Advice on Overcoming the Job Interview

In this recent Chronicle of Higher Education piece, Robert J. Sternberg offers some thoughtful advice to job seekers who are facing an upcoming interview.  Doing well in a job interview is often a matter of preparation, not luck.  All graduate programs should offer their students mock interviews as a way to prepare for professional interviews.


In just thirty minutes or so, search committees—whether consciously or not—evaluate candidates as potential teachers and colleagues.  They are looking for candidates who can speak in an articulate, concise, and engaging way about their own work; for this reason everyone going into an interview should be prepared to offer a two to three minute summary of their dissertation—what it’s about, its historiographical significance, its relation to the “big picture” of history.  Memorizing the job description will also help to prepare a candidate for the inevitable questions about ways to teach the kinds of courses the job will require.   Overall, though, committees extrapolate from the candidate’s ability to maintain eye contact and remain sensitive to the overall social dynamics in the room to a judgment about him or her as a teacher in the classroom.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for a job candidate is to interview as a potential colleague of the search committee members.  By nature, most graduate students are anxious about their job prospects.  They have spent many years studying a narrow slice of history, and they look to their professors for guidance and advice on all manner of things.  Interviewees, on the other hand, should project confidence.  They should be able to link their own dissertation work—its themes, methodology, and evidentiary bases—to different kinds of history, or to the histories of different parts of the world at different times.  They should make it clear that they are committed to being good citizens of the institution that might hire them.  Search committees are looking, not only for promising and scholars and teachers, but also for men and women who will enhance the collegiality of the department.

You can prepare yourself for job interviews by practicing.  If your department does not offer mock interviews for advanced graduate students, you can ask a friend or two to simulate an interview by asking pertinent questions and staying in character for half an hour or so.  Practice might not make perfect, but it can drain the interview of some of the terror that inevitably comes with it.

Readers out there with the courage to share their experiences preparing for job interviews can comment below. We are not looking for complaints, but rather reflections that can help our colleagues on the job market.

- Jacqueline Jones

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  1. Mike Montali

    Helpful information. I’ve found that preparation is the key. I’ve always done intensive research on the employer organization and the interviewers prior to the interview. Understanding the mission, values, and philosophies of the organization is very helpful. Employers want to hire people that genuinely want to work there and doing your research ahead of time can help demonstrate that.

    I’ve also found that asking questions can help you come across as knowledgeable and authoritative. Treat the interview as an opportunity to get to know the organization and understand whether they are a good fit for you. Doing so makes you seem like a wanted candidate that has job options and not someone who is desperate for any job.

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