Gabriela Montell

Assistant Editor, Vitae at The Chronicle of Higher Education

Your First Interview: The Vitae Primer

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Hiring season is at hand, and interview opportunities, not to mention good academic jobs, can be harder to come by in some disciplines than water in the Sahara. So it’s time to give it all you’ve got, get organized, and learn how the whole daunting process works. Here's a collection of practical advice columns from The Chronicle's well on what you need to know before the big day:

The First Round

Whether it takes place at an academic conference or over Skype, your first-round interview is a chance to stand out from the dozen or so other candidates getting a similar screening. Here’s what you’ll want to know:

What You’ll Need to Accomplish

You’ve got a severely limited amount of time to explain to your interviewers how hiring you would enhance their department, according to Julie Miller Vick and Jennifer S. Furlong. So you’ve got to make those minutes count. That’s why it’s important to research the department, do mock interviews, and to generally practice like crazy.

What to Wear

Look, this stuff matters. Rob Jenkins is no fashion plate, but he’s been through enough of these sessions to lay down some guidelines. As long as you make some sensible decisions—like keeping the color palette muted—you can look perfectly professional without breaking the bank for a new wardrobe.

What You Should Say When You Get in the Room

You’ll certainly be asked about your dissertation, says Steven M. Cahn, but keep in mind that this isn’t a doctoral defense. Be terse—your interviewers will ask you for more details if they’re interested—and make sure you’ve got some smart, specific answers on how you’d teach a course in your area of expertise.

The Second Round

So you managed to score an on-campus interview? Great! Now you’ve got a whole other wave of research and planning to do.

How to Get Ready

A successful second-round interview doesn’t begin when you set foot on campus, writes Rob Jenkins. It starts weeks earlier, when you do your homework and determine what to expect. “If you don’t spend your time profitably,” he writes, “no amount of eye contact or glib posturing in front of the committee is likely to compensate.”

What Not to Say

Robert J. Sternberg zeroes in on the most common mistakes that rookie interviewees make. When do unforced errors typically happen? When a candidate feels too insecure or gets too cute. Among his warnings: Don’t assume that a bluff is better than a simple “I don’t know;” don’t pretend you’re not aware of your weaknesses; and never, ever give a snarky answer, no matter how weak the question that prompted it.

Every week, Vitae’s Gabriela Montell sifts through The Chronicle’s back pages for the best advice on navigating the academic workplace. Next week: How to respond gracefully when the interview process throws you a curveball.

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