Your interviewers have probably been sitting in a room listening to 5-10 other presentations the DAY you interview.
Many will tune out after 5 minutes no matter what you do! Provide some take-aways in the first 5 minutes.
Visit Trina Sego and Jef Richards site at University of Texas, which has a lot more advice on what search committees are looking for (in general), and how to prepare. They also have a long list of questions, but without answers.
Strategy: Have a good, articulate description of your research down pat in both short and longer versions, for experts and non-experts. You should have a 5 min, 2-3 minute, 1 minute, and a 1-3 sentence answer. These answers should be well-rehearsed and polished. You need to know which length is appropriate. In general, the more that you can make the longer versions extensions and elaborations of the shorter versions, the better off you are -- just start with the 1-3 sentences of overview, then continue elaborating through the 1 minute version. If people's eyes are not glazing over, continue to 2 minutes, and then stop to see if they ask you go go on.
Strategy: You must be able to answer this question. If your dissertation is a basic science-type project in an otherwise applied field, then you should be prepared to offer a succinct, compelling bridge between your problem (and results) to those who would use the result, and what applied research would benefit from your findings. This may give you a brief opportunity to mention your future plans for additional research, if that research path will be more applied. If you have already chosen a relevant applied problem, then be sure that you can explain (and show with data) that your new technique is superior to the existing state of the art, or explain how your idea changes the common wisdom.
Strategy: Answer this question on your terms. Be sure that you know the relevant literatures. On the other hand, be on guard that literatures sometimes go by different names than those you use. Related fields frequently study similar topics under different names. Be sure you understand what someone is asking before you answer. If you don't quite understand what they mean, say something like "I'm sorry, but I'm not familiar with the keyword you are using to reference that literature stream, could you describe the literature you are referring to -- perhaps I know it under another name."
Strategy: Do NOT get into a protracted argument with the questioner. Do NOT deliver a look of withering disdain and then respond with the thirty reasons that technique Y stinks, or is inappropriate to the problem at hand. As the alternative phrasings make clear, your questioner may have developed or used the technique that you are about to discredit.
Good answers to this question depend on who is asking. Sometimes the person is not in your field, or is old and out of date, or is plain wrong. The safe answer is to respond with the strengths of your technique, AND THEN relate those strengths back to the specific problem and audience you are addressing with your research. The feeling you want to convey is that you considered using technique Y, but chose X based on the specific advantages it had for your problem. If the person is dead wrong, or if the technique is merely one of their personal favorites, one of their colleagues may come to your rescue (e.g., "...come off it Jim, nobody uses that technique for these problems any more..." -- it helps to make eye contact with the colleagues). If the person keeps pushing you, or if things get adversarial, manage your time and politely say something like "there are clearly many ways to approach this problem, and it is unlikely that we will resolve them in the next 20 minutes... perhaps if I show you my results, we can return to this topic again at the end of the interview..."
Your advisor and other members of your department should have brought up all these questions with you. It is your responsibility to have precise, reasonable definitions of words that are central to your argument. If you are using loaded words (e.g., "normative", "reasonable", "fair", easy, hard, analogous) you had better be able to defend their use and to give precise definitions of what you mean. If you don't need to use a word, don't use it. If it is central to your argument, be precise and clearly express why it is central. Examples:
"I hypothesize that people will be more concerned with fairness when the situation is reasonable than unreasonable." -- This line just screams for someone to ask you to define "reasonable," define "unreasonable," ask how you quantify the degree of (un)reasonableness, and how you will measure fairness. Furthermore, someone will ask you how your operationalization of fairness compares with the economic (mathematical) literature on fairness, and someone will ask if you are talking about procedural or outcome based fairness. In short, you will not get off the first page of your presentation if you haven't thought through your terms.
"I am studying diffusion of innovation in high-technology markets." -- Why high-technology markets? In what ways are high-tech markets different from fast-paced, but low tech markets? Does your research hinge on the product being high tech? Why or why not? How do you define the market? How sensitive to the definition and boundary of the market are your results? Are you looking at first adoption or the diffusion of products through multiple generations? ...
Strategy: Your dissertation is likely to be your major research stream for the next several years. You should have a good idea of what the limitations and compromises have been, and how you will push the boundary further in the future.
Having a paper or a talk ready that showcases a topic different from your doctoral research demonstrates strong research prowess. Having research underway (but not in finished form) that is different from your dissertation is also a good sign. You don't need a lot of other research, just enough to make people believe that you are not going to be a one-hit-wonder. In either case mention the other research that you are doing, perhaps by directing people to the relevant portion of your C.V., and deliver a well-developed 1-2 minute description of this research. Be prepared to go into more detail.
Remember that this is a legitimate and important question -- it may be the toughest one you get. Usually asked by someone outside your (sub)field. The question essentially asks whether you can explain the value of your work to an educated layperson. It also asks you to grapple with the limitations of your research. Don't be afraid to acknowledge these, particularly if you can use such an acknowledgement to indicate where you intend to go in your research after this. (My doctoral research, you see, is only the necessary first step...). You should have a good idea whether people think your work is any of the above adjectives before you go and interview.
