An Academic Career

Interviews and assessment

Professor Adrian Armstrong describes his interview experience.

Preparation

It is essential to prepare for interviews. Once you get an invitation for an interview, try to find out what the day will involve and who will serve on the interview panel. You may need to prepare a piece of work beforehand, either a presentation of your research or your ideas for teaching a course to undergraduates.

Research the university, department, subject area and position on offer thoroughly.  When combined with an awareness of your strengths (and weaknesses) and areas of expertise research will put you in a stronger position at the interview stage.

Although there will always be questions you cannot predict, certain key themes and questions are likely to form the basis of much of the interview. Think about these in advance:

  • What skills and knowledge can you bring to the post?
  • Why do you want the job?
  • What do you know about the department/institution?
If you are currently a student or member of staff at a university, your careers service may be able to offer the chance to have a practice interview. Alternatively, if you are applying for a fellowship or post-doctoral position, academics in your department may be prepared to help you with a practice interview. Now is the time to draw on your contacts or ask for help from your mentor(s).

Dr Parvathi Kumaraswami describes her unusual interview experience by telephone.

Make a good impression

Even if the dress code in the department is decidedly casual, you are likely to make a much better impression if you look smart (it's more about seeming professional and showing respect than whether you will 'fit in').  If you are unsure about shaking hands, wait and take your lead from the interviewers.

Try to smile at the start of the interview and make eye contact with the interviewers (though don't outstare them!). You are more likely to impress if you look friendly and interested, particularly at the start of an interview.

In a panel interview, address your answers mainly to the person who asked the question, though glancing at others on the panel and making brief eye contact makes everyone feel involved and they will be more likely to warm to you.

Make sure you know who's who on the panel. It is common to have representatives of both Human Resources and another unrelated academic department taking part. You need to take this into account when thinking about what they want in answer to their questions - this avoids you going into great technical detail on your ideas on quantum chemistry only to discover you were addressing the Head of the Department of Art History.

You may have the chance to meet department members before the interview or on the day, either individually, at a social gathering or over a meal. While your conduct may not be formally assessed, your prospective colleagues will certainly be asked their opinion of you, so act professionally at all times.