What can you expect at an academic interview?
By Vivienne C Watson, on 1 December 2014
Academic interviews can take a number of different forms and the sort of questions you’re likely to be asked will depend on the role you’re going for and the level you’re interviewing at. That said, interviews make almost everyone anxious and part of managing your nerves is in knowing what’s likely to happen on the big day. Let’s have a look at three of the most likely interview scenarios you’ll come across.
- The panel interview
Panel interviews are the norm for academic interviews. For postdocs and junior lecturer positions you’re likely to have a panel of three or four; for more senior positions, people from other departments and even experts from other institutions might also be included. For some very senior posts we’ve heard of panels of up to twenty – an intimidating prospect no matter how much experience you’ve got!
At an earlier stage in your career questions are likely to focus on your research, teaching and administrative experience. The panel will also want to know about your plans for the future, and how this fits in with the goals of the department, which gives you an opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve researched the institution that you’re interviewing with. If you progress into more senior management roles you’re also likely to be asked to demonstrate that you’re a leader, which means providing evidence of the ability to motivate, inspire and give strategic direction.
Tip: You’ll feel a lot more confident if you’ve done some research on the people who’ll be interviewing you. HR should send you a list of who will be on the panel but if they don’t, call and ask for one.
- The presentation
Many interviews will ask you to deliver a presentation. Depending on the requirements of the job, this could be about your research or your teaching. You might even be asked to deliver a sample lesson to an audience of staff and students.
You’ll certainly be warned in advance about this and it’s important that you plan meticulously for it, taking into account the fact that your audience will have different levels of understanding. This should give you a clue about how much technical detail to include: as a general rule, interviewers want to know that you can see the bigger picture and that you can convey information effectively no matter who’s listening.
Tip: You’ll be expected to respond to questions at the end of your presentation, so rehearsing with friends and colleagues beforehand can be a useful way to anticipate the kind of queries that might come up.
- The ‘meet and greet’
Again depending on the job and level you’re interviewing at, it’s quite possible that you’ll be expected to spend some time in a social situation with other members of the department – and possibly also with other shortlisted candidates.
There’s a reason for this kind of ‘meet and greet’: it gives the interviewers a chance to see how well you get on with others in a more relaxed setting. They’ll certainly gather feedback from those you meet so it’s important to be nice to everyone from the receptionist to the Head of Department.
Tip: Steer clear of alcohol at this kind of event. It might be a tempting way to deal with a slightly stressful situation, but a clear head will deliver a better performance overall, and overdoing the wine at dinner isn’t a way to endear yourself to anyone!
Whatever the position, preparation is key for effective interviews and practising beforehand can help enormously. You can arrange a practice interview session via the UCL Careers website.
– Hilary Moor, Careers Consultant, Careers Group, University of London