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The Job Interview

This week's newsletter is about the job market, in particular the job interview. Here are some further hints gleaned from various web source.

  • Do your homework on the institution interviewing you! This is mentioned too many times to quote sources, and it's just plain common sense.
  • Here are some good general interviewing hints from the Hiatt Career Center at Brandeis (I couldn't resist that name.)
  • Dave Johnson at wrote a column, "Urban Legends of the Job Search," in which he wrote a good summary of the importance of eye contact and possible cultural differences that could sway interviewers.
Eye contact is crucial for interviewers to feel comfortable about you. You are judged by a number of non-verbal elements in an interview, and your ability to communicate with your eyes is one of them. Poor eye contact can result in subconscious decisions about you; the interviewer may decide she can't trust you, or conclude that you are low on energy and enthusiasm. Here's a short digression: Notes or no notes, maintaining eye contact can be difficult for those who were raised in cultures that have different views on eye contact than we do in Western society and especially in the USA. In some Asian or South Asian countries it is actually perceived as rude and inappropriate for an applicant to make eye contact with his or her superior.

  • Dave Jensen has another article called "Interviewing Skills: What Do Do When They Say," which is about the "t.m.a.y." question: "Tell me about yourself." Although in academic circles, the question may be a little less broad, you should certainly be prepared for general questions of this nature. He states:

When an interviewer asks you to tell her a little about yourself, you are being asked to provide a general framework for discussion. You will set the stage for later questions that will address various aspects of your academic and work life. If you plan properly, this will give you the opportunity to steer the critical opening portion of the interview into an area in which you will do well.
How do you plan for this? I am normally not a great supporter of overpreparation for an interviews. In other words, if you've read anything I've written on the subject, you know that there are no recommendations of books packed full of "Snappy Answers to Tough Interview Questions," etc. My belief is that you need to be aware of what happens during interview day, and that means knowing the direction of probable questions. But it is self-knowledge and confidence that you require, not rehearsed and memorized answers to interview questions.
Except in one area--this one.

He then goes on to suggest:

You need to have with you a 2-minute, 5-minute, and 10-minute response to the request "Tell me about yourself." And those versions need to be ingrained into your presentation skills as well as you know your e-mail address.

I will add more to this later. Please add any other interview hints you can think of!


  1. Anonymous1:51 AM

    Everyone says 'do your homework' on the institution. But what exactly does this mean? How does this translate to an interview situation? Obviously it will inform your questions, but you certainly can't cite the institutional stats or quote the administration - presumably your interviewers already know this. What are some specific examples of the way people have used institutional information well in interviews?

  2. Here are some ways that it can be advantageous to be informed about the university of your interviewers:
    1. If you are aware of the various areas of specialization of the faculty members, you can discuss intelligently how your research or the classes you teach will complement the efforts of the rest of the faculty.
    2. If the university is geographically isolated, for example, it can help to be able to make eager remarks about how much you’ll enjoy hiking in the nearby Treacherous Gorge. Interviewers appreciate someone who will be happy moving to their area.
    3. If you know that they’ve recently opened a special program and you know all the details about it, your interviewers will be impressed. They are only human and will feel good that you cared enough to learn about it.
    4. You will be able to ask questions that will show your intelligence and perspicacity.
    5. You will be able to ask questions that you’ll wish you had asked later.

    I’m sure that others can come up with better examples than this, but this is what I’ve come up with on a Saturday evening. I know, I need to get a life.


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