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22. Job interviews in academia: Interviewing tips and techniques

Although I am now a job interview coach, I am a former academic. Naturally, a significant number of my job interview coaching clients are academics.

I am familiar with the academic context and particularly interested in job interviews in academia.

I spent 10 years as a lecturer at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia. Since then I have also worked as a consultant for the University of Western Australia, Curtin University, Murdoch University, and Edith Cowan University. I have also coached academics from across Australia.

The interviewing tips and techniques that I give may apply to other jobs as well, but there are specific aspects of job interviews in academia that deserve special attention.

Interviewing tips and techniques 1: Reduce your nerves

As an academic you are probably well used to standing in front of a crowd of students and giving lectures. This doesn't mean that you will not be nervous in front of a job interview panel, especially if you are going for your dream job.

Many of the academics that have undergone coaching for job interviews have been very nervous about their job interview.

There are many techniques that can be used to reduce job interview nerves. Three of the ones that are available include:

  1. Meditation and mindfulness practice.
  2. Simple energy techniques or tapping. I had one academic who had already failed a number of interviews before coming to see me. I taught her tapping. It is an emotional acupressure technique, involving tapping on different parts of the body. It calms emotions for many people. After the interview she told me that because of the tapping and the coaching for job interviews that she received she had given by far the best interview of her life. This is why I love being a job interview coach!
  3. I had one academic who was so nervous that the above two techniques didn't work for her, so she went to her doctor and got beta-blockers. She finally relaxed and did really well in her job interview.

Interviewing tips and techniques 2:  Talk internationally

The University will want someone who can help increase their international prestige, won't they? There are so many measures of university rankings these days and universities love to publish them when they have moved up the list and received recognition. 

  • Think international.
  • Talk international.
  • Give international examples.
  • Mention anything you know that can convince the panel that you are going to help them increase their international reputation and standing.

I know this is stating the absolute obvious but as a job interviews coach I have met academics who only talk about the local networks they have, or the local collaborators they have. In fact, some have had very little involvement with the international scene and we've had to work out ways for them to sound more international.

If you have only done one research paper, with one collaborator, from Harvard University mention it. Then state how you are developing this in the future.

  1. Mention it, if you have a huge international network of academics that you've built up.
  2. Specify the international conferences you have spoken at.
  3. Mention international collaborators specifically, by name, and their relevant areas of research.
  4. Name the international universities you have connections with, particularly if they are impressive.  
  5. Name the research areas that you've successfully collaborated on internationally, even if the research has only just begun.
  6. Name the international recognition and awards you have won.
  7. Name the international journals your work is published in.
  8. If your PhD students are coming to the end of their PhDs and will soon be publishing their results internationally, say so.
  9. If you have published an academic text which is used in universities overseas, say so.

I hope you get the idea! It is too easy to hold back and not make the work that you do sound good enough.

Here are my two top interviewing tips and techniques: Tell them what you've done and make it sound important!

Interviewing tips and techniques 3: Make it easy for the panel to pick you

Do not leave the interview panel in doubt about your skills, strengths, experiences, or value to the University. Your job in the interview is to make it easy for the panel to pick you.

Whether it is in research, teaching, publications, industry partnerships, community leadership, or some other aspect of academic life, the interview panel will want you to convince them that you are the right person for them to choose.

Whatever it is that you have done explain it to them so that it is very clear that you are going to be of value to the University.

When you have convinced them that you will be of value to them, you make it easy for the panel to pick you.

In closing I'd just like you to read this email I received from an academic after her job interview coaching and job interview:

Dear Rachel,

Thanks very much for your great work with me; I was successful, in fact they rang me half an hour after I finished the interview offering me the highest level possible. The interview chair told me it was a great interview … and "I made it easy for them to make the decision"! Just as you said …

I'm so over the moon!

YVONNE HAIG. Senior Lecturer, Policy and Governance, School of Management and Governance, Murdoch University.

I hope these interviewing tips and techniques propel you to a successful job interview. If you still need help with your interview skills I am available as a job interview coach!