We’ve all been in the position of the early-career interviewee, nervously looking across the table at a number of academics who seem accomplished and established in their careers. But what about the interviewers on such occasions? This article examines what some of their main concerns might be when interviewing early or mid-career candidates in particular.
Does the research stack up?
Despite the shifting priorities of the HE environment, the REF still rules. Interviewers looking at early-career applications will be looking very closely indeed at research ‘readiness’. This will include not just looking closely at a track record of publication, but testing your plans for mid to longer-term research, usually with the next REF in mind.
Nowadays candidates will be expected not just to focus on outputs (publications, in most cases) but on the possibility of working with others to produce impact case studies. If you’re applying for a position in a department you haven’t worked in before, do your homework and make sure you have worked out beforehand where you might fit in to existing research groups.
In other words, show that while the heart of an individual’s research return remains publication with reputable, peer-reviewed outlets, impact narratives are now more important than ever. Your interviewer will want to see that you understand this, and that you have some sound ideas about how you might contribute to a department’s impact agenda.
Will this person be a competent teacher?
Interviewers will start to address this question by looking at your track record in teaching. The more teaching across the board you can gain at an early level, the better. Some interviewers will want to see evidence of how you resond in a classroom situation, and so part of the interview may include some sort of pre-prepared (or more rarely, ad lib) demonstration of teaching. Have examples to hand of how you have met particular challenges in teaching.
In addition, think more broadly, and be ready to answer questions about curriculum structure. Interviewers will want to see not only that you have taught before, but that you understand the shape of the programme in their department, and that you have well-thought out, competent proposals as to how you might fit in in that programme. Be prepared, for instance, to suggest a new module to them – and make sure it is not just one that you want to teach, but tell them how it fits in with the rest of the provision.
Interviewers will also want to address your competence in the managing of teaching – i.e. in assessment and examining. Make sure you have evidence of this to hand, or can talk about how you might meet such challenges.
Will this person do admin?
A further consideration for interviewers is often whether an individual before them can take on an administrative role without requiring too much mentoring to do so. This can of course be a chicken or egg situation, but remember to point out any small administrative tasks you have done in the past and signal your willingness to take on larger roles in future. The question regarding admin also speaks to the wider question, below, of collegiality.
Will this person be a good colleague?
Collegiality is the unmeasurable factor X that most interview panels consider, even if tacitly. Of course there is no accounting for taste, and people’s personal qualities vary enormously – but it is safe to say that the reason interviews take place is not just so that an applicant can be questioned on her academic record, but so that the panel can share the same space with the human being applying and get a sense of whether that person could be a reliable and competent colleague in the round.
Of course, this is also what references are about – but remember that your attitude and general demeanour will also make an impression on your potential colleagues, and that collegiality remains a considerable factor, even if it is not a determining factor in appointments. Remember too that this encounter could be the very first in a years-long professional relationship with your colleagues – and that first impressions therefore count.