Previously we shared an article aimed at helping graduates prepare and perform at interviews. In today’s post, Emmanuel reflects on his experiences at academic interviews and offers advice for aspiring academics about to embark on this journey.
Before my first academic interview, my experiences of interviews were straightforward (industry and other sectors) – myself, a round table or similar and my interviewers. At those interviews, the questions centered around how much I knew about the company, a bit about me and my experience, why they should hire me etc. My experience of academic interviews was quite different.
My first academic interview was for a research fellowship in Northern Ireland to carry out a project on the molecular detection and distribution of bacteria in the gut from clinical samples. As you would expect, this was a specialised area and the interview format was no different from my previous experiences. It was about the specifics of the research area, my experience and what my technical skills were in relation to what experimentation was required for the position. No doubt, I had done my due diligence; researched my interviewers, the project, the institution, shortlisting plan and salary scales…having worked in industry previously, I went in prepared and the format was as I expected.
Now for my first full academic interview for a teaching focused lectureship, I had a different experience. Prior to my interview, I was informed the interview would be made up of two parts. A 20 minute presentation to the department staff to on how I would contribute to the development of teaching, research and knowledge exchange activities in the department followed by a standard interview with an interview panel comprising four interviewers.
This is standard practice in UK Universities and the only differences I have experienced are; the presentation title (dependent on the role specification) the timing of the presentations (this can often be somewhere between 10-30 minutes), the numbers of persons you’d be presenting to etc. You may also find in some UK HEIs, the interview might take the whole day with you getting to meet different groups of staff, have one-to-ones with staff who might be assigned to quietly assess you as a person whilst ‘telling you more about the department.’
So having sat at both ends of the interview panel, I can say I have learnt a fair bit about the process (hasn’t always culminated in success…for many reasons) however the tips below can give you a head start on your preparation for your next academic interview.
- Information – before applying study the role and person spec. I would advise you have a look at this again prior to your interview as more often than not, the bulk of what you’ll need for your interview is in there.
- The presentation – requires careful thought as you need to ensure you deliver a well-planned talk owing to the type of audience you will be speaking to. From experience, some shortlisted candidates falter at this point due to the type or relevance of the information they present. Also I’d say if you can, try to iron out any confidence issues you have before your presentation (if you have time before the interview). As an academic, you will be student facing if successful at interview hence the audience would want to see how you can demonstrate the ability to communicate and engage during your presentation. On a positive note, I have found that the presentation part is usually fair and supportive and apart from a couple of experiences, the presentation aspect has been a good one.
- Appearance – whatever you do, be presentable!! I think in my experience, it has only been at academic interviews that I have seen shortlisted candidates dressed informally. Academic interviews are very competitive and something as simple as your appearance can affect the view of your interviewers towards you. In a nutshell, demonstrate you are serious about the role.
- Research – in the academic role you are applying for, is there a requirement for you to undertake research? If so, having awareness of what the research excellence framework (REF) is and how you might be able to contribute to it is important. The REF is a system used in assessing the quality of research in the UK Higher Education Institutions. As indicated in the image below, the REF is judged by research outputs and other coordinated metrics. Even if your role is predominantly a teaching focused role, research will also be pivotal in your long term progress. Image source: ref.ac.uk
- More Research – Find out about the department or faculty you are about to join. Have a look at their website/research centres. This will give you a profile of who is who in the department, who your potential interviewers are (do your research on them), the size of the department or faculty, culture of the department and who might be working with. This is very important as you will be spending a significant amount of time building relationships with the people within those groups so best have an idea before you go to your interview. Also, I’d advise find out the University future strategy. Now, that might be in the form of a 2020 strategy (freely available online – ask Google). I would recommend you consider this in your presentation and use this as a tool to help your preparation for the interview.
- Perspective – whatever the outcome, have a sense of perspective, keep an open mind BUT avoid linking your interview success wholly to your abilities as a person especially if it doesn’t go well. Remember, you were shortlisted in the first place! If this will help also…don’t lose sight of the face that out of the many highly qualified applicants, you made the shortlist of 3, 4 or at most 5 persons. That in itself is positive! Learn to manage rejection.
- Culture and Policies – whilst this might not be the most important aspect of your interview, I would advise you check the University policy on dignity at work, equality and diversity. Anecdotal information and published evidence shows that academics from minority groups (race, disability, gender etc.) often face unique challenges above the normal challenges working in academia (more to follow soon..). Therefore, if issues of equality and diversity can cause you chagrin, then do your research about the potential employer and where possible, ask someone else who represents your “minority group” before you say yes to the job offer – at least, walk in with your eyes open!!
As you plan your next interview, we at the APH hope these points will enable you prepare well and help you towards success. If you find this helpful and a positive contribution to your interview process, we would really love your feedback.
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