These questions are unlikely to be asked in marketing unless you are interviewing at a teaching school. On the other hand, you should know what the answer is. There is no stock answer here. Terrible answers are to disparage teaching or to indicate that you have never thought about teaching at all.
Be open and as flexible as it is possible to be. In marketing, this question is usually for information purposes only -- in other fields people may not get hired because they cannot teach a needed course. Do not lie and say that you would be willing to teach something that you are not willing to teach. Do not say that you would be willing to teach "anything" unless you actually mean it.
Know your C.V. PERFECTLY! If you say you can teach a course, or have TA'ed a course, or have a research stream, or job experience, or anything else -- be prepared to talk about it at any possible level of detail. People ask about the strangest things! I had someone ask me about my experience working with a particular software package -- it turned out that before becoming an academic, he was the manager who oversaw the development of the software! One of my MBA students wrote that she could sing on her resume, and an interviewer asked her to sing a song. Never ever, lie, misrepresent, or overclaim credit on your C.V. -- it is VERY likely to come back and haunt you.
Strategy: Some variant of these questions will almost certainly be asked. The questions fall into two types: legal and potentially illegal. Ordinarily, these questions are trying to ascertain how likely it is that you would accept an offer if one were made.
Questions of this type (numbers 1-4) represent your opportunity to show that you have done your homework. You should sound interested in the school. No school wants to be someone's safety or backup choice. Know the department's strengths. Know where the school is located, and what is nearby. Link departmental strengths and nearby attractions to your lifestyle. A slam-dunk answer would be something like this:
"You know, a lot of people ask me why I'm applying to more rural campuses. The truth is, I don't like the city much. As you can see from my CV, my undergraduate alma mater was located in an idyllic frozen winterland. For all these years of work and graduate study, I have been wondering how to return to a similar halcyon environment. Since Boondock U is a department with great research strength in <fill in sub-field here>, it is particularly attractive to me because I see <fill in linkages to your research, and how you will add to the strength, or compliment it>. Furthermore, as I am a world-class cross-country skier, the flat, frozen tundra around Boondock U will be a source of endless entertainment during those dark winter months."
If you feel that your spouse or S/O is an asset, nothing stops you from adding (nothing stops you from volunteering information):
"Furthermore, my spouse is a freelance writer, and so he/she is very portable and can work anywhere. He/She is looking forward to moving somewhere where there is less crime and noise so that he/she can concentrate on his/her writing." -- or anything equivalent that indicates that your spouse is portable and has no reservations about moving to wherever the school is located.
Similarly, reference family, friends, and other links to the area:
"I have a cousin (college roommate, friend, former business partner) in <Town less than 1 hr from Boondock U>, and it would be great to be only 1 hr from her, instead of seven hours." or ... "Ever since I spent a semester visiting the west coast, I have always wanted to live in the Bay Area. It is just stunningly beautiful. I'll have no trouble leaving behind the cold, dreary East Coast." ...or... "My friends who did their graduate work at Boondock U tell me that it has a vibrant cultural life, and a large and cohesive <fill in name of relevant ethnic, religious, or other community that you belong to> community, which is very appealing to me."
If the school is a teaching school, but you are graduating from a prestige research university, the school may also be saying: No one on the faculty (much less the students ) at Teaching U has even heard of the subject/method of your research. How do you think you could fit in here? Could you be happy or at least useful in a backwater? The answers take the same form as the above.
Potentially Illegal Questions (number 5, above)
The legality of these questions hinges on subtleties and specifics of wording. (I am not a lawyer, and all advice on this topic represents my opinion. If you think you have a legal case, don't base it on this information!) Do not assume that interviewers are attempting to find out information for nefarious purposes. This site has some great advice about potentially illegal questions. Click here for a list of illegal questions. This page shows side-by-side examples of legal and illegal interview questions, and illustrates the subtleties on which legality hinges.
Of the potentially sensitive questions, marital status, ethnicity, and religion are the most commonly broached. Most often, the interview committee is trying to figure out whether you are willing to move far from friends, family, civilization, and others who are similar to you (i.e., in ethnicity or religion) for a job. This question comes up especially frequently if you are currently attending a prestigious urban research university and are applying to a less prestigious school that is located in a remote or rural area. If you are wearing a wedding band, expect that someone will ask about your spouse and their desire to move. If you are a woman, expect more such questions.
When asked a sensitive question, you have three options:
Refuse to answer it, and mention that it makes you uncomfortable.
Examine the question for its intent, and provide an appropriate answer.
If the question does not make you feel uncomfortable, and is not patently illegal (see list of websites above), then it is probably in your best interests to answer (realizing that revealing the information may have a negative impact on your prospects). If you do feel uncomfortable, or if anyone asks a patently illegal question (e.g., "do you plan to have a family?", "do you have children? what are your childcare arrangements?") -- make sure you tell your advisor and others who are interviewing or attending the conference from your department. They should provide additional advice. It may be worthwhile to discuss this issue with your advisor or department chair before interviewing, if you think that it might be an issue for you.
