Convention interviews are a popular form of interviewing applicants because they take advantage of the draw of annual conferences to attract newly minted PhDs anxious to network and present their work. This serendipity, allows search committees to 'check out' short-listed applicants in order to determine who to invite for a campus visit without having to incur added expenses since many faculty members will be attending the conference for professional purposes.
A few days before the start of a major annual conference (e.g. the MLA), representatives from the hiring committee will contact short listed applicants and arrange to meet during the conference for short (30-60 min) interviews in a hotel room. Because there is not much notice for these interviews, applicants should begin preparing for such occasions as soon as they begin their job search. Preparation can include:
- Buying a suitable and comfortable 'professional' outfit;
- Developing and practising 90 second and 4 minute explanation of their research so it can be tailored to the question asked;
- Accessing as much information from colleagues and the web about the university and department as possible;
- Researching the interests and backgrounds of the interviewers to determine areas of mutual interest [the names of the interviewers should be provided, if not applicants should ask];
- identifying a few points of interest about the town or city in which the university is located (for small talk purposes and to show interest and knowledge in the locale).
Conference interviews are notorious for being nerve-wracking and seemingly unorganized, but a prepared applicant will be well-equipped to weather the unexpected with (relative) calm and professionalism.
Because transportation and accommodation expenses for campus interviews are borne by the university, only the top 3-4 applicants will be invited. The formal interview will be a small portion of the visit, which usually spans a couple of days, but every aspect of the visit should be perceived as an interview since the applicant will be carefully scrutinized at all times. Many otherwise strong applicants have lost out on job offers for indiscreet comments made before and after the formal parts of the visit.
Before the visit, applicants should carefully prepare to discuss their dissertation and any other research experience, their teaching experience and philosophy and their future research plans. By examining the job posting and current course offerings in the target department, applicants should be able to identify both courses they could teach and courses they could develop to enhance the current offerings.
Preparing one or two good course syllabi for such courses, would be an impressive addition since it would demonstrate ability to design courses and understanding of a particular department's needs. It is also prudent to be able to discuss how one's research interests complements (without replicating) that of a few faculty members.
Few, if any, of the faculty on the interview panel will have expertise in the same area(s) as the applicant so it is important that explanations be accessible to the non-expert and connected wherever possible to common areas of interest.
At some point during the campus visit, or before, in some fields, the applicant will be asked to make a presentation (typically around 30-40 mins. in length, plus questions). This is often a formal 'paper' to faculty members and/or graduate students, but could be a guest lecture in an undergraduate class, an informal talk before a social event or another venue.
It is important for the applicant to get as much information about the topic and the audience as possible to ensure the presentation is targeted appropriately and to leave time for questions. The committee will be looking for sensitivity to different learning styles and competencies and an ability to deliver an interesting and engaging presentation. If the applicant is just finishing their dissertation or has recently defended, this research will likely be the focus of the presentation. If there has been a year or more since the dissertation, the talk should demonstrate the most recent research interests of the applicant.
Time spent carefully preparing this presentation and practising it in front of colleagues is well spent. This is the part of the process that defeats most applicants. Ensure the register, language, visual aids (if any) and structure is accessible to the type of audience (e.g. undergraduates, graduates, non-expert faculty or expert faculty).
Take a look at these sample questions to help you prepare for your next interview.
- Tell us about your current work on _______________.
- Why did you choose your dissertation topic?
- How does your work contribute to the field?
- What theoretical framework did you use in developing your research?
- How did you conduct the survey? What methods did you use in analyzing the data?
- What did you think of _______________'s book on ________________?
- If you were to begin it again, are there any changes you would make in your dissertation?
- Why didn't you do _______________ in your dissertation?
- Of course you know that several members of our department tend to approach this topic very differently than does your advisor.
- Tell us about your publication plans.
- What are your research plans for the next 5 years (through tenure)?
- How do you plan to fund this research?
- What equipment (facilities, staffing, etc.) will you need to pursue your research agenda?
- How would you teach a required course on __________________?
- Your work is very specialized. How do you feel about teaching undergraduates?
- What do you see as the main differences between undergraduate and graduate education in this field?
- What texts would you offer in a junior seminar on __________________?
- How would you structure a course on __________________?
- What is your teaching philosophy? How does it influence your approach in the classroom?
- What do you think is the proper relationship between classroom instruction and professional exposure?
- What do you think is the fairest way to evaluate students? Straight scales? Curves? Exams, or papers?
- How do you feel about establishing ongoing relationships with graduate students (undergraduates)? Do you enjoy mentoring and advising?
- Many of our students are less talented than the students at York
- University. How will you deal with that?
- If you could teach any course you wanted, what would it be? How would you teach it? What texts, assignments would you offer?
Participation in School or Department
- How do you feel about working at a school in rural __________________?
- How do you feel about working with older students, and teaching evening courses?
- Why are you interested in our type of school?
- Why are you interested in our school?
- What kind of service do you expect to do when you arrive?
- We have a very close community here, and we foster close relationships with our students. Why do you think you are suited to this kind of environment?
Many of these questions are adapted from Heiberger and Vick, The Academic Job Search Handbook, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
Articles in the Chronicle of Higher Learning By Mary Morris Heiberger and Julia Miller Vick