Interviewing for a Faculty Position

By Helen K. Ezell (adapted for the Web from Guide to Success in Doctoral Study and Faculty Work (2002).

An Overview of the Faculty Interview

When you apply for an academic position, you may expect a different sort of interview than when you apply for a job in a private clinic, hospital, or school setting.

Most universities use a search committee. This is a group of faculty and selected student representatives from the hiring department who have been charged with structuring and coordinating the interview process and recommending one or more candidates for the position.

  • When you send your letters of recommendation, curriculum vita (known as a CV), and letter of interest, the search committee reviews your credentials first.
  • the committee will examine your documents, contact you or those cited as your references for further information if necessary, and then rank all applicants based on the information gathered.

The pool of applicants is ranked. Some individuals will be selected for a campus interview, some may be placed "on hold," and some may be considered unsuitable and removed from consideration.

  • The number of those selected for interviews will vary according to the strength of the applicants' credentials, the financial resources available from the university to support applicants' travel, and the time available for interviewing.
  • Often three to five individuals are invited to interview. At this point all faculty who are not on the search committee are encouraged to review the credentials of those invited for a campus interview.

Interviews are completed. Faculty share their opinions about the candidates in a group meeting.

  • Following this discussion, a faculty vote is conducted to determine the top candidate.
  • An offer of employment is usually presented by the department director to the person selected by the faculty, followed by a letter of offer sent by the Dean of the College.

In the event that none of the applicants interviewed is given an offer of employment or if no such offers are accepted, the search committee may re-examine the "on hold" applicants for other possible interviewees. Eventually, if no candidate is found or none of the offers of employment have been accepted, a search may be closed and possibly re-opened the next academic year.

Interview Process

When you arrive on campus for an interview, you may be given a schedule or proposed agenda that will be followed during your visit, which is usually one to three days in length. Your visit will consist of several components:

  • one-to-one interviews with selected individuals
  • small group interviews with faculty
  • group interviews or informal meetings with students
  • a professional presentation to faculty and students
  • social events for getting acquainted
  • a tour of the campus and surrounding community

In all interview meetings, you may be asked about your prior experience, research interests, professional goals, and opinions or viewpoints on professional issues. In short, you may be asked just about anything so long as it is relevant to this position.

Professional presentation. When interviewing for an academic position, a common requirement is for the applicant to conduct a professional presentation.

  • You may be asked to speak on a particular topic or on a topic of your choice. Usually a one-hour presentation is expected, with time allowed for questions.
  • It is important to spend considerable time preparing this presentation in regard to your delivery, pacing, visual materials (including a hand­out), and answers to anticipated questions because this aspect of the interview process weighs heavily in the decision-making process for most faculty.

How to Prepare for the Interview

Learn about each department where you plan to interview. You can obtain such information from the university's and the department's Web site. Checking journals for recent faculty publications will give you knowledge about the research being produced in the department. Also, you can ask your colleagues what they know about the program or the faculty who work there.

  • Coming to an interview informed about the program and its faculty really does make an impact. You will make a more favorable impression because you took the time to learn about them.
  • Having advance knowledge allows you to ask more in-depth questions, rather than using questions to simply gather the facts. So instead of asking, "How many students do you have enrolled in your master's program?" you could ask, "I understand your master's program has only 15 students this year. Do you anticipate a larger class next year?"

Prepare a research presentation. It is recommended that you spend your greatest effort on this aspect of the interview. Very few individuals will receive an offer of employment when they come ill-prepared to speak because doing so leaves faculty with two general impressions. First, they consider that you might not care enough about the interview to prepare for it; or second, that you are always ill-prepared. You do not wish to leave either of these impressions, even if you decide that this position is not for you.

Prepare your presentation just as you would for any professional meeting.

  • Outline your topic and decide what information can be covered in the time period allotted.
  • Develop your notes and slides or overhead transparencies.
  • Create a handout for the audience to follow along, and consider including a glossary of terms in your handout if you will be covering a topic unfamiliar to most listeners.
  • Practice your presentation with your visual materials and notes so you can master your pacing, volume, emphasis, and fluency.
  • Be sure your presentation expresses your interest and enthusiasm in the topic.

