A while back, I did a couple posts on the job market from the other side: in general, a bit more specifically, the calendar, and a question/answer/link post.
And here's the academic job wiki page.
Editing to add: Look at this great post on job interviews over at Tenured Radical's place!
Today, I want to talk about job talks. There are several sorts of job talk, the give us a paper talk, the answer a topic question talk, and the teach this class section talk. In my experience at SLAC and regional schools, I was usually asked to answer a topic question and teach a class. I'm guessing that more research oriented schools are more likely to ask candidates to give a paper.
If you're asked to give a paper, I'm guessing your department is looking for two things, brilliance and understandability. Your potential colleagues, I'm guessing, are hoping that you'll be able to translate your brilliance into terms they can understand, even if they haven't mastered Zizek or Gower or whatever.
What's far more important to me are the topic question talks and teaching a class section talks. Let me say, every topic question talk I've ever seen is utterly bizarre. They're always something along the lines of "discuss the importance of teaching poetry in a school of engineering," or "explain how your work fits into the broad field of so and such," or "why does this field fit in a school of liberal arts." Don't take the questions personally; they're nuts, but they're nuts in important and interesting ways. Too often, there's one "right answer" for the job, and you probably know what it is: if you're materials science program is at a liberal arts school, then the right answer is basically that the liberal arts are vital to educating people in materials science. Sometimes that feels either adversarial or preaching to the choir.
But, these questions usually give the candidate the opportunity to show that s/he understands audience contexts. So my first suggestion is to do your research. If you're talking to a liberal arts place, look at what they have to say about the liberal arts and look at what the AAC and U says about the liberal arts. Make sure you have a quick and dirty definition that gets across the basics in a way that will make sense to the people you're talking to. And if you're talking to the engineering school, then figure out what they and their professional groups have to say about communication and such, and work from there. (And if you decide that you don't want their job based on your research, then that's important to know, too.)
Here's what I think people are looking for with these questions. Can you communicate with other folks on campus about what's important to you and your potential department, and can you communicate in ways that will work with their students? Can you make sense of something bizarre and do something useful with it (vital for most committee work). Do you understand what sort of place you've applied to, and are you really ready and prepared for that work?
The teach a class questions are more explicitly about your ability to communicate with and motivate students.
So here are my big suggestions:
Be VERY organized. Map and signal! These talks tend to be in the late afternoon when everyone is tired, and if you're hard to follow, they're not going to be happy.
Be concrete about examples, especially related to teaching and research! A lot of folks like to think in terms of goals/objectives for an assignment and then of ways to get there, so it can be useful to set those out a bit. Be ready to talk specifically about assignments in different classes at different levels.
For example, I do an assignment where I ask students to look up a single article on a text and write an accurate summary of the article in two pages or so. I want students to practice using the MLA or other academic index and to practice reading carefully and summarizing accurately. Secondarily, I want students to begin to get a sense of how critical arguments work, so that assignment may lead into (or be combined with) outlining the argument at some point. I do this assignment in a lower level class where I want to begin building research skills without being overwhelming, and where most assignments are close-reading oriented. Then if I can talk specifically about how I teach summary skills to prepare students for the assignment, and how students demonstrate reading and summary skills in a concrete way, I can show what the assignment's trying to do and how it works pretty well. You don't have to use assessment language (I don't! and I hate assessment language), but showing that you're aware of having goals and teaching students how to succeed might be useful.
Run short. Seriously, at 5 pm, no one is going to complain that you've timed your 45 minute talk out to 35 minutes to leave time for questions. If you're talk is incredibly good, you'll get plenty of questions. But no one will be sorry that it's a little short. (This is especially true in departments with a variety of fields, such as foreign languages. The X field profs want to know that you can teach Y field and make it sound fascinating, but they probably really aren't that thrilled with Y or it would already be their field. In most departments, you aren't just talking to people in your sub-field.)
Be flexible. If you have a powerpoint, have a back up plan for something not working. Have it on a flashdrive and a cd. Be ready to teach in a classroom with or without chalkboards. On any given day, every teacher runs into obstacles. If you can show your potential colleagues that you'll go around the obstacle and not make their lives miserable in the process, that's good. Your potential colleagues will recognize that you're under a lot of stress, and seeing someone handle a difficulty gracefully under stress is doubly impressive.
Answer questions. Make sure you've understood the question, and make sure that you answer it concretely. If you don't have a good answer, it's probably better to say so and posit a conditional answer rather than blathering on about something else for ten minutes. Yes, there are tough questions. I always hate the "should we have a Shakespeare requirement?" question because it's a landmine. But if you've done your homework and seen that the department doesn't have a Shakespeare requirement, you should be work with that. If it does, then be aware that the requirement may be a source of tension.
Questions or other suggestions?