Depending on the question, option #1 may be fine. Option #2 should only be used if the question makes you very uncomfortable. Option #3 is usually the best strategy -- ignore the question as asked, and respond instead to the underlying intent. For example:
Question: "I see that you are married. How does your spouse feel about moving to Cowpatch U?"
Answer: Give the same response as if the question asked was "what do you like about Cowpatch U?" -- see above for examples. Alternatively, come up with answers before the interview: e.g., My spouse is fine with it, we've done this before (spent time apart), it's no big deal; my spouse has a more marketable career and can't wait to follow me to your wonderful location, etc.
Sidenote: There is a strange propensity for academics to include all kinds of personal information on their resumes that would be illegal for an interviewer to ask about, or to use in decision-making (e.g., their age, their marital status, children's names and ages, etc.). This information is frequently listed under its own resume heading entitled "Personal Data." You should be aware that you are under NO obligation to reveal this information. Of course, nothing stops you from volunteering anything you wish.
Most of the time, this question is asked just after one of the interviewers has finished telling you a lot about the school. Hence, this is frequently a silly question on a variety of levels (duh, I did have a bunch of questions, but you just preemptively answered them). On the other hand, it will be asked with 100% certainty, and you need an answer.
The proper answer to the question is "yes". Pointers:
- NEVER discuss salary! This is discussed when you get an offer, and never before (in marketing... other fields may have their own norms). If someone actually brings it up in the AMA interview, that's their decision.
- Other things NOT to discuss in any way: departmental politics, potential for getting tenure, how well the faculty get along (i.e., is the department congenial?), social relations among the faculty -- these all produce discomfort (warring factions may be on the interview team), and you will not get straight answers anyway -- who is going to tell you that yes, all the things you have heard about senior professor Q are correct... he is indeed a boor and an unpredictable serial character assassin who will torpedo the careers of those he dislikes?
- Other things NOT to bring up (the interviewers can bring these up, and then they are open for discussion, but you shouldn't initiate conversations about them in the first round): teaching load, research support, summer support, vacation time, medical care, anything relating to benefits. If they haven't mentioned them, then ask indirectly or just wait until the campus visit -- you don't really need this information now.
- So, what do you ask? Ask targeted questions that show your interest in the school or the community.
"I know that University X has a great department of <related field>. What are the opportunities for formal and informal interaction with that department? What about famous Professor Zed?"
"What kinds of research seminar series exist within the department and in related fields in the school?"
What challenges is the department now facing? What are your students' greatest strengths? What is the school's relation to international programs? What is the school's relationship to the community?
Any question about the surrounding community (unless by asking you are revealing that you haven't done your homework).
In general your question should show that you have thought carefully about the school and are interested enough to have informed yourself about it.
Don't lie. The best response is that you will be done and defended by the time you begin your job. The next best response is the exact date that you plan to finish, with a quick overview of the plan that will get you there.
Answer in terms that do not indict any member of your program, do not shed you or the program in a bad light, and which make it clear that you think that you received first-rate education and mentoring. Anything can of course be improved, so think of interesting and creative things that you would like to have improved about the program. Anything that smacks of knocking your professors or your coursework is a recipe for disaster.
If you have trouble answering this question, you should probably stop thinking about academic job interviews and instead pause to reconsider your life. You are probably not yet beyond hope.
Strategy: Find a like-minded friend, spouse, or significant other if possible. Log onto Travelocity and book yourself a long (1 week or more) vacation to somewhere with no computer, no Internet, no TV, and no phone. Repeat for friend or spouse. Preferably, choose a place with lots of sun so you can be outside. ClubMed is an affordable alternative that satisfies the above requirements. Don't worry about the money -- this is much more important.
Purchase, bring with you, and read Night, by Elie Wiesel; The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera; and All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren. Add a book of accessible poetry, such as Poetry for a Lifetime, by Samuel Norfleet Etheredge, and try to find at least one poem that speaks to you. Bring a recording of the complete Beethoven Symphonies and listen to numbers, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 9. Listen to the ninth at least twice. If this doesn't help, then I was wrong, you are beyond hope. Sorry.
Suggestions, additions, comments, or profundities: email me - firstname.lastname@example.org
This document is based on material written by Mary Corbin Sies, Dept. of American Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, who has a site more targeted at the questions that come up in the humanities recruiting process here. Acknowledgements should also go to Trina Sego and Jeff Richards at U T Austin, Michael and Gamer and Anne Krook, at the University of Pennsylvania. Links to both of their sites appear below.
All other portions are copyright Eric M. Eisenstein, 2001. You may link to this page at will, but not mirror or reproduce it without permission from me.
Trina Sego and Jeff Richards have a great site at UTexas for interviewing advice. Some is redundant with this site, but it's a great site.
About.com has a must-read site here... lots of links to other articles
Michael Gamer and Anne K. Krook have a site at the University of Pennsylvania, more targeted at humanities and English.
Jonathan Dantzig has a great site on the entire process of negotiating an academic job.
Chris Golde wrote: After the Offer, Before the Deal -- how to negotiate once you have an offer.
Leigh Thompson, at Kellogg, has another site on how to negotiate an academic job.
I wrote up a bunch of questions that are culled from the above documents, you can find them here.