Attending job interviews at large conferences in the US

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Which conferences?

Each subject area has its own annual conference at which hiring usually takes place. For historians this will be the AHA (Association of American Historians). For English Literature scholars it is the MLA (Modern Languages Association). These conferences are held at a different US city every year and they are very large! There will be thousands of delegates at these events. Scholars present their papers, workshops and study sessions are held and they are also an opportunity for publishers to meet with academics to negotiate contracts. However, the job interviews are one of the most important parts of these conferences.

How do I get an interview?

You apply for a job in the normal manner by responding to an advert placed, usually online. If you are chosen from the applicant pool, you will be invited to the conference to give an interview. This is only a first round. If successful at a conference interview, you will be able to progress to a campus-based interview with only a few other candidates.

How does the selection process work?

Interviews are usually held in a suite in the conference hotel. They are usually short, but this gives you less time to make a good impression. As with any interview you have to come across as competent, enthusiastic and professional. You will be asked about your research and teaching expertise and plans for the future. If you have done some research about the institution you are interviewing for and worked out what they will be looking for, you will have a better chance of success. You might meet with one interviewer, but more likely there will be a small panel.

Tips on surviving conference interviews

  1. Prepare in exactly the same way as you would for a campus-based interview. Do your research on the institution in advance and make sure you have answers prepared for all the typical academic interview questions.
  2. Make sure you know when and where the interview will be. Try to find out this information as early as possible and make sure you can locate the venue in advance.
  3. Do not be fazed if you meet other candidates waiting for their interviews. Be polite but confident. Do not allow yourself to be drawn on discussing jobs or employment prospects. Avoid interview stress by following these tips.
  4. Remember that the hiring committees are competing for the best candidates too. They will be worried that their chosen candidate will go for a job at a better institution. So, if you are genuinely enthused about working at the institution you are interviewing for, make sure you let them know.
  5. As well as researching the website of the institution who will be interviewing you, make sure that you check the website of the professional body who is hosting the conference. It will describe in detail the arrangements for interviews at the conference.
  6. It is also important to take a full part in the conference as a whole, so do not solely concentrate on your job interview. Make sure you give a paper too: that will allow you to get your name known amongst people in your field. Also b prepared to network with others during the social breaks and before and after discussion panels. These activities are as important as the formal preparation for your interview. For more on the importance of networking, please see our article How to Develop Successful Networking Skills in Academia and for advice on giving conference papers please see our article Top Ten Tips for Giving a Conference Paper
  7. When it’s over, don’t dwell on the mistakes you made. Instead move on to the next interview!

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