Recently I have been discussing academic interviews a lot in my 1:1 consultations so it seemed a good idea to address the topic in a blog post for others who might currently be preparing to attend an academic interview.
So you’ve been invited to an interview – congratulations! Once the initial excitement has worn off you may suddenly be thinking how best to prepare and what might the interviewers ask!?
The format of an academic interview may have changed slightly since Covid measures have been in place. For example, rather than visiting the University for a tour of the department and conducting a face to face interview, you may now be expected to give a presentation and interview online via Zoom or Microsoft Teams. The basic rules of preparation still apply! Think about who will be interviewing you and make sure that you research them so that you have a clear idea what they may ask about. Most interviews will have a panel format. You can usually expect your perspective manager, a member of HR and a senior university figure to be part of the panel. It is possible that the panel could be larger (3 – 8 members). As a general rule of thumb your perspective manager may have the most influence over the panel as it is this person that you will be working closely with. HR often act as part of the panel to ensure that the interview is conducted fairly. They may also stick to asking motivation questions and competency questions (for further information on competency questions see https://www.prospects.ac.uk/careers-advice/interview-tips/competency-based-interviews.
If you are unsure about any aspect of the upcoming interview be sure to check with the HR correspondent that sent you the interview invitation. It is better to check than be underprepared on the day. Learn as much as you can about the department and university ahead of your interview. Look at the website and search for the University strategy as well as researching how they are portrayed using wider sources. It is also an excellent idea to talk to people within the University. If you have contacts then make use of them as this is your best bet on gaining inside information on the culture of the university and of the department. You can also find out more about the courses offered and the structure of their research groups and possible connections and collaborators.
After researching the University you then need to revisit the job description and your application to remind yourself of the information you presented to them. Be prepared to back up everything that you said with examples.
You may be asked to give an online lecture or presentation (under normal circumstances these would have been conducted face to face). Check who the intended audience will be in order to ensure that you are pitching your presentation correctly. For example, if the audience will include students then it is best to aim to tell them something new or offer insights into your area of expertise. Depending upon the content of the presentation it is sensible to assume that it needs to be looking to the future! What are the ways of shaping the research direction and what benefits will you bring to the department e.g. possible collaborations? A key point for presentations is not to exceed the time limit given. If you do it is likely that you will be marked down for this. Instead, practice, practice and practice some more so that you are sure that you can finish on time. Preparation is also important – have you prepared a backup method of delivery in case technology fails? Preparing handouts and written flashcards can be useful in this scenario but also if the presentation is online! The interviewers won’t be able to see beyond your screen so notes on hand may be helpful (just remember that eye contact and looking directly at the camera is still important).
Remember the importance of body language and what this signals to the audience. For example, appearing confident yet relaxed will signal that you are comfortable with the subject matter and content of the presentation. Of course if your presentation is online then you should maintain eye contact with the camera and use your hands to emphasise what you are saying but be mindful not to wave them around so much that it is distracting for the panel.
Motivation and ‘why’ questions will always be asked in any interview so it is important to prepare for them. Depending what type of job the interview is for certain aspects may take more of a focus. For example, if the role is a teaching one think about demonstrating your enthusiasm for lecturing in certain areas that complement the teaching offered by the department. If research is the focus try to think how it relates to the department and how you can demonstrate that you have been successful in securing funding. Do you have links with other collaborators that would be beneficial for the department and/or the wider university?
This is an area that may be overlooked when thinking about questions that could be asked. However, it is important to think about how an interviewer may go about addressing this area. Consider what examples you have to talk about i.e. organising events and conferences, managing junior staff, committee memberships and attending to health and safety matters. These activities all demonstrate that you are a team player and are contributing to the wider aspects of University life.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
Weakness questions often cause a large amount of stress for interviewees. However, it is not really about what you state as your weakness (as long as it is not critical to the role) but more about how you can turn the weakness into a positive and demonstrate that you are aware of it and have already taken steps to improve it. A top tip would be to answer truthfully rather than making something up because if you are questioned further you are unlikely to be able to back this up with examples.
Strength questions – Know your CV and be ready to highlight your strengths with clear examples. It is likely that questions will be based around the key strengths and skills needed to do the role so you can gain a good idea of top examples to talk about ahead of the interview. You can find some examples of strength based questions here https://www.prospects.ac.uk/careers-advice/interview-tips/strength-based-interviews
Preparing for video interviews:
It is a good idea to practice answering questions ahead of your interview as this gets you used to verbalising your answers and covering the key points. You can record yourself and watch it back to assess your performance or you can ask a friend, family member or colleague and the IAD Careers Consultant to ask you some questions and give you feedback on your answers and interview style.
It is a good idea to keep up to date with current affairs and what is happening in the Higher Education sector in case you are asked to give your opinion on current matters.
To book a mock interview with the IAD Careers Consultant see: https://www.ed.ac.uk/institute-academic-development/research-roles/research-only-staff/career-management/career-dev-booking
This blog was written by Eleanor Hennige. Eleanor is the IAD’s Research Staff Careers Consultant, supporting fixed-term research staff at the University with their career planning and options. In addition to running our 1:1 appointments, she also delivers our suite of career workshops, career discussion groups and works with Schools/Research Staff Societies on career specific events and workshops. Eleanor works on a part-time basis (4 mornings a week) and can be contacted at ResearchStaff.Careers@ed.ac.uk