I have been in the very fortunate position to sit on a lot of UK academic (and professional services) interview panels, whether that is for a new job or even for a promotion. I have been struck by how similar the interviews are, even across the various institutions where I have also been the interviewee. It’s hard to know what interviews are like for any posts until you do the interview yourself, so I thought it might be helpful to note down some of the things panels are looking for. Of course, this is based on my own experience so I don’t intend to make generalisations and I know it’s not comprehensive, but I hope it is helpful. I am by no means the first person to write such a post and I think that Dr Charles Knight’s post is a lot better than mine!
Before the interview
It’s pretty likely that the panel will ask why you want the particular job and why you want to work at the University of WhereTheJobIs. It’s very important to research the institution you want to work at. Identify the teams you want to work with (teaching or research), show how your teaching and/or research will fit including any gaps you can fill. Some of this may come from the job spec (e.g. ‘we are looking for someone to teach introduction to such and such’), or you may be able to work it out for yourself from the website. The panel wants to know you have taken the time to look up the institution you’re trying to get a job at, you know something about it and what you can bring. This might seem obvious, but I have sat on a number of panels where the interviewees didn’t know anything about the University, school or institute. If the University of WhereTheJobIs is in the best city in the world, the panel already know this – they work there! So, if your reason for working there are the city its in, maybe don’t mention it at all, or mention at the end with a smile. Give an indication of where the job fits into your career now – for example, is it a temporary teaching post of a year or two and you want to develop teaching experience? Perhaps you’re looking for a job where you can have more scope to apply for research funding or to lead your own team.
During the interview
I think it’s helpful to take a copy of your application with you, but I rarely see applicants do this. It’s always something I have done, so I can point to parts of my application and CV and show where it’s been developed since submission (e.g. has a research grant been funded, paper accepted etc). It is a bit awkward in an interview for the panel to have to share a copy of your CV with you so you can talk to it.
Be prepared to answer questions about what your contribution is. This can be research, teaching and service/citizenship/administration. Lets take these in turn, but bear in mind the balance of these will be different for different roles.
Research – What is the contribution of your research to theory, practice, policy (depending on the interests of the institution)? Give examples of this contribution. For early career posts, what will your contribution be? Be prepared to give a summary of what your first grant application will be and what for (this shows awareness of the funding landscape, ability to develop fundable research including design) and what the impact of this work will be. Impact in terms of your own career path, the school’s research future and also the discipline. Give the names of people in the school/institute you want to work with. If you can show interdisciplinary awareness this may go even further with the panel, given the increased interest in crossing disciplinary panels. Show the panel your 5 to 10 year research plan. You won’t be held to it once appointed, but it shows planning and ambition. It’s also useful to show your plans for developing & leading a research team e.g. Ph.D. recruitment, postdocs, developing less experienced colleagues. If this is an open-ended post you need to show how you will improve and enhance the school’s research culture and performance
Teaching – give examples of curriculum design and innovations in your teaching (i.e. show you can identify a problem, work out how to solve it, implement that and then evaluate its success). If you haven’t engaged in this work yet, that’s ok – the panel have read your CV! You can talk about where you want your teaching to go. Show how you use student feedback to improve your practice (panels want to hear you know the importance of feedback, and what to do with it). There’s a good chance you will be asked how you engage students – give examples of what you would do or currently do.
Give an indication of how technology might be useful, for example, with small versus large classes. If you have never taught before, the panel knows so you can give an educated guess! If you can refer to any pedagogical literature or your own experiences as a student this lends some weight to these educated guesses. My advice here is to be precise and give tangible examples. Teaching matters a lot and the panel will also be wondering how you may come across to a room full of students. Depending on the institution show links between your research and teaching, for example, how your industry or public sector links could give guest lectures to your students, or present real-world problems for students to solve. Another key aspect is to demonstrate understanding of assessment and feedback, so if you have experience of designing assessments make that clear.
You may well be asked about personal tutoring and pastoral care of students, for example, how would you support a student who comes to you with issues which are affecting their academic performance which are related to their personal life. Be prepared to demonstrate an awareness that your role is to point the student to the relevant university support and provide ongoing practical support.
Administration/service/citizenship – You can show your contribution here too, although, I am struck by how many newer entrants to academic careers are unfamiliar with the various admin & leadership roles which exist within universities. Find out before the interview and have a plan for where you’d like your career to go. Are you hoping to be a research centre leader, for example, or keen to become a degree programme leader or develop a new degree programme. While the exact job title names will vary across employers, the roles are broadly the same.
Be prepared to answer questions relating your leadership experiences or plans. Show some awareness of what leadership looks like (e.g. mentoring PhD students, leading a staff committee, running a cake stall, charity work) and why it matters. Show that you’re going to be a positive contribution to the department, school, university etc. It’s great if you can talk about taking your work outside the university, perhaps you want to lead on community engagement work, or liaising with parliament.
At the end of the interview
Good questions relate to support for career plans, developing teaching, research. It’s interesting that workload is often asked about, although that is broadly similar across types of HEIs, but can be phrased alongside support esp for early career entrants.
Overall top tips are to be concise, precise and give examples. It is perfectly ok to take a notepad to write down the questions so you don’t lose track (or maybe it’s just me that starts to burble and then forgets what the question was). If you can’t remember the question, or don’t understand it – ask! One good piece of advice I got was to write down about 5 things I really wanted to get across in an interview – whether that a job interview or research bid, and make sure I get them across. Even if I have to say them at the end. It’s ok to be nervous, everyone is whether they are interviewing for their first lectureship or for professor. I know this looks like a lot, but really it’s about a 40 minute interview (if that). If it’s a teaching-focused role, then the research may not be relevant (or may be framed as scholarship e.g. pedagogical research, new textbook).
I hope this helps. It was longer than I anticipated – much like my answers in interviews – something I have to work on!