Prepare answers to questions you may be asked. You can anticipate that questions will seek information about your current research, teaching experience, work history, professional activities and associations, and your attitudes and beliefs. Some examples of possible questions include the following:

  • Describe your current line of research and explain its clinical relevance. What aspects of your research are innovative?
  • What do you believe is a researcher's obligation for dissemination of results?
  • What experience and success have you had in acquiring research grant support?
  • What research equipment, personnel, and supply requirements do you have?
  • Describe the courses you have taught by summarizing the course content and assignments required.
  • Explain how you grade students' written work. How have you handled conflicts with students over grades and assignments?
  • How would you handle an episode of academic misconduct?
  • Define "integrity" and explain at least two ways that you have demonstrated this trait in your research and teaching.
  • How have your prior jobs contributed to your professional skills and attitude?
  • Why are you interested in a position at this university?
  • What strengths and expertise will you contribute to our department?
  • In what ways do you feel you can lend support to your colleagues?
  • List three areas of weakness that you wish to improve on.
  • How will you be a role model for our students? In your opinion, what personal and professional traits are desirable for mentoring students?

Prepare answers to questions that might be raised during your presentation.

  • Come prepared with additional overheads to explain points that may have been omitted due to time constraints. Often these can be useful or relevant to questions that are posed.
  • If questions request clarification about something that you covered, consider a different way to explain the concept rather than simply repeating exactly what was said before. Remember, your audience is evaluating your clarity of explanation and your approach to instruction. An excellent communicator is able to make even complex concepts clear to the lay listener.

Prepare questions to ask faculty, students, and department director. It would be beneficial to list questions that you would like to ask in advance of your scheduled interviews.

  • If you interview for positions at several universities, asking the same questions will allow you to compare the positions more easily.
  • When you have a list prepared in advance, you need not rely on your memory during the interview.

There are two important aspects about questions that you intend to raise in your interview.

  • The first involves the content of the question. Content should be focused on the job expectations, the support systems available, and salary and benefits. Avoid asking trivial questions such as when you are expected to arrive for work each morning or whether there is a dress code for faculty.
  • How you ask your question is the second important aspect. Your wording of the question and your tone of voice are very important. For example, a common question asked by interviewees involves the teaching load. Asking "How many courses am I expected to teach each term?" may give the impression that you are not interested in teaching or may wish to teach the fewest courses possible because of the phrase "am I expected." Instead, it might be preferable to ask, "Could we go over the courses that your department offers and your current teaching needs?"

You will wish to designate different questions to be asked of colleagues, students, and administrators as it is unlikely that you would address all questions to each audience.

  • Colleagues will be able to give you general information about how the department works, such as number of faculty meetings, committee responsibilities, and undergraduate and graduate curriculum.
  • Students will provide good information about their concerns regarding clinical supervision, coursework demands, extent of mentoring, and how student/faculty disputes are resolved.
  • Administrative personnel will be able to address questions about contract negotiation, teaching and research expectations, tenure and promotion, and consulting options.

A few recommendations about speaking with your future colleagues:

  • It is not good form to begin a conversation with faculty by asking what research they do. If you come to the interview prepared, you should already know this. When you come to the interview with prior knowledge, you can ask faculty more specific questions about their research methodology or results.
  • Ask some of your questions of more than one person to check for varying opinions on a particular topic. For example, universities vary widely in their travel support policies for faculty to attend conferences. Asking a question on this topic to several faculty as well as the director may give you several different perspectives on this matter.

Be aware that faculty may skirt sensitive topics so as not to explicitly point out disadvantages of the position. For example, faculty may be dissatisfied with their new leadership, but they may not wish to give an unfavorable opinion in this regard. If you sense such a situation, listen closely but avoid putting the individual on the spot with further questioning. Most important - keep the concern to yourself.

Information to Share

Come to an interview prepared to share information about yourself that will help everyone get to know and remember you better. Here are a few suggestions of what to bring along:

Bring extra copies of your vita and recent publications. Although you may have supplied a copy of your vita when you applied for the position, never assume that everyone has reviewed it prior to your arrival.

