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Interview Advice


General Advice

  • Have good, thoughtful questions to ask them at the end of the interview. Show that you’ve done your homework (see next item).
  • Do your homework! Know as much as you can about the department, the courses offered, the research teams, and how you fit in. It makes the interviewers feel that you are really interested and may already belong. 
  • In case there’s a lull in conversation, have prepared questions about your interviewer’s research. Scientists love to talk about their work. 
  • Focus on the positive. Especially in a first-round phone interview, the reality is that they’re looking to see who to cut from the list. 
  • Think outside the box. If the committee is looking for someone with particular experience in X, think about academic and non-academic experiences you have that put you in a good position to fulfill whatever X may be. 
  • Stay relaxed! If you're doing a phone interview, considering setting up a mirror to watch your face and relax if you see yourself getting tense. That tenseness will translate into your voice and your answers.
  • If salary comes up before you've had an offer, consider responding with, "At this stage, I'd like to show that we're a great fit. I'm extremely hopeful that I'll receive an offer and we can then negotiate at that stage." Or some other version that you're most comfortable with. This also applies to 2-body questions or questions related to children. These latter questions are illegal to ask in most situations, but it's good to be prepared for how you'll answer them if they do come up. 
  • Show professional maturity:
    • talk about efforts you will lead and the questions you will answer, not the minutiae of your last project.
    • They are looking at you as a potential colleague; interact with your interviewers as your professional peers.
    • If you are asked a stumper of a question, or you feel trapped, turn it around:  show what you know by asking the interviewer for more information, at a detailed level that demonstrates your deep understanding of the topic.  
  • Check out these additional sites:

At the interview

Questions you should be able to answer

Research
  • Describe your research and its significance in two minutes or less.
    • Be able to answer at different levels: to an observer, a theorist, someone in your field, someone outside your field
  • What are the big questions you are trying to answer?
  • Where do you see your research leading in 5-10 years?
  • What would it take for you to be successful?
  • What do you see yourself working on long-term?
  • How will your research program complement the work already underway in the department?
    • Are there people with whom you would collaborate?
    • Do you fill a void in the department?
    • Do you have bridge groups within the department?
  • How would your research program complement work done in other departments?
  • What resources do you need (e.g., computers, data, telescope access)? What will they cost?
  • What large and/or international collaborations are you (a) engaged in and (b) have planned?
  • If the department has access to specific research telescopes, how would you use them in your research?
  • How big of a research group do you see yourself building?
  • How will you fund your research?  (if your answer is "I figured you would fund me" you will not get the job)
  • How will you involve undergraduates in your research?  Do you have projects lined up for graduate students?
  • Our department was just awarded a big pot of money: how do you recommend we use it?
Teaching
  • Some variation on: what is your teaching philosophy?
  • What is your teaching experience?
  • What are your teaching interests?
  • Which courses are you (not) interested in teaching? (make sure you've looked at their website for the courses they offer)
  • How would you handle X teaching situation? (relevant to intro courses through advanced courses)
  • If you were allowed to develop any course you like, what would it be?
  • How will you involve students in research projects?
  • What is your outreach experience?
  • If the department has access to a local telescope, how would you use it for outreach and teaching?
  • Tell us about your teaching experience and history.
  • How might you deal (or have you dealt) with diversity in your classroom?
General
  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • Why do you want to be part of this department/company/project?

Questions you can ask them

  • What are their plans for the future of the department?  
  • How many more hires will they be making and over what timescale?  
  • Are they planning to grow or just replace retirements?
  • Office space: Why are there so many empty desks? or: Why are grads/postdocs packed 6 to an office?
  • What changes do they foresee for the department over the next 5-10+ years?
  • What areas are they trying to strengthen in?
  • How strong is the university's financial situation? 
  • How much support does the department get from the university and from the dean?
  • What are their future plans in terms of observational resources, surveys, computing resources, any other resources you would be interested in using?
  • What are they looking for in this particular hire?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the department?
  • Do most junior faculty get tenure?  On what timescale?  What are the specific requirements?  What does the process look like?
  • Ask the junior faculty why they went there.
  • What are the grad students like?  Are they attracting the quality that they want to?  Where do their grads go?  How are they supported?  How many years do they take?
  • What is the teaching load?  Can you teach the courses you want to?  Can you teach the same course a few times in a row??  Can you buy out of teaching?
  • What is the sabbatical policy?
  • Any departmental or university support for writing and submitting and administrating grants?
  • How are international grad students supported: extra fees borne by the advisor? shared by department? no extra fees?
  • How is the department doing in handling issues of diversity/equity?
  • How does the department track & stay in touch with its grad and undergrad alumni?
  • Does department have its own endowment fund?  or group of donors?
  • Where do you all live?
  • Can your postdocs PI grants?
  • Can your grads/postdocs PI their own observing proposals?
  • How much interaction do you have with undergraduates?
Questions to ask grad students
  • Be able to talk about your advising style.
  • Have some examples of specific projects for students.
  • Are they well-supported?
  • Do they know who to go ask questions of?
  • Is there a grad student mentoring program? If so, what's it like? If not, is there a need for it?
  • How well/how often do they interact with the faculty?
  • How well do they see the faculty interact with each other?
  • What input do they have into the department -- faculty meetings, grad admissions, etc.?
  • How much do they teach to support themselves?
  • Which faculty members do students tend to work with and why?
  • What do they think the strengths and weaknesses of the department are?
  • How do you feel the department is doing handling issues of diversity/equity?
  • Do they like living there???
  • Where do you all typically live?
  • What is the format of the graduate examinations?
  • How do you find the current graduate curriculum?
  • How much interaction do you have with undergraduates?
Page last modified on Wednesday 18 of March, 2015 00:00:23 EDT