I've spent a lot of time lately listening to job talks. Trust me, it's an education. And since I've learned a few things, I thought I'd share.
1) Time. If the committee doesn't give you a time limit for your talk, look at the time alloted in your schedule for the talk. Split it in half, so that your audience will have time to ask questions. Then cut that by one third, and write up your talk. Everyone in the ed biz knows that once you "know your stuff," you can elaborate on things, and will tend to add in as you talk.
Corollary: if you are asked to give a 20 minute talk, and your talk runs 19 minutes, no one will complain. This is especially true at MLA.
2) Structure your talk. Make your points, and make your points clear. You can't teach an audience everything you know in 20 minutes, or 200 minutes. And that's not your job on the job talk. If we've invited you for the job talk, we KNOW you know your stuff. We want to know that you can communicate, that you can bring forward the most useful points in a given situation. Choose what you think are the mosts important 2-4 points, and make sure you communicate them clearly to your audience.
3) Know your audience. If you're talking to an English department, you can assume everyone's read Hamlet, perhaps. You can't assume we've all read The Spanish Gypsy. So fill us in where you need to in order to make your point. Pay attention to your audience: if everyone's squirming, you've either gone on too long or there's a flea infestation. In either case, you should finish up fast.
4) After one or two job talks, it becomes really apparent that everyone in the field has read the same several books. Some job talkers teach me to think about the issues in the books in more interesting ways, perhaps even critiquing something important. Some job talkers refer to the books as if they're doing a high school book report. Do the former, not that latter.
5) Don't undercut yourself. You can say all the nice words you want about appreciating diversity in the faculty/staff, student body, and curriculum, but if all your examples of student interactions come from the men's glee club, or your sole example about teaching comes when you say "we all have kids" and then talk about coaching the boy's sailing team, you're hurting main argument.
6) Humor. If you're going to use self-deprecating humor, it works best when you play with an obvious strength. Chaucer making fun of himself as a narrator is funny. Making a joke about how you always talk too long after talking for 45 minutes isn't nearly as funny. But unless you're doing a job talk for a comedy club, it's not really about the humor. Or the powerpoint. (Leave it at home, PLEASE!)
That's it, folks! Bardiac's rules for not losing yourself the job at the job talk.