Thursday, January 27, 2011

Quick tips for TT interviews

It is interview season in my fields, and we have a few searches going on here at ProdigalU (and keeping me out of trouble). I know I've blathered on about interviews here, here, and here before, but more tips can't hurt, right? Here are a few things I've been noticing this time around:

  • You MUST be able to answer questions/think on your feet. If this is a weakness, practice! When you give a practice talk, ask your colleagues, friends, or labmates to grill you. Even the best prepared talk will not erase that "deer in the headlights" look.
  • You should be able to articulate the central problem(s) your lab will working on and how many people you need to do this.
  • Both your job talk AND your chalk talk need to be accessible to people outside your sub-field. Everyone gets a say on the candidates (even if only the committee votes).
  • Your research plans should look like they will last more than then next 3-5 years.
  • Be ready to answer questions about your competitor labs--who are they? What will be special/different/better about your lab or approach? What is your edge? Do not position yourself in competition with your advisor(s) if you can avoid it.
  • You should be able to articulate clearly why you need anything on your startup list (especially the really expensive stuff and/or stuff you could potentially share) AND talk about the research significance of the resulting data.
  • You don't need to propose formal collaborations, nor do you need to know what everyone in the department is doing before you arrive. However, if after meeting with someone one-on-one, you see a new overlap possibility, it is a great idea to mention it in your chalk talk! We had someone do this to nice effect.
  • Try to behave like a colleague (but not an arrogant ass). If you feel and act like a student or postdoc, the faculty will respond to you like one. If you feel and act like a colleague, the faculty will see you as one.
  • Be nice to the students! We listen to them.
Good luck to all those on the TT job hunt this year!


  1. By competitor labs, do you mean labs with very similar research profiles, or labs with differing theoretical view points? My area is sparse enough that I could make the case that no one does the specific combination of things that I do. Though there's plenty of opposing viewpoints in the general area.

  2. This is great, PA! I've added it to my advice aggregator.

  3. I second the thing about being an arrogant ass. I've seen candidates self destruct just by being arrogant - if someone asks you a question that seems basic to you (it might not be basic to the asker in a different subfield) just answer it nicely, don't be a prick. Also, if you don't know the answer, don't make it up.

  4. Great advice!! Really, the ability to answer questions without being an ass or looking like a deer in the headlights is SO important. I don't know I'd you can practice, but it can't hurt.

  5. Thanks for the comments!

    @Bashir, by competitor labs, I mean people who would compete with you for funding and/or prominence when others discuss the problem you are attacking. For a very sparse field, this might be broader than in a more populated area. If you can make a legitimate case that your approach is unique, that is great! Most labs have some aspects that are unique (even in a crowded field), but sometimes our candidates can't really articulate what that is. The ones who can are in a better position.

  6. *saves page*

    Prodigal, you're the bestest everrrrrr. You need to make an iphone app for this or something, hahaha.

  7. Would you mind elaborate on that a little bit in a future blog post? Both positive and negative examples would be very helpful. For example, could you give a few examples you experienced in the interview process where people behaved like postdoc and students and were not perceived well.

  8. Thanks for the nice comments. I will try to post more on being perceived as a postdoc/student vs a colleague later in the week.