Having gone through about eight job interviews, I was struck by how neatly the interviews fell into either one of two categories: those where the questions where almost entirely about teaching, and those where the questions were almost entirely about research. As someone who values both teaching and research I worry that I came across as too much of a research-oriented person at the teaching schools, and too much of a teaching-oriented person at the research schools.
Most of the jobs I interviewed for were teaching focused. For such interviews the best advice I can give is to be ready with a list of at least five courses you would teach at that school. It is vital that the list be specifically tailored for that program and the listed job search. The courses should sound exciting, as if you are pitching a product to the students, but you also need to make sure you are complementing the existing curriculum. And also be prepared to say something about your teaching methodology. How do you encourage dialog in the classroom? How do encourage students to do hands-on research? How do you use the web?
With a research-oriented school, you need to have a very clear plan for churning out publications, and that plan should include getting a book published within the next few years. I don’t really envision getting a book published that quickly, and I know it it hurt me when I talked too much about articles.
There was also a lot of variety in the style of the interviews. Some were held in hotel rooms, others in booths downstairs, others in semi-public spaces. Some interviewers had set questions and printed forms, while others were much more casual. One interview lasted nearly an hour and a half and the interviewer spoke so much I hardly had time to get a word in edgewise, while another one was over in just fifteen minutes.
The most nerve-wracking interview was the one for the job I wanted most, and which I eventually got. It was one of two interviews done by telephone (never do a telephone interview if you can avoid it, I’ve done three and they are awful). It was made worse by the fact that the university was in Taiwan and I was in India, and they called my New York number, and my calls to them kept getting a machine … I was saved by the fact that I had internet access and my internet phone number in NY forwards voicemail to me via email. Otherwise it would have been a wash. I could have used Skype, but it was blocked by the proxy at the university where we were staying… Still, somehow it all worked out in the end! It was probably helped significantly by the fact that I had met with the department head in person last summer.
In the end I don’t think interviews are really that important. If you’ve presented yourself honestly on paper, the interview will simply confirm what they interviewers already know. In many ways, they are more concerned about your self-presentation than the substance of what you say.