Ph.D. INTERVIEW PREPARATION GUIDE
FOR POSITIONS IN ACADEMIA
By Trina Sego and Jef I. Richards
WHAT THEY ARE LOOKING FOR
There is no way to know specifically what a given faculty member looks for when
interviewing a job candidate. It will vary tremendously from person to person.
However, there are a few things that are common to the objectives of many
- Someone who will fit in with the current faculty. This means, essentially,
someone who has goals and attitudes that are compatible with other members of
that faculty. Of course, this also includes general personality. People like
to hire someone they would enjoy having around. They don't want someone who is
unpleasant to be around, since they may see them daily.
- Someone who has a proven track record. This is an ideal that is not always
possible to meet, but if you have teaching experience, have presented papers at
conferences, have relevant industry experience, and have published one or more
papers, each of these will help you to get an interview. Then, you can expect
much of your interview to focus on these items, as faculty members try to
determine whether those experiences are valuable and legitimate.
- Someone who is ambitious. Few faculty members want to hire someone who is
lazy. The harder you work, the more you will contribute to their program.
- Someone who will stay for several years. Hiring new faculty is a
time-consuming and tiring process, so no one wants to hire a person who will
leave after only 1 or 2 years. In addition, much of a faculty member's value
to a department comes only after a few years experience, so they don't want to
lose you before you make you greatest contributions.
- Someone who can excel at both teaching and research. Even programs
that place greater weight on one than the other tend to want faculty who can do
- Someone who is interested in both teaching and research. In other
words, you don't want to talk about one to the exclusion of the other.
- Someone who is intelligent and adaptable. If another faculty member becomes
ill or leaves, it is important to have others who can step in and cover their
classes, even if those classes are not in your area of expertise.
- Someone who has depth (particular expertise) as well as breadth (general
knowledge of the field). Your depth, typically, is in the area of your
dissertation. But you must know more than just that one area (e.g., media).
Some faculty members may even ask questions designed to determine whether you
have knowledge/interests outside of the field.
- Someone who has a solid education. For example, faculty who are
quantitatively oriented may quiz you about statistics and research methods to
ensure that you have sufficient expertise in those areas to do publishable
WHAT YOU SHOULD EXPECT
Although there are some variations in the hiring process, it is fairly
standardized. The following should give you an idea of what to expect.
- You must apply to programs by submitting your curriculum vitae
(resumé) and probably 3 letters of recommendation. Apply to several,
and don't exclude schools that you think you probably wouldn't like,
because you may be surprised. On the other hand, if you are certain you would
not accept an offer from a particular school, don't waste their time by
- Most programs will receive several applications, then they will sort through
them looking for candidates that seem to meet their particular needs.
- If they decide to interview you, you will receive a call from someone --
usually the department chair or search committee chair -- inviting you for a
- You will probably be asked to pay for everything, and then to submit your
receipts to them for reimbursement. This means that you'd better save room on
your credit card, because you may need to pay for airfare and hotel for every
one of your interviews. And it is not uncommon for a school to take a month or
more to reimburse you. This mean that if you have four interviews in the same
month, you may need enough credit to pay for all of them before you receive
reimbursement from the first one.
- They probably will send you an itinerary, showing your schedule for the
visit. Expect a very full schedule. Usually you are invited for 1 or 1 1/2
days of interviewing, and you'll have something scheduled virtually every
minute of that time.
- Even your meals will likely be with faculty members who are, either formally
or informally, interviewing you.
- Someone -- either a faculty member or a graduate student -- probably will
pick you up at the airport and escort you to your hotel. During the ride they
may informally interview you.
- One of your appointments will normally be with the Dean of the college in
which you interview.
- You will be interviewed by most, if not all, of the faculty in the
department, probably one at a time. We usually schedule at least 30 minutes
with each faculty member.
- If there is someone outside that department you'd like to meet (e.g., because
you might be able to do some joint research with them), be sure to tell your
contact (e.g., the department chair) in the weeks before you go for your
interview. Don't wait until the last minute.
- In most instances you will be required to make a presentation of your
research (usually your dissertation research). This may be a presentation to
all of the faculty, or it may even be open to others who want to hear it.
- Some schools ask candidates to teach a class in lieu of, or in addition to,
the research presentation.
HOW TO PREPARE
There are a few steps you can take in preparation for your interviews:
- When candidates interview with our own faculty, attend their presentation.
