Ah, faculty interview questions.
You know: those little things that ultimately stand between you and the tenure-track job of your dreams.
I know the feeling. I have been around the block when it comes to academic job interviews, so I am pretty confident in my ability to provide some, hopefully, sage advice here.
In fact, I was recently forced to revisit the feeling of dread and unknown about the academic job interview process. A PhD student in the last year of her studies with the same advisor I had reached out to me after offering her my advice at a recent conference we both attended.
After helping her out with her cover letter and CV, she received a first-round (read: telephone) interview at a pretty ideal location for her.
But, she had no idea what to expect.
This, clearly, brings up a whole other issue: the academic program in which we completed our PhD studies did not prepare its students for the job market.
Do not get me wrong, it was an outstanding department with some of the world’s brightest minds from the field, but a job preparation program it was not.
But, there was a silver lining to that now that I am able to look back on it. I made plenty of mistakes when I first started … and I learned from those mistakes which ultimately made me a stronger interviewee.
Another thing that made me a strong interviewee was the amount of interviews I was able to do.
Now, please, understand that isn’t some sort of humble brag. I fortunately graduated into a pretty robust job market – the year 2014 was pretty good for the sport studies field.
The Academic Job Market: A Numbers Game
I’m a big believer that you should apply to as many jobs as possible – even those slightly outside of your field of study.
Yes, it takes a lot of time, but it serves two purposes: (1.) practice at perfecting the cover letter and (2.) the possibility of landing more interviews.
In my case, you can see I had a spreadsheet running of every job I applied to during the 2013-2014 application year.
The total number of schools on that spreadsheet? 32.
Of those 32, I received invitations for nine telephone interviews, which then results in two campus interviews and two job offers.
Four years down the road, when I decided I was ready to move on from my first tenure-track position, I ultimately applied to five schools, received two telephone interviews, two campus invites, and two job offers.
The moral of this?
I have been asked A LOT of faculty interview questions.
The Most Common Faculty Interview Questions
All of my interviewing experience has led to me one, I believe, certain inalienable truth: you are bound to get asked some of the some questions at every single interview.
In that sense, it gives you an outstanding chance to perfect your opening … to really make yourself stand out. With that in mind, here the questions you can likely expect, in some shape or form:
- What interest you most about this job? Why did you apply?
- What courses are you prepared to teach and why?
- Tell us about your favorite class to teach.
- What is your least favorite class to teach? Why?
- How does a background in [your field] fit into [the field you are applying to]?
- Tell us about a difficult student you had and how you handled it.
- Tell us about your five-year research agenda.
- If we sat in on one of your classes, what could we expect to experience?
- What do you consider to be a particular strength?
- What do you believe you could improve on?
- What is your philosophy on teaching and learning?
- What do you look for in academic colleagues?
- What are the most important skills and knowledge that our graduates should be taking into the workforce?
Off The Wall Faculty Interview Questions
There is the chance, of course, that you will be asked questions that you absolutely are not prepared for.
I know I was.
For example, the two that stick out to me the most:
- If you could be any animal in the world, what would you be?
- What do you typically do on a long weekend?
Both are fair game, I think. The second one is, obviously, more personal … but, easily answerable in a professional way that instills confidence in the search committee that you are, you know, a normal person.
Closing Advice About the Academic Job Interview
I always found it helpful to have a pretty intimate knowledge of everybody currently teaching in the department.
Know their backgrounds.
Know their research.
Know what they teach.
Be able to speak to their research, specifically. Be able to find ways for collaboration with your research, etc.
It is a vanity thing, sure, but people like to hear other talk about their research.
Also be sure to have questions prepared to ask the search committee. My typical ones always included:
- What does the tenure and promotion process entail here?
- Is there support on campus for faculty members looking to improve their teaching ability?
- What is a typical course load?
- Is there support for travel to present at conferences?
This is a personal choice, but I have always veered away from asking about salary. That is typically something you only find out if offered the job.
But, I have had a few interview situations where it was disclosed to me upfront … typically because they know it is crazy low and want to see if applicants are still interested after hearing the salary number.
In the end: be cool, be calm, be collected.
You’re interviewing them just as much as you are interviewing them. You made it through the initial cut because they think you are good enough on paper to be a faculty member.
Now is your chance to show them why you will be a good faculty member.