The second article discussing the experiences of a successful interview candidate explores the panel interview.
The most daunting part of the interview process is usually the formal panel interview. This is where you will be ‘grilled’ by 3-5 staff members (usually among others the head of department, a subject specialist and a representative of another department).
Because of the forthcoming REF, and the evolving discussions over issues such as higher fees in Higher Education, Dr Deborah Toner’s experiences in her recent interview are very informative for jobseekers during the next year or so.
What did they ask you in the panel interview?
Interview panels will try to cover a wide range of topics. Here’s some detail on the questions Dr Toner was asked:
The themes covered in the questions were:
how I could inspire students;
how I would describe the significance of my research to non-specialists or non-academics; how I would fund my research and why I thought my funding applications would be successful;
how I would collaborate with colleagues and contribute to the overall research environment of the school;
in what future directions would my research develop;
what would make a good PhD supervisor;
what was specifically important to final year teaching;
what my REF submission would be and how I would rate the components of my submission;
what I considered to be important challenges in teaching given the introduction of high tuition fees.
I asked Dr Toner what she found were the most challenging aspects of her panel interview, she said:
I highly recommend talking to people who have interview experience, and reading online guides to academic interviews, if you haven’t got much interviewing experience. On reflection, without this kind of experience I could easily have been caught out by a few of the questions: the first question, for instance, on how to inspire students, was tricky not because it was a surprising question in itself, but because the interviewer quoted some lines from my letter of application in which I had basically claimed to be an inspirational teacher and asked me to justify that claim.
Another tricky area was the specificity of the questions about the REF, which tend to feature significantly in interviews only when the assessment is imminent. In my previous interviews, I don’t recall the REF even being mentioned, but a friend of mine had been asked to rate his REF submissions in a recent interview, so I had given this some thought and tried to answer in as detailed and realistic a manner as possible.
Tips for preparing for the interview panel
The secret here is to be well prepared on the issues that could come up in an interview (see above). Dr Toner suggested that:
Perhaps the lessons for would-be interviewees, then, are (a) make sure you know what you’ve said in your application and that you can back everything up with specific examples and (b) do some homework on issues particularly pressing to the academic community at the time, like the REF, the funding climate, tuition fees and so on.
It is difficult to predict what style of interview to expect, so thorough preparation is essential: in a previous interview the questioning on my research was extremely probing, almost more like a viva than a job interview, but if you’ve prepared well on the issues of research, publications, teaching, administration, and funding in your preparation, it is difficult for a panel to catch you out.