years?
  • What main questions drive your research agenda?
  • What would you say were the most original aspects of your dissertation in a sentence? And the most important? Why?
  • What is your research program for the next five years?
  • What are your [four? two?] outputs for REF 2021? What star rating would you give these outputs?
  • What are you immediate and longer term publication plans?
  • Of the future plans that you’ve listed, what is the single most import ant thing for you? In other words, during a period when funding is extremely limited, what is the one thing that you would continue?
  • Do you have plans to apply for any major grants? If so, which ones? [Please have an answer for this – it is so important these days to know about which funding schemes exist, and which you are eligible for.]
  • Have you spoken with a publisher about your book? Where do you stand in negotiations?
  • What would you consider has been your best work, and why?
  • Which piece of work you have done best shows who you are and what you have to offer?
  • What does your current research project leave undone?
  • What is the most influential book you’ve read in the field of xxx recently?
  • What theorists have you found most useful in formulating your current project
  • Which scholars’ work have you found most influential on yours?
  • Who are the other scholars in your field and how does your work compare to theirs
  • Who are your main competitors? What are they doing? How are you confident that you can compete with them?
  • What are the big issues in your field?
  • Which ones will you focus on, and what gives you a competitive edge there?
  • How would you convince funding body x that they should fund your project rather than the hundreds of others they are considering?
  • How do you see your work intersecting with the other emphases in the department?
  • Who in the department would you build research collaborations with?
  • Are you interested in collaborating across departments?
  •  We are hoping to build a strength in xxx. How would you participate in that effort?
  • We don’t have a lot of funding for the kind of equipment/travel that you require for your research. How would you work with this?
  • Our requirements for probation/promotion are x, y and z. How do you see yourself achieving that in the next 3 years?
  • What is your next project?
  • What is your next project after that?

Teaching

NB: When describing a course, include:

  1. Title and main takeaway point
  2. Basic reading with brief justification
  3. Broad organisation of the course with three “landmarks”
  4. Examples of innovative assignments/assessments
  5. Conclusion
  • How would you teach our Introductory course in x? Which text would you use? What kinds of assignments/assessments would you use?
  • How would you teach our Research Methods course?
  • We struggle to get students enthusiastic about our methods course – how would you improve it?
  • How would you teach [current course x]?
  • Name 2 speciality courses you would teach, one undergraduate and one graduate.
  • If you could teach any course you wanted, what would it be? What would you teach next if you could teach two of them?
  • How would you organise a third-year seminar course?
  • How would you organise a graduate course in your field?
  • How do you differentiate an MA course from an undergraduate course?
  • What interdisciplinary courses could you teach?
  • What courses would you not want to teach on and why?
  • What would you teach in a course on x [where x is a subject that is not your specialism]?
  • What changes might you make to the current undergraduate programme?
  • How would you market a new course to ensure maximum participation?
  • Your third year course sounds interesting to academics, but how would you attract students?
  • Pretend this is the first minute of your first seminar, and you have to introduce yourself and the course.
  • [For language subjects] How would you explain [difficult grammar point] to a student who didn’t understand it?
  • How could we develop the Masters programme?
  • Have you developed any learning materials? Were they successful?
  • Which other departments would you like to collaborate with for inter-disciplinary course development?
  • What’s your basic teaching philosophy? [This wording is more common in the USA, but you could get a similar kind of question in the UK.]
  • What is the relationship between teaching and research for you?
  • How would you incorporate undergraduates into your research?
  • How would you mentor graduate students?
  • What kinds of PhD theses would you be able to supervise?
  • What are the limits of your ability to supervise PhD theses?
  • Could you supervise a PhD outside of your main research area? How?
  • What was your best/worst teaching experience?
  • What was the best advice you ever received about teaching?
  • How do you teach difficult grammar/theory/methodology?
  • What critical approaches do you find most persuasive? How do they translate into your teaching?
  • What kinds of essays do you want your students to write?
  • What innovative teaching methods have you used?
  • What teaching skills and techniques have you used over the past years?
  • How do you see technological advances impacting on teaching?
  • How do you think you might teach large groups of students in lectures most effectively?
  • You have experience of teaching groups of 15 – what might you do differently if you had to teach a group of 70 students?
  • Do you see the primary purpose of your role as research or teaching?
  • How have you managed the pressures of teaching and research? Why do you especially want to work here?
  • How do you see yourself contributing to our department?
  • Have you offered pastoral support to students?
  • Do you have any experience teaching students who have learning difficulties / special education needs / require adjustments?
  • Do you have any experience teaching mature students, especially those who have been out of formal education for many years? How would you support these students?
  • What problems have your graduate students presented?
  • Are you a successful teacher? What evidence can you provide for that?
  • What is the biggest criticism you have received in student feedback? How did you address it?
  • What areas have you found students in your subject to be weakest in? How do you address their problems?
  • How do you cope with under-performing students? – give examples.
  • How do you engage a bored student on the back row of a class of 100?
  • How do you deal with students who haven’t done the reading?
  • What have you learnt about yourself from teaching?
  • What have you learnt about teaching from your students?
  • What are the most important skills you hope your students will acquire?
  • What should students learn beyond the material and techniques of their subject?
  • Have you supervised graduate students and how did you find this experience?
  • How would you go about motivating a research student who was going through a particularly low point in their doctorate?
  • What do you think of Blackboard/Moodle?
  • How do you use digital learning tools in your teaching?
  • Have you ever used social media in your teaching?
  • Do you believe in exams?

Impact and engagement
  • What kinds of public engagement activities have you been involved in?
  • Have you done any work with local schools or community groups?
  • What outreach activities have you done?
  • Have you been involved with widening participation at your university? What suggestions would you make for how we can attract students from a wider range of backgrounds?
  • How would you develop an Impact Case Study for REF?

Other kinds of questions
  • Tell us about your current administrative responsibilities.
  • What kinds of administrative roles particularly interest you?
  • Can you tell us about a time when you have actually changed something in your department?
  • Which colleagues are you interested in collaborating with? How would you collaborate with colleagues?
  • Are you involved in any professional networks or organisations?
  • How will you contribute to internationalisation?
  • What is your wider contribution to the profession?
  • If we were organising a mini conference on your topic, whom could you personally invite?
  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • What aspects of your work to you find particularly motivating?
  • Can you give me an example where you have worked well in a team?
  • Can you give me an example when you have resolved a conflict?
  • Have you ever supervised another colleague’s work and, if so, how did you do this?
  • Have you ever motivated someone and, if so, how did you do this?
  • You have achieved a lot of diverse things, how do you balance your time?
  • How do you anticipate balancing your time in this role?
  • What are your longer-term career goals and how do you think this position will help you achieve them?
  • Are you aware of our probation and promotion requirements?
  • What further training do you feel you would require to take on this role?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • How do others describe you?
  • What do your colleagues say about you?
  • What are your professional goals for the next year / 5 years / 10 years?
  • Why are you leaving your current position?
  • When would you be available to start?
  • How would you contribute to our region / local area?
  • If you were on the BBC for an hour, what would you talk about?
  • Do you have any questions for us?

 

[I update this list periodically with suggestions from readers – thank you for all the suggestions so far!]

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