  • Be sure that the vita you bring is up-to-date and includes a current mailing address, telephone number, and e-mail address.
  • Along with your vita, it is recommended that you bring copies of your recent publications. This is suggested for at least two reasons. First, you may wish to use them as a resource for your own purposes. Sometimes a question is raised in the interview about a reference or research method that you would have difficulty answering without referring to the article. You may also provide copies of your articles to faculty or students who would like further reading about your research. These may be offered either at the end of your research presentation or at other times during the interview.

Bring copies of your course syllabi and teaching evaluations. If you have done any college teaching, it may be to your advantage to highlight this experience.

  • Faculty in many departments feel that teaching experience is important even though they may not express this outright. Thus, all things being equal, they may prefer to hire an individual who has classroom experience over another who has none.
  • When showing these items to faculty or administrators during the interview, you may simply mention the courses that you have taught and say that you have brought the syllabi and teaching evaluations if anyone cares to see them.

Prepare a list of your research needs. You can expect to be asked what equipment, space, supplies, and manpower you will need to establish your research program, so it is wise to bring a detailed list along with you to your interview.

  • Coming without a list or having very little idea of what you will need may give the appearance of being unprepared or lacking a research focus.
  • It may be surprising to you that considerable start-up funds are available to new faculty. Most universities expect that they will need to provide some support to help you get your research under way.
  • The time to negotiate this support is when you are hired, because such support may not be available in subsequent years. If no one brings up the topic, then it is recommended that you raise the issue.

Information to Obtain

Keep in mind that each interview is a two-way process: the university is evaluating you for the position, and you are determining whether the position is right for you. Thus, it is suggested that you request information that may be valuable in learning more about the position.

Promotion and tenure guidelines. Request a copy of the written instructions and/or guidelines for Promotion and Tenure Review during your interview.

  • These will be the instructions that you will follow when preparing your promotion and tenure dossier.
  • If you are told that the guidelines are currently under review and being updated, do not be alarmed as most universities do this routinely. They should be able to provide you with a copy of the version being reviewed. This will give you a reasonable idea of their process even though changes may be forthcoming.
  • Be sure to ask which faculty member chairs this review committee so that you may direct your specific questions to that person during your interview.

Institutional Review Board (IRB) guidelines. Each university will have an Institutional Review Board through which all research must be approved.

  • Request an application packet that includes a description of the various types of review, upcoming Board meetings and/or application deadlines.
  • Ask if any faculty in the department currently serve on this Board. If so, you may wish to discuss the IRB process in greater detail with that individual.

Internal funding options. Many universities sponsor internal grant competitions for faculty research.

  • The number of such awards and amount of funding will vary from university to university.
  • The purpose of such awards is often to provide initial start-up funding for new projects that show significant potential for future external funding. Almost always, these awards are competitive.
  • Be sure to ask about such research awards and obtain information that provides eligibility criteria and submission deadlines. Ask how many such awards have been granted to faculty in the department in the past 5 years.

Examples of course syllabi of classes you will be asked to teach. Once you have determined the courses that you are expected to teach, request a copy of the syllabus for each.

  • This will provide you with considerable information about the course content and level of detail, assignments given, required reading, and the grading scale.
  • Talking with the current instructor will be important as well.
  • It may be helpful to have a university catalog that provides course descriptions for each class offered. This will allow you to view the curriculum as a whole and to see how courses are sequenced.
  • If you are being asked to design a new course, a syllabus will not be available. In that case you may ask what documentation and procedures will be required for getting a new course approved by the university.

Committee assignments. Having a list of committee assignments will give you an idea of the amount of committee work that may be expected of you at the department, college, and university levels.

  • It will also provide you with an opportunity to view how the department is organized and which faculty are in key decision-making positions.
  • It is appropriate to ask what each committee handles and if particular committee assignments may be requested.

Advising policy. Faculty are often expected to participate in student advising. At some universities this may be handled by only a few faculty or more experienced students. However, advising in other departments is a major commitment for all faculty.

  • If advising guidelines are available, it may be helpful to see this information. Such a policy is likely to reflect a department's attitude toward students and their guidance in the program.
  • This may provide you with an additional perspective on this issue that might confirm or refute oral reports you receive from faculty, administration, and the students themselves.

Clinic handbook. If your job responsibilities include clinical supervision, you will want to obtain a handbook of clinic policies and procedures from the clinic coordinator. This will provide important information about intervention guidelines or philosophy, reporting client progress, and community referral resources.

