Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Job Search - Practice!

Here at NWU, we recently hired some post-docs on a limited contract to help teach (mostly) comp.  It's a compromise, as are so many things in academics these days, but it helps us reduce the class sizes in our first year comp program to 20 (from 28) for most classes.  And so we did it.

Part of our rationalizing is that we're hiring these folks with a commitment to mentoring them and giving them some support and so on.  I'm not hugely hopeful, but it is what it is.  Our chair has taken the lead on this, and done a really good job, I think.  So the other day, one of these folks gave a practice job talk; we listened (and it was interesting), and then asked job talk sorts of questions, and then did a debriefing.

Today, another faculty member and I are giving someone a practice interview.  We've got some of the same sorts of interview questions we talked about here in a previous post.  And we'll try to be helpful.

Doing the practice talk got me thinking about how important practice is.  But I recognize that a lot of grad programs don't have a formal way of doing practice interviews or practice talks.  Obviously, it's a great help if you can get some faculty to do them.  But even if you can't, if you can get a small group of grad students, you could give each other a lot of help and learn a lot.

You can start with interviews.  You could even use some of the questions in that previous post.

And while it's good practice for the interviewee, for sure, I think it's probably even better as a learning opportunity for the fake interviewers because it puts you in the position of listening for the response, and realizing what sorts of responses are effective for you as a listener, and what aren't.

The same goes for the practice job talks.  You'll learn as much by listening as you will by giving a practice talk.  And as you're listening, make sure you're thinking hard about the sorts of questions you can ask the speaker.

Then, for both the practice interview and talk, debrief and talk about what the person did well, and what could be done better.  Practice some of the questions to ask your interviewers.

I'm thinking that talking a bit about job talks would be helpful?  Next, perhaps?  And some campus visit stuff?  Should all that wait until after finals, or should we get it out there and start thinking about it?


  1. PRactice, practice, practice! At the moment, I am procrastinating grading the final exam I gave last night In my senior seminar on professional writing, we ended with a unit on job search materials, and the final exam was a series of paired practice interview questions. It was illuminating. Every single person--with the exception of the retired doctor who is back in school getting hir 2nd degree--needs to learn to tell better stories in answer to questions (they tended to simply say thing like "I learned to work at a team when I held a position at the Widget Corp last summer" rather than telling a (short and focused) story about how they functioned on a team at Widget Corp. Just practicing with friends would be good.

  2. I should say, too, that as a search committee member, I understand that people will be stressed out. I will do my best to open the interview in a friendly manner and I hope that we will all settle into the conversation. I don't think we expect perfection. But interviews are a proxy for what kind of explainer/teacher someone is. So I do look for evidence of thoughtful preparation.