The Interview Process

Kinds of interviews: telephone; MLA (1/2 hour); on-campus (full day)

-for MLA, you will be expected to pay your own expenses

-in Canada, your expenses will be paid for on-campus interviews; in the USA, this is usually, but not always, the case: be sure to ask and to keep your receipts to send in afterwards

Telephone interviews:

-you can have notes in front of you; be sure to sound lively and enthusiastic–no body language or facial expressions to do this for you; watch “um” and other “fillers”; silence has different associations on the phone than in person; be clear and direct; prepare as below

MLA screening interviews:

-take place in hotel suites, rooms

-everyone is rushed and stressed

-schedule interviews sensibly: leave time for delays

-have name and phone number of contact person (if delayed)

-clarify time and place; find out before how to get room number

be on time (these are timed carefully)

-find out who will interview you; learn names (check website and library

catalogue for what they’ve written, etc.)

-3-6 people or more may be present at interview

-you have 30 minutes to make yourself memorable

-be succinct, clear, polite and interesting

-prepare as for long interview (see below)

-conduct yourself as for long interview (see below)

-at end, briefly summarize your interest and qualifications

-when signs are given that it’s over, leave

On-campus interviews

-may involve interviews with the hiring committee, chair, dean; a presentation or lecture; perhaps a class to teach; social events (lunches, dinners, parties); informal meetings with faculty and students: hang loose and keep your sense of humour; the important thing is to be prepared and to find out from your contact person exactly what will be required of you.


Talking about yourself is the hardest thing for many of us to do. Practice ways of outlining your strengths and your possible contributions to THIS particular department

Discussing your research:

-be prepared to explain your present (and future–this is important) research to a range of people, from the experts in your field to someone outside the department, and in a range of ways–from the short description to the long and detailed analysis

-answer with aroused curiosity and enjoyment: always sound as if you are interested in your work–even if by this stage (=utterly normal) you are “bored” with it and it seems “obvious” (that’s because you‘ve spent years on it; the committee has not)

-be concise and forthcoming about what particular aspects of it fascinate you (and thus, you hope, your interviewers); ask yourself “what am I writing about?” and “what have I read en route?”; give a history of your choices (of topic, focus)

-show both your knowledge and your “ignorance”–that is, what is still important for you to know (both are important)

-if you plan to rewrite the dissertation into a book, be prepared to say how; articulate what you have to offer as a scholar

-think about the relation of your research to your teaching (in practice or in theory): talk about cross-fertilization, how new scholarly areas can be opened up through teaching assignments and how scholarship can open up new perspectives on undergraduate courses (graduate = more obvious)

-if you work in a “politically-charged” area, be prepared to talk about the political charge of your work, both in your research and in the classroom; if you are being interviewed, chances are they want you, so be open about your politics

Discussing teaching:

-be ready to talk about your approach to teaching large and small classes, any successes you have had in the classroom–be aware that, to most interviewers, teaching will be seen as some mixture of enthusiasm, ability and learned skill

-teaching is also a deeply personal act: don’t be afraid to show your passion for it (don’t be manic, though!)

-treat the interview as a teaching assignment

-explain why teaching is important, not simply interesting to you–since what people know is part of what they are, your values as teacher count (e.g. honesty, openness to criticism, curiosity, strength of character, humility, etc.); remember that how you teach (as much as what you teach) has impact on students; talk about the contribution of teaching to your own on-going education (teachers are always students)

-sound enthusiastic about introductory teaching (you will likely have to do it, so…); get as much information as you can about the department’s philosophy, programmes, etc.–from websites or other sources–and, based on that particular department’s curriculum, prepare sample outlines for courses (both early undergraduate and more senior or graduate) in your area, including anthologies to be used, and have enough copies of these for the entire committee ready in your briefcase (check these with supervisor first: s/he has more experience); be prepared to say which courses in their programme you’d be interested in teaching (and why…and how)

-remember that teaching is a matter of design as much as performance: show that you’ve thought about both

Questions for them:

-prepare questions (whose answers are NOT in the calendar) about: the location (rent or housing prices? etc.), the university (library holdings), the department (sociable?), kinds of students (ask to meet some?–have questions prepared), size of classes, research support, pedagogical style, teaching loads; don’t ask about salaries (that’s for later)

The interview day itself:

-an interview is like an ordinary professional conversation in which you can ask for clarification (instead of allowing yourself to panic), clarify if someone looks puzzled, etc.; when in doubt, just act as you would in any (professional) situation

-let the committee set the pace and tone: if they use “Professor” or “Ms” in introducing themselves, do likewise in addressing them

-answer the questions you’ve been asked

-don’t ramble (=”bad teacher”); interruption by committee could signal long-windedness, so be alert

-don’t feel the need to fill silence vacuums; sit quietly

-make eye-contact with all the committee, not only the chair

-the usual (human) awkwardnesses, prejudices, etc. will prevail, so be resilient and flexible

-don’t offer negative information about yourself or others

-don’t deprecate other institutions or colleagues–even if provoked or encouraged

-don’t ask obvious questions that earlier preparation could have answered; do ask questions that show your serious interest

-don’t get into long arguments with interviewers

-listen attentively–more difficult when nervous

-speak clearly and keep eye contact

-be prepared for aggressive questions; answer with calm

-don’t let yourself get intimidated or “thrown”

-be specific in answers and questions

-be prepared to talk about your strong points and special features of your training or interests

-answer questions honestly, openly, directly

-watch body language–and nervous tics

-if any situation gets awkward, uncomfortable or out of control  (rare, but…), try to remain calm and exit with dignity; if asked an awkward question or an inappropriate one (e.g., are you planning to have children?), answer it to the extent you feel comfortable; be honest and admit your discomfort graciously: try “I hadn’t thought I’d be faced with that question, so I’m not really prepared to answer it, if you don’t mind”–remember that the other committee members will be on YOUR side and likely will be feeling equally awkward

-be prepared for a mixed reception, generally: some like to bait candidates, others like to pamper them and make them feel special

-be ready to repeat yourself without sounding bored: you may get asked the same questions by different people in different settings

-learn to market your “lived experience” if you are older than the average candidate: for departments that train teachers, experience teaching at other levels is a plus; many of their students may also be “mature” students

-ask when the decision might be made

-be careful but be yourself

Good luck!!

Linda Hutcheon