Benefits package from Human Resources. The university's Human Resources department will be the best authority on employee benefits that will be available to you.

  • If you do not have an opportunity to meet with a Human Resources expert during your interview, be sure to get a name and telephone number of someone you might talk with when you return home.
  • Request that information be sent to you so you can look over your options carefully before accepting an offer of employment.

Evaluation of the Position, Its Opportunities, and Its Disadvantages

When evaluating a position, the first question to ask yourself is whether a "good fit" exists between you and the prospective department. This is not an easy determination to make because it involves judgments about your own strengths and needs and those of your future colleagues, as well as departmental requirements and resources.

Ideally, your strengths will be useful to the department and your needs will be fulfilled through collaboration with colleagues and on-the-job learning. However, sometimes the departmental needs are such that they do not match well with your areas of strength. Generally speaking, the better the fit, the faster you will succeed in the position.

When you determine that you and your prospective department are a good fit professionally, consider the goodness of fit on a personal level.

  • During your discussions and social interactions with these individuals, do you feel a level of compatibility?
  • Do you share similar interests and values?
  • Do you find it easy to relate to several people on the faculty or only one person? Even if you do not collaborate with some faculty on a day-to-day basis, you will be working with these people on committees, making decisions with them in faculty meetings, and attending departmental functions with them.
  • Overall, you will find your work to be much more enjoyable and fulfilling when you both like your colleagues as people and respect them as professionals.

Opportunities. When evaluating each position, consider the opportunities that are evident for each one.

  • Ask yourself what personal and professional opportunities will be available to you immediately and over time.
  • Even though many opportunities may be obvious in one position, keep in mind that you may make your own opportunities more easily in another.

Disadvantages. Each position has disadvantages that may or may not be evident during your interview.

  • Assessing disadvantages is difficult because sometimes their level of importance is not always evident until you begin the job.
  • Some disadvantages are minor and may even disappear quickly. Others are significant and may be long lasting.
  • Because of the elusive nature of accurately perceiving disadvantages, probably the best you can do is to make a relative comparison of the apparent disadvantages of each position for which you have interviewed.
  • Listing these under the headings of "major" and "minor," you may be able to evaluate the drawbacks of each position in comparison with one another.

Negotiation for the Job

Even before an offer of employment is made to you, negotiation is taking place. For example, during the interview, decisions are being made about what resources will be needed in order to successfully recruit you for the position. Thus, you may find that many of the items or resources that you require will be included in your employment offer.

Rarely is the first offer a firm one with no room for change. It is up to you to decide if the offer is fair, reasonable, and workable for you. If something is unsatisfactory, then a counter proposal from you would be appropriate.

Generally, negotiation is centered in three major areas:

Salary and academic rank. Requests for an increase in salary may be successful if it is perceived as reasonable by administration.

  • If you find that the salary being offered cannot be negotiated, then you might inquire about other benefits that might have financial rewards for you, such as summer teaching opportunities are available to supplement your salary,time for outside private consulting, support for conference travel, or coverage of professional membership fees.
  • If academic rank is negotiable, it is usually based on your prior work as a PhD in another academic setting. If your prior work experience is clinical, then it is less likely that rank would be increased from the entry level of Assistant Professor.
  • Before you begin negotiating an Associate Professor rank, be sure to understand how this may affect your tenure timetable. The tenure time period for associate professors may be shorter than it is for assistant professors. If you decide to negotiate academic rank, be certain that you understand and agree to this timetable.

Teaching responsibilities. This includes not only the courses to be taught, but the number of courses per term.

  • Although specifics about teaching may not be detailed in a contract, it should be clear to you what you will be expected to teach in your first year at the very least.
  • When discussing your teaching responsibilities, also ask about course release time for research, keeping in mind that release during the second or third term may be of greater benefit to you than having it occur during your first term.

Items related to your research program. These include laboratory space, computer hardware and software, research equipment, start-up funds, and so forth. As mentioned earlier, often the best time to get assistance with your research is when you are hired, so don't overlook your start-up needs. Be certain to review the list of items to be provided to you along with a timetable for acquisition, if possible.

This information is adapted from Guide to Success in Doctoral Study and Faculty Work (2002), by Helen K. Ezell. The complete guide is available for purchase from ASHA's Product Sales.

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