Advisor Corner: interview tips for ABDs on the job market

‘Tis the season for job interviews in Political Science, and departments and candidates are meeting each other for the first time all over the world.  I thought it’d be useful to talk about some job interview tips that I’ve found useful over the years, then open up the comment thread for other faculty members (and industry pros, for those considering alt-ac careers!) to contribute their own ideas.

Here are some of my own tips (most I gleaned from others, a few I learned in the school of hard knocks):

  • Give your research job talk and/or teaching demonstration many times in front of many different audiences, and try to optimize it as best you can in the time you have available.
  • Practice questions and answers for your research job talk obsessively, with many audiences. For better or worse, Q&A is how some people will decide how smart and qualified you are.
  • Have a list of questions that you want the answers to from the people working at the place you’re visiting. Make sure you ask the same questions to different people, but also don’t always ask exactly the same suite of questions repetitively.
  • Have a good understanding of what you want to accomplish, especially research-wise, in the next few years. For example, have a one minute sketch of the questions you’re hoping to answer over the next few years and what you’re planning to do to answer them. A new faculty member is an investment in the future, and the people at the institution will want to know what you think that future looks like.
  • Whenever possible, talk about science and ideas, not about people or the discipline. The more you’re talking about work, the better that things are going.
  • Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver, but also don’t be eager to rule things out. You can get yourself into trouble saying, e.g., “I can teach an environmental politics course!” if you don’t immediately know what books you’d assign. But you can also get into trouble saying you’re incapable of adapting to the department’s needs.
  • Pick a few (maybe 2 or 3) people at the interviewing institution and get to know their research well enough that you can talk to them about what they’re working on. Ideally, it’s something that you share a common interest in and can exchange ideas about. Communicating that you’re an engaged and helpful colleague is important.
  • If asked anything about your personal status (e.g., marriage or children), I would respond that “I have no commitments that would bar me from accepting this or any other faculty position.” I wish I didn’t have to bring this topic up, but I do think it’s something one needs to prepare for in advance. My own take is that, for junior candidates, it’s safest to present a one-dimensional and work-focused profile of yourself when you’re meeting a department for the first time.
  • Pack a small but thorough kit of supplies to take with you and have it with you during the entire visit. The kit should include some sort of stain-removing pen, energy bars, various medicines (headache, gastrointestinal, and nasal/throat), and multiple pens/refills.
  • Most importantly, walk into the interview confident in the knowledge that you’re a reasonable, thoughtful, friendly, and fully qualified candidate for the position. But don’t measure the offices for your drapes.

Good luck, and make sure to check out the comment thread for other tips!

About Justin Esarey

Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rice University.
This entry was posted in Ask a Methodologist, The Discipline and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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