Want to impress at an academic job interview?
We have all been there: you are invited for a job interview and you want to be well-prepared. As part of your search you want to find out what academics in the university you applied for are working on. You might even want to do this before applying for the job to decide whether this is the place for you, or simply to tailor your application.
Being well prepared helps building connections
Remember: most shortlisted applicants for the job are well qualified and will do a good job in their research presentation and teaching demonstration. What matters most is that you create a connection with the people on your interview or shortlist panel. They should be able to picture you as a person they could, and would want to, work with.
As far as I know, personal chemistry is impossible to engineer. However, there is a lot you can do to increase the chances of building a connection by being well prepared. There are several ways you could approach this, discussed in more detail below. Please note that I am not suggesting you should misrepresent your academic record or compromise your own personal values. However, you can easily emphasize different aspects of your academic record depending on who is on your panel.
Find out what your panel members are working on
Publish or Perish gives you a quick and easy way to find out what the academics on your interview panel are best known for. Simply do an author search for each of the members of your interview panel. You might also want to read some of their articles in order to be able to make intelligent comments about them.
- Find out about their recent research interests: It would also be a good idea to find out what the recent research interests of the members on your panel are by sorting their publications by year. You might find out that some of them have similar interests or are even working on papers together. This is something you could comment positively on in your interview, while indicating that working with colleagues is something you aspire to in your job.
- Spot synergies in their work: This strategy is even more effective if the panel members didn’t know they were working on similar topics. Never underestimate how little many academics know about their colleagues! Although comments on this might work out negatively in some institutions, in most cases the panel will be impressed if you have spotted synergies they were not aware of.
Find out where your panel members are publishing
When searching for your panel members’ publications, also make sure you sort the results by publication. This allows you to find out whether there are any journals they have published in regularly.
- Create a connection through journals: Many academics have their favourite journals and they will tend to think positively about applicants targeting the same journals. This might be because targeting the same journals automatically reflects a similarity in academic norms and values, or simply because your panel members are more aware of the (high) quality standards of the journals they are personally familiar with.
- Which of your projects should you focus on? I am not proposing you should lie about where you are targeting your work. However, doing a quick search to find out which journals your panel members tend to publish in heavily, might give you some clues about which of your research projects to focus on. It might also lead you to emphasize in your job interview that you have been doing ad-hoc reviewing for this particular journal (only if this is true of course).
- Type of publications shows what institution values: Reviewing the type of outlets that panel members publish in also gives you an idea of what is valued in the institution you are applying to. Are they mainly publishing in top US academic journals, are they publishing in wider variety of journals, do professional journals feature as an outlet, have any of them written books? None of these publication strategies are inherently superior to others, but it is useful to be aware what seems to be valued most by the institution in question.
- Use your research to prepare questions: You could use this as a lead-in to a question of what would be expected of you in terms of publication output if you joined the institution. Most interviews panels really appreciate it if you ask questions pro-actively rather than just answer theirs. However, what they appreciate most are informed questions.
Find out who are citing your panel members work
In order to really impress, you could try to read some of the articles that have built on the panel members’ important works and comment intelligently on how they have done this. Many academics are not really aware who is citing their work, so that knowledge might make an excellent impression.
- Find a paper that you can talk comfortably about: You can find these citing articles easily. Simply right-click on the paper in question; in the pop-up menu, click on Lookup Citations. Pick one that is related to a topic you know a lot (or at least something) about, so that you can talk comfortably about it. This might be an easy way to give you a connection to a person in the panel.
- Find a paper by an academic you know well: Alternatively, pick an article written by an academic you know very well. If you are lucky your panel member knows the academic too, but didn’t know that he or she cited their work. There is nothing like common acquaintances to build a quick connection!
- A strategy even more useful to impress a Dean: I can particularly recommend this strategy when some of your panel members are senior administrators such as Deans or Department Chairs. Oftentimes their heavy administrative load has prevented these academics from publishing much in recent years. They will be very pleased to be reminded that their research is still cited!
Find out more about the university
Most junior applicants are too narrowly focused on the job in question and their future department or school. Showing you know more about the university as a whole indicates you have made a real effort. It also signals that you are potential leadership material as you are able to take a broader perspective.
- Find out what the university is well-known for: Find out what is the university well known for. You can search for the University’s most cited publications using a general search. Make sure though that to double-check that the university in question is listed as an affiliation of the author, not in the references or any other part of the publication.
- Spot synergies across the university: Having found out what your panel members are working on, try to establish whether there is anyone else in the university working on similar topics. You can do this in the general search function by including the topic and the university in question. Your interview panel will be impressed if you have identified another academic in their university that shares their research interests, especially if they weren’t even aware of him/her.
- Link this to multi-disciplinarity: You could even try to link this to a more general discussion on multi-disciplinarity and your own views on this. Although some universities might equate multidisciplinary research with a lack of depth, many universities acknowledge these days that big world problems can only be solved with multidisciplinary research.
Copyright © 2017 Anne-Wil Harzing. All rights reserved. Page last modified on Sun 26 Mar 2017 14:02
Anne-Wil Harzing is Professor of International Management at Middlesex University, London. In addition to her academic duties, she also maintains the Journal Quality List and is the driving force behind the popular Publish or Perish software program.