This is the single most valuable step you can take in preparation for your own
interview, because you can see what they do right/wrong and the questions that
- Try to make significant progress on your dissertation before you begin
interviewing. A candidate who is farther along is almost always more
impressive. If you are in the proposal stage and you are competing against
someone who already has collected their data, you are at an inherent
- Attend conferences, such as the AAA, AEJMC, and ICA conference, and get to
know people. Even if you have a couple of years before you start searching for
your job, people may take notice of you and watch your progress with an eye
toward hiring you.
- Go through the interviewing process at those conferences.
- Go through the interviewing process at the AMA Summer Educator's Conference,
whether or not you desire a job in a marketing department. This is excellent
practice, some ad programs do interview candidates there, and you might find a
position that really interests you.
- Prepare your presentation carefully.
- Find out how long you will have. I common length of time is one hour, but
that includes time for questions. Consequently, your presentation might be 30
- 40 minutes. Your contact (e.g., the department chair) should be able to give
you some idea how long it should be.
- Plan it so it won't go over the allotted time. Bad planning can result in
people not being able to ask the questions they want, or even missing something
that could help to convince them to hire you.
- Make it easy to understand. Remember that you (should) know the subject
matter of your dissertation better than anyone else, so don't assume that your
audience will know everything you do about the topic. Define your terms,
explain the basics of the theoretical basis of your study, show them what
previous researchers have found, and how your study adds to that knowledge.
Make it simple, but not condescending.
- Spend more time on what you are doing, than you spend discussing what
has been done in the past.
- In only 30 minutes you can't possibly cover everything that is in your
dissertation, so remember that what you are presenting is a summary.
Hit only the high points.
- Be specific. Give plenty of detail about your sampling, questionnaires,
experimental design, analytical methods, etc.
- Use plenty of visuals, and keep them clear and simple. Put all of your
key points on visuals, along with any charts, etc., that will help them to
understand what you are doing. If you will need certain equipment, such as a
slide projector or videotape machine, be sure to let them know well in
- Know exactly what you intend to say, and when you will say it. Have your
presentation absolutely organized. Don't try to handle it on the fly. A
disorganized or awkward organization is not impressive.
- Know precisely how you will handle your visuals, and when you will show
them. Again, you want to avoid the appearance of being disorganized.
- Practice, practice, practice. This should be the smoothest lecture you've
ever given. Faculty members will be watching your presentation with an eye
toward assessing your ability to teach.
- Give a brown bag presentation of your lecture here, before you do it
at any other school. This not only will allow you some additional practice, it
will permit you to obtain some feedback from a "friendly" audience. You may
find that you want to make a few adjustments as a result of that feedback.
- Read through -- and think about -- each of the questions outlined in the next
sections, before you go on your first interview.
SOME QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD EXPECT
It is not uncommon for candidates seeking faculty positions to be asked any or
all of the questions listed below. Think about each of these before you go to
your first interview, so you will be prepared with a cogent and appropriate
In addition, you should expect questions about anything and everything on your
curriculum vitae. And it is quite common to get the same type of interview
questions that you might when seeking any type of job, such as "What is the
last book you read for fun?" or "What are your hobbies?"
- Why do you want to come to [this school]?
- Tell me about your dissertation.
- How far along is your dissertation?
- When do you expect to defend your dissertation?
- What classes do you like to teach?
- What are the strengths/weaknesses of you Ph.D. program?
- What do you think of our curriculum?
- Do you know, or what do you think of, [a specific professor at U.T.]?
- What do you think of qualitative/quantitative research?
- Tell me about your teaching techniques (e.g., group projects, case method,
- How would you teach [a specific class, e.g., media]?
- Are you interested in working with the Ad Club (or taking a team to the AAF
- What specific ideas do you have for improving our Ad Club?
- What do you think of "Integrated Marketing Communications" (or Interactive
Media, or any current "hot" topic)?
- What is your favorite lecture, and why?
- What research do you want to do in the next 5 years?
- In what journals do you expect to publish?
- Tell me about your industry experience (if you have any)? How would you
bring that industry experience to the classroom?
- How important do you feel industry experience is for an advertising
- If you have no industry experience: How do you expect to be able to teach
students about the field if you've never worked in it?
- What is your favorite theory or theorist?
- What do you consider your teaching strengths/weaknesses?
- What do you consider your research strengths/weaknesses?
