Interviewing for an academic job? Here’s how to impress the hiring committee.

First-Round Interviews

Want an academic job? Here's how to impress the hiring committee during your first-round interview.

Dr. Yunker earned her PhD in Musicology from Stanford University in 2012. She is currently the Assistant Director for Higher Ed Careers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Graduate School Office of Professional Development.

Rent her webinar below to learn more about variations on questions asked during a first-round interview, and how to strategize for any upcoming interviews you may have!

Interviewing for an academic position is a multi-step process. After submitting your initial application, you may be contacted for what is known as a first-round interview. The first-round interview will typically take place over the phone or on Skype. Once you’ve made it to this stage, it is important to remember that the hiring committee hopes that you do well – they want different candidates to bring to campus! Follow Joanna’s steps below to impress the hiring committee in the early stages of the interview process. 

1. A Skype interview is still a professional interview.

If you’ve made it through the initial application process, you should be preparing for your first-round Skype or phone interview. Congratulations! It is important to remember that should be treating Skype and phone interviews as you would any interview. Dress nicely, find a quiet space with reliable internet, and develop an optimal webcam and microphone setup. Joanna explains that you don’t want to give the committee any reason to be distracted from your answers.

2. Prepare your space to get in the zone.

Think about how to physically set up your space in a way that will make you feel confident and prepared for the interview – everyone is different. And remember: do not stress about not having visual validation from the committee, whether over Skype or over the phone. It will always feel difficult to ascertain how well your interview went, and pretty much everyone feels like their first-round interview went terribly.

3. Understand different interview styles and formats.

Preparing for the first-round interview will depend on your discipline. It is expected that first-round interviews will feel scripted, because hiring committees may be required to standardize their interviewing process. However, it is not uncommon for the interview feel like a conversation. What is important is that you figure out early on in the interview what scenario is your scenario. This will help you discern how much information you need to share in your answers.

4. Research the institution.

One of your first steps should be to research the institution that you are interviewing for. Luckily, you’ve already done this work for your cover letter! This is how you’ve developed how you’ll fit into the department. Re-read your cover letter right before your interview, as the hiring committee will want to hear more about the person you outlined in your professional documents.

Here are some questions to ask yourself while researching the institution:

  1. What is their mission? Who are their students and faculty?
  2. How does the new position (which they are hiring for) fit into their academic landscape? Will you be complimenting an area that is already really strong? Or are you going to be the only person doing your thing?
  3. Who are you going to be talking to? Who is on the hiring committee?

5. Practice answering potential interview questions.

Practice how you would answer questions about your current research, research goals, your teaching, and your interest in the institution. The committee will ask you why you wish to work for their specific department and institution; be specific with your answer. They will also most likely ask you a question about your research and teaching, though this can vary depending on what type of school where you are applying for the position.

Most importantly: think about your answers from the search committee’s view. In this instance, Joanna recommends developing a platform, that is, 4-5 points that you want to communicate to the committee. When answering questions, Joanna stresses the use of the CARL framework: identify the context for the committee, the action you took, the result, and the lesson you learned.

Final tips?

What are some of Joanna’s final tips on first-round interviews? She encourages you to demonstrate why you fit the position first. The rest can come later. Often, hiring committees are looking to fill a very specific research or teaching position. While you might have lots of diverse experience, make sure that your platform (those 4-5 things you are trying to communicate to the committee) fits with what the department actually needs.

To learn more about the academic hiring process, Joanna recommends that you attend job talks in your department, speak with advisors and mentors about their thoughts on recent candidates in your department, and serve on hiring committees, if possible. All of these activities can help you learn more about the process of academic hiring, and can help you frame yourself as a candidate when you are on the academic job market.

Need more support for your academic job search?