Pro Tips for Academic Job Interviews

Job interviews and campus visits are key parts of the academic job market process, but can be some of the most nail-bitingly-terrifying moments of a scholar’s life. Luckily, during the Southern Foodways Alliance 2015 Graduate Student Conference, Dr. Kirsten Dellinger from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Mississippi and Melissa Hall and Afton Thomas of the Southern Foodways Alliance shared their “pro tips” for acing academic job interviews and campus visits:

As you submit job materials, remember:

  • For every job you apply to, write a vision statement for what that position looks like with you in it. Identify what specific things you would bring to it. Make sure your job application materials and interview responses reflect this vision.
  • Everyone you meet can be part of or affect your career path. Be courteous and professional with everyone you interact with and meet in the application and interview process.
  • Aspects like punctuality and meeting deadlines communicate a strong work ethic. Be on time. Submit on time.

Be prepared for your interview and campus visit.

  • Practice your job talk to perfection, as it is the most important aspect of your interview visit.
  • Be prepared for questions, both friendly and hostile, following your talk. Practice responding to such questions with peers and faculty mentors. Research the interview committee.

Prepare answers for commonly asked interview questions, such as:

  • Tell us about your research. (Make sure it doesn’t duplicate a scholar already on campus!)
  • How would you teach “x” course, such as a department service course, upper division seminar, graduate seminar, etc.?
  • What courses would you like to teach?
  • How does your research inform your teaching?
  • How did you come to your topic of study?
  • What is your greatest weakness/biggest mistake/areas for improvement?

Prepare questions for your interviewers.

  • Never say that you have no questions! That can signal disinterest in the institution.
  • If you don’t have a new set of questions for each person you meet with, re-ask questions to gain different perspectives, e.g. ask multiple junior faculty what their first year was like.
  • Prepare questions for different types of interviewers, e.g. deans, department chairs, faculty, grad students, etc.

During your interview:

  • Do not be a deer in the headlights. Do not appear as if the interview is happening to you.
  • When answering questions, strike a middle ground between brevity (never say just yes or no) and babbling.
  • Listen to the entire interview question. Do not assume you know where the question is going and jump in. Listen to all of it. Allow it to resonate. Then respond.

Be positive, enthusiastic, interested, and engaged during the entire campus visit, even when you may feel tired.

  • Every second of the campus visit is part of the interview.
  • Demonstrate dedication to your work through examples.
  • Demonstrate genuine interest in the place where the institution is located. Do not unintentionally belittle it, such as disparaging the region’s weather.
  • Know the organization you are applying to, including details like the school mascot, popular sports teams, etc.
  • Do not talk about how busy or tired you are or how inconvenient you may find the job interview process. Even if baited about how exhausting the interview process is, respond positively and energetically about how great the visit has been and what you’re looking forward to.
  • Meals are not just meals. They aren’t “a break” from the interview. They are where you demonstrate the kind of colleague you’ll be.
  • Never gossip, even if baited. Listen and learn, but do not engage in such discussions.

After your interview, make a lasting (and good) impression.

  • Send handwritten thank you notes. Tailor your comments for each person.


Tips provided by the Southern Foodways Alliance and written up by Emily Contois