SOME QUESTIONS YOU CAN (OR SHOULD) ASK
You will be meeting many different people, and will need to be prepared to ask
intelligent questions of each of them. The following are some ideas of what
you can or, in some cases, should ask. They are roughly categorized to
give you an idea of whom you might ask them. In addition, of course, as you
progress through the interview you should constantly try to develop additional
questions based upon what you see or hear.
Search Committee Chair, your contact person, or whoever picks you up at the
Dean of College
- What are you looking for in filling this position? (i.e., what
- Do other faculty members have different expectations/desires regarding what
they are looking for?
- Are there any "land mines" of which I should be aware? [E.g., any topics to
avoid discussing, any faculty members who might be difficult ....]
- What courses are most/least in need of instructors?
- Is there anything I should expect when talking to the Dean? To the Chair?
- How much interaction will an assistant professor have with the Dean?
- What research funds are available at different levels of the university?
- Tell me about the health plan.
- Tell me about the retirement plan.
- Is this position fully funded (or might it disappear before anyone is
- What are the most dramatic changes you expect for the college in the next 5
years? How about 10 years?
- Where do you expect the advertising department/program to be in 5 years? 10
- What is the financial state of the college? Of the department?
- How is tenure approved at different levels of the university
- Is there an annual review of performance for assistant professors, so they
know whether or not they are making adequate progress toward tenure?
- As Dean, you are in the position to see many tenure decisions. What
practical advice would you give to a new assistant professor about securing
- How might you describe the advertising department/program to a fellow
administrator? [I.e., try to assess their attitudes toward the program.]
Department Chair and Senior Faculty
- When does the faculty meet as a group, and for what reasons do they meet?
- What is the teaching load? Will it change over time?
- How many new preps can I expect in the first 3 years?
- How large are the classes? [Ask about specific classes.]
- Do faculty have any input as to when and where their classes meet?
- Is there any teaching relief for service activities such as Ad Club,
directing theses and independent studies, etc.?
- Who makes teaching assignments, and how is that done?
- Is there a sabbatical system? How does it work?
- Are there opportunities to develop new courses?
- Do assistant professors teach graduate courses?
- Which courses are in greatest demand by faculty?
- For which courses does the department have the hardest time finding
- How are graduate student applications evaluated? [Follow up with other
questions about the grad program, if any, such as how many grad students come
from the department's own undergrad program.]
- Where are your undergrad students usually placed? Your grad students?
- What are the strengths/weaknesses of the department?
- What, in particular, are you looking for in filling this position?
Are there different agendas within the faculty?
- What are the most dramatic changes you predict for the department in the next
5 years? 10 years?
- What kind of summer support is available? [Be sure to find out how it is
calculated. Some schools offer 1/6 of salary for teaching a summer class,
while others offer 1/9. And, summer teaching may be available only upon a
- What does it usually take to obtain tenure (e.g., number of publications)?
[Ask specifics about the process, e.g., "A" vs. "B" journals, external
reviewers, number of years before you can go up for tenure, balance of teaching
vs. research vs. service.]
- What are your expectations for tenure?
- Who was the last person to go up for tenure, and what happened?
- What is the role of part-time, adjunct instructors/professors?
- What is the relationship between sub disciplines (e.g., speech &
- How much interaction is there between advertising professors and [journalism,
marketing, PR, etc.] professors?
- How does being housed in [this college or department] affect the advertising
- What travel money is available?
- Are there set limits on such things as phone calls, Xerox copies, etc., that
can be done by a professor?
- How is teaching evaluated? [E.g., student evaluations, peer reviews, etc.]
- Especially if you're a woman: Who is the highest ranking woman in the
- Who is the highest ranking minority in the department/college/university?
- How active is the Ad Club? What involvement do faculty have?
- In what competitions do students compete? [E.g., AAF's NSAC, One Club,
Direct Marketing Assoc., Yellow Pages, etc.]
- Who does advising for undergrad/grad students?
- How many grad/undergrad students are enrolled in the program? Is this number
increasing or decreasing?
- Ask about specific courses, e.g., how they're taught, prerequisites, etc.
- What is the financial outlook for the department/program?
- How are raises determined? [e.g., merit, cost of living, do less active
people get the same raises, etc.]
- What would you like your new hire to teach during their first semester
- Are there an labs for experimental research, or phone banks for survey
research? [More specifics on research facilities?]
- In what areas do you consider this department to be a leader?
- What research are you doing?
- Ask about parking, postage, photocopies, computers, software, long-distance
telephone charges, and office space.
- What classes did you teach in the last year? How many students were in each?
How many preps? How much influence did you have regarding which classes you
taught and when?
- How is your teaching evaluated?
- How are you expected to spend your summers?
- What support do you receive for your classes? [E.g., TA support, AV support,
availability of videos, secretarial support, teaching training, faculty
advise/assistance, supplies, etc.]
- Is there any formal mentoring system for new faculty?
- What support do you receive for research? [E.g., RA support, photocopies,
postage, teaching release, secretarial support, computer & statistical
consulting, grants, etc.]
- Is there a distinction made between "skills" courses and others?
- Do you like living in this city/town?
- Are you satisfied with your benefits? [E.g., health, retirement]
- What do you consider to be the strengths/weaknesses of the department?
- What is your greatest frustration with your job?
- What is your opinion regarding the quality of undergrad/grad students here?
- To what extent do faculty members socialize with one another?
- Where and with whom do you usually eat lunch?
- What service are you involved in?
- What are the expectations regarding service? [Including university service,
community service & professional service.]
- Do you find the journals you need are available in the library? [Other
specifics about the library and research materials?]
- When you teach a course that has been taught before, or is simultaneously
being taught by someone else, are you encouraged to depart from the previous
syllabus? Do you independently select the text used?
- Is consulting encouraged or discouraged?
- How many office hours are required for every hour in the classroom?
- How do you address faculty members? [E.g., "Dr.," "Professor," first name,
- What kind of support do you get from faculty? [E.g., reading &
commenting on your work, research collaboration, helping to secure funding,
- Are you working with anyone in particular? Do you co-author papers
- Which professor serves on the most graduate student committees?
- Do you have more class contact with some professors than others?
- Where do you go when you have questions about research methods? About
theoretical issues? About industry issues? About teaching?
- Do graduate students get travel funds?
- Do graduate students and faculty socialize with one another? When? [E.g.,
eat lunch together, do faculty socialize with particular grad students or as a
- Why did you choose to get your graduate degree at this school?
Faculty Member in Another Department
- You are probably meeting this person because of his/her research interests,
so obviously you want to ask them about their research, support they receive,
whether anyone in Advertising seems interested in their research, etc.
- Do you work with anyone in Advertising? In what capacity? [E.g., research,
committees, team teaching, etc.]
- Would you be interested in collaborating with someone in advertising who had
research interests similar to yours?
- As an outsider, what would you say are the strengths/weaknesses of the
- For someone in the same college or school: What is the relationship between
- For someone in the same college or school: How does being housed in [this
college or school] affect your program's mission?
Last Meeting with the Chair
- Will you be interviewing other candidates?
- Who will make the decision regarding whom to hire?
- What is your timetable for filling this position?
- At this point you may want to clarify: tenure requirements, teaching
requirements, travel money, summer support, computer equipment, etc.
- If you are asked about salary expectations: What salary range has
been established for this position? Aim a little high when you state your
expectation, and back it up with a good rationale.
SOME QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD NOT ASK (UNTIL LATER)
Generally, avoid discussing salary until they bring it up. Don't try to
negotiate your salary when you don't yet have an offer. Not only is it tacky,
they may have one amount in mind before you arrive, and that amount may change
as they learn more about your value to their program. Consequently, unless
they specifically ask you about salary or make you an offer, save those
questions. It may be that you won't get an offer until weeks later. You can
ask the following questions at that time:
- Always thank them for the offer, even if you're not interested.
- Clarify teaching load for the first year.
- What kind of computer hardware/software and office space can I expect? [Ask
for the best, then negotiate down if necessary. You probably won't get another
computer for years.]
- Will moving expenses of your new hire be covered? [Probably not! Generally,
universities only pay moving expenses for high level positions (e.g.,
- In some cases you may want to ask for something special. For example, if you
do experimental research, you may want to try and negotiate for laboratory
space and equipment.
- Is there any summer research support available for a new hire? [Try to get
at least the first summer paid, without teaching, so you can get your research
- How much time do I have to decide? [You should get 2 - 4 weeks. Whatever
you do, don't accept their offer on the spot. Give yourself some time to think
about it, and to check other places you have interviewed, to see if they intend
to extend an offer to you.]
- If salary is lower than expected, say: I am very excited about the prospect
of coming to work here, but I am a little disappointed about the salary. Is
this still open to negotiation?
- If you already have another offer, and it's higher, be sure to tell them.
They may be able to go back to their Dean and get more, using your other offer
- Make the best deal you can, because you will never