Interview Tips: The Latest Advice Part I

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It is rare that you can ask a successful interview candidate how they got the job, but I have had that privilege and the result is a series of three articles helping you to find out what interview panels are looking for now in interviews for early career academic jobs.

This first article will discuss the presentation part of the day. Two subsequent articles will explore the panel interview and general tips for success.

Every job interview for a permanent academic position will require you to give a presentation. Here is how Dr Deborah Toner (newly appointed Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Leicester) describes her experience.

Preparation for the presentation:

Every job interview requires a slightly different presentation. Information will be given about this when you are offered an interview. I asked Dr Toner how she prepared for hers.

I was asked to give a 20 minute presentation on (a) my research and how it could add to/complement existing research strengths in the department and (b) a second-year module and third-year module that I would teach.

I prepared a presentation in 4 main parts: a quick overall summary of my research profile and what that offered the department; some detail on my individual research projects; some detail on the main research collaborations and networks that I’m part of and that support my research; and two outline syllabuses for the modules requested.

I used a powerpoint presentation and I brought some handouts, mainly so that the panel and audience would be able to look at the outline syllabus materials that I had prepared for the two proposed courses.

What did you do on the day?

I then asked Dr Toner whether she felt that her planning had been effective and prepared her well for what happened at the presentation on the day.

There were over 20 people in the room, a mixture of staff, post-doctoral staff, and postgraduate students, sitting in a roundtable format, which was quite like presenting to a boardroom rather than an audience and I think this helped to put me in the right frame of mind. Also helpful was the relaxed and welcoming attitude of the department head and the group as a whole – in this respect, I was very lucky to be put at ease.

But then something occurred that could have thrown me off guard had I been less well prepared. The department head said that they had asked me to prepare 10 minutes on research and 10 minutes on teaching, which hadn’t been specified in the brief and I knew that my presentation was more like 15 minutes on research and 5 on teaching.

Tips for coping with the unexpected!

Surprises like that can easily throw you, but this is when good preparation can really pay off, as Dr Toner explains:

I’ve always been told that the most important thing to do in the presentation part of the interview is (a) do exactly what they ask you and (b) never, ever go over time.

Therefore, I’d recommend practicing the presentation and knowing the key points you want to make really well before hand. That way, in addition to being able to deliver the presentation more naturally, if something unexpected happens – as it did for me– or if time is taken up with technological issues, you can be flexible enough to do what they ask you and stay within time.

Another important thing to bear in mind is that the questions following a presentation can be very detailed, so you need to prepare for this part of the interview in the same kind of way that you do for the panel interview.

If the presentation is research-focused be prepared to explain your methodology, theoretical framework, funding plans, and collaborative interests in more detail; and if the focus is on teaching, think about how you would answer questions on attracting students to your courses, engaging them in classes, or how you would contribute to team-taught courses.


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