Given the competitive nature of today’s academic job market, an invitation to interview for a position is hardly a guarantee of a job offer. Nonetheless, every interview, whether it leads to an offer or not, is an opportunity -- but it's up to the interviewee to make the most of it.
What can a job candidate do after an interview to improve as an interviewee? This essay offers suggestions on how to make each job interview a valuable learning experience, whether you ultimately land the job or not.
Develop a list of interview questions. Immediately after an interview, take a few minutes to write down every question you were asked before you start to forget them. If you need to continue interviewing, whether during the current job season or later in your career, a list of questions you’ve been asked in the past can help you better prepare for future interviews.
Write down your best answers. As you write down the questions you were asked during your interview, think about which of your answers you were particularly satisfied with or felt were well received by the search committee. Try to recall the exact responses you gave to those questions, and write them out in full to use as future talking points.
Write down “if only” ideas that come to you later. You will fumble through or answer inadequately at least one or two questions you are asked in an interview. Every interviewee has had the experience of realizing at some point after the interview -- while walking out of the building, lying in bed that night or in a meeting the next day -- what the perfect answer would have been to that challenging or unexpected question. When those realizations come to you, write them down for next time.
Think through follow-up questions and answers. Write down the follow-up questions you were asked, and work on developing your responses to these questions. It is relatively easy to predict the initial questions you might be asked during an interview: there will always be standard questions about research, teaching experience and publication history. What is harder to anticipate are the follow-up questions that interviewers may ask in response to your answers. Each interview offers a valuable chance to become better at anticipating follow-up questions, and developing answers to such questions helps you build a wider range of talking points for future interviews.
Refine and practice your talking points. When I was on the job market, I noticed how much better I became at interviewing after I had gone through several first-round interviews. I became more confident and competent in how I spoke about my research and teaching, and better able to answer questions clearly and concisely. Even your best talking points can likely use some improvement in how they are delivered. By writing out your answers to the questions asked during an interview, you also have the opportunity to revise and polish those answers -- and if you continue practicing and improving those talking points, you will feel more prepared for future interviews and appear more confident while interviewing.
Consider what you learned about the department and institution during the interview. In your job search, you may find yourself interviewing at a wide range of institutions -- from small liberal arts colleges to research universities to community colleges. Depending on the type of work you do, you may also interview for jobs in different academic departments. (For example, a scholar of Latinx literary history might interview with an English department at one institution and an ethnic studies department at another.)
You’ll notice that the needs, expectations and cultures of different institutions and departments can vary considerably, and you can use this knowledge to think about how to tweak your talking points depending on where you are interviewing. Keep a list of observations about your experiences interviewing with different institutions and departments and use it to inform how you prepare for future interviews.
Send thank-you notes. Although it is highly unlikely to influence the search committee in any way, it is worthwhile to send a thank-you email to the chair of the search committee and ask them to pass along your thanks to the rest of the group. Serving on a search committee is an enormous amount of work, and you can acknowledge that by thanking committee members for taking the time to meet with you. Remember that, at any interview, the best-case scenario is that your interviewers will soon be your colleagues. As such, you want to appear collegial and professional and give the impression that you are somebody others would enjoy working with.
Don’t give up. Do not despair if you don’t get a job offer or even a call back for a second interview. For any academic position to which you apply, you probably are one among hundreds of applicants. In such competitive searches, there are often many well-qualified -- even exceptional -- candidates for just one position.
Certainly, every job candidate should give some consideration to how long they are willing to stay on the market and what alt-ac careers they might pursue should they not find a position within a given time frame. But an “unsuccessful” interview -- or two or three -- might be just the experience you need to land a job the next time around. Treat your interviews as valuable learning experiences, and you will become a stronger candidate with each interview you complete.