Academic Careers

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Are you preparing to apply to academic jobs with your PhD? You may find it useful to know the key steps to creating job application materials, delivering engaging stories in academic interviews, and navigating the complex job market within the academy.

This page offers information to supplement the technical and specific support given by departments. Use it to guide your strategies for success.

Ace Your Interview

How to Prepare

Getting invited to an academic interview is a great step towards your goal. If you are nervous or unsure, remember that interviewing is a skill where you can improve your abilities if you put in the effort.

Know yourself and know why your research is important. We recommend that you put substantial effort into preparing to convey who you are and the significance of your research. Engaging in introspection prior to interviews to reflect on your research and teaching can be helpful. Know the arguments that support and go against your research, and state them clearly. 

Know your teaching style and skills. For teaching-related questions, be ready to share examples and experiences  about your work “in action.” Move beyond just stating generalities into recalling specific stories that exemplify your work. Some common questions include: “How do you engage your students?” “How do you challenge your students?” “What is a complex situation you managed with a student?” “What is your style of teaching?”

Know the university, department, and position you are applying to. Do your research to understand the history of the department, their successes, and their current needs. Consider talking to current colleagues, researching articles of potential colleagues, and searching for current news articles. 

Practice with colleagues, friends, and family to make sure you can eloquently and succinctly talk about your skills, research, and teaching. Remember your audience and what they may be interested in knowing about you. They are looking to see what you will bring to their institution, so be ready to share why what you do is important.


First Round: Screening Interviews

For phone and virtual interviews, we recommend treating them as any other interview. Dress professionally, keep any aural or visual distractions to a minimum, and ensure your internet connection is as stable as possible. 

For phone calls specifically, standing up while speaking allows your voice to sound strong and gets you in the mindset of delivering a presentation.

For virtual interviews specifically, we recommend using a plain background behind you. Be aware of your eye contact during the interview. Minimize the small box that shows your picture so you can avoid darting your eyes to the side to check yourself out (you can occasionally check this to make sure you are properly in frame). Keep your focus on the camera for a majority of the time, with occasional glances toward the image of the committee members to read for feedback. Practicing this is important!

For in-person interviews at conferences, we recommend creating a clear plan of where you are interviewing so you can quickly change gears as you enter different interviews. You are one of a number of applicants being interviewed, so you need a way to be memorable. Being yourself and sharing a personal, memorable anecdote are ways to stand out in the crowd.


Second Round: Campus Interviews

Be prepared so that you make a good impression. Make sure you have the address and building number of where you are supposed to go. Have the cell phone number of the chair or contact person in the event of an emergency. Bring things to help yourself be a professional, such as snacks or water. If flying, bring professional attire for your interview and important materials in your carry-on just in case.  Avoid the temptation to travel in sweats and a t-shirt, for someone on the search committee may meet you at the airport. We recommend that you dress casually, but neatly, in order to make a more favorable first impression.

Do not worry about the small stuff. Try not to read too much into questions or interactions in the moment. Leave the analysis for your travels home. 

Be respectful to everyone you meet. It should be clear that you are being assessed by everyone (including students and front desk staff), so be courteous and aware that all of your interactions during the day tell a story about the kind of hire you could be. 

Be professional at all times. At the very most, drink one glass of alcohol. Restrain yourself from oversharing with those you meet. Leave all complaints or comments out of your interactions with those conducting the interviews. Strive to maintain the motto best said in the Disney movie Bambi: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Act like a potential colleague. You want to relate to the person or groups of people you meet with as potential future colleagues, not as other grad students. Try your best to make the interview a conversation, not an interview. Get the discussion going and strive to make it meaningful to the person you are talking to.

Be prepared to meet with the dean(s). Start off with a brief overview of your dissertation (around 2 minutes), and then give a brief overview of your job talk (between 2-3 minutes). Be sure to convey the importance of your research and what you do, and remark on where you plan to take your career. After the initial conversation, the dean will tell you about what the university can offer you. You may take notes. Come prepared with what you think you will need to be successful (e.g., what you need to set up a lab or center, research support, course relief, spousal hire). Generally, this is a good time to ask the dean about the tenure process, how they allocate resources to different departments, and local area questions.


After Your Interviews

It is very important to send a follow-up thank you note to the interview committee members. This is your chance to show your professionalism and ability to cultivate positive relationships. We also recommend including a sentence that conveys your appreciation for talking with students and staff as well. Email is a great way to do this because of the speed in which they will get your letter. A physical letter, while more traditional, may take a while to get there, causing you to potentially miss the decision window.


Sample Interview Questions

We recommend that you converse with colleagues, former students, and faculty about their experiences with interview questions. Ask them: “Which ones stumped you?” “Which questions were asked by everyone?”  Here are some practice questions to get you started:

Opening Question

Be able to answer this question for various lengths of time depending on the setting and who is asking. Aim to have a well-rounded answer that touches on your research, teaching, interests, and future passions, and reasons why you would be a good fit.

Research-based Questions

Be able to offer a short version to an audience who needs a more general overview and a more in-depth answer that is advanced and shows your knowledge.

This is one of the most important questions you need to be able to clearly articulate. You must be able to show why your research is important and the impact it has on the field and as well as broader implications. Being able to do this briefly in a “tell me about your research” question, as well as extensively in a longer interview setting, can really set you apart.

Do not take this line of questioning personally, as a threat, or as an implication that your work isn’t important.By answering this question, you are helping them understand why you would be a valuable new hire for their department.Someone asking also may want to help craft an argument for why you should be hired.

Be able to describe your interests and focus in terms of what you are studying and the path you are moving toward. Clearly articulate your future research, publication, and funding plans. If you are interested in having a lab, be sure to offer some thoughts on how that would fit into your overall goals.

Teaching-based questions

Be prepared with specific examples, stories, and experiences that illustrate the type of educator you are. Have an example ready in which you navigated a challenging time with a student and what you learned from that experience. Be able to discuss in greater detail the ways in which you capture your students’ attention and handle classroom management issues.

Address overarching goals you set for your teaching style. Be aware of what you wrote in your application materials, and be prepared to expand on them.

Be aware of the specific strengths in your discipline and how your home department is currently handling issues. Read relevant journals that are devoted to teaching in your field.

If you have designed a course or presented a certain topic, highlight how you did this and how you were effective as a teacher. Providing feedback you received from students is helpful.

These questions are designed to see if you are capable of handling difficult and uncomfortable situations. You can also describe how you handled challenging situations and demonstrate you know how to refer students to resources available on campus. Address if you are willing to fail a student, how you may minimize opportunities for cheating (e.g., changing the tests each year). Discuss your policies and experience with grading.

Specific, University-based Questions

They want to find a good fit for their university, so be able to describe why you think you would be a good fit for them. Be able to express what you like about the institution’s values and what you think the department is doing well. Your goal is to come across as interested and well-informed.

Be aware of what surrounds the university. Research beforehand to know if this is a place you could picture yourself. Be sure to learn about what the area is known for. This information will also give you some things to talk about as you walk from meeting to meeting.

Teaching College/Community College-Specific Questions

Community colleges want you to understand that their premise and goals are likely unique and different from the institution where you studied. They want to know if you truly want to focus on teaching and are capable and interested in working with diverse populations and non-traditional students.

Be able to show specific examples of how you are sensitive to the needs of all types of students. Stay focused on the topic at hand and how this would influence your teaching and avoid a larger discussion of your personal views on societal influences or causes. Be aware of the demographics at the college that you are applying for.

Your Turn: Ask Questions

Ask questions that convey your values. If you care about the department’s level of involvement in diversity issues across the general campus, you might ask a question conveying that interest. If you care about receiving a lot of support for research, you might want to ask a question about how the department assists its professors with grant writing.

Be aware of how your questions may come across. Run them by your friends, family, and colleagues to make sure they convey the right message.

Be prepared to ask a variety of questions depending on your audience. When you meet with graduate students, ask them about research and experiences teaching on campus. Ask questions related to the job during your meeting with the dean. Come prepared with 5-10 questions per audience.

Ask questions about the local area and university in general. This can show you are interested in the general area and are seriously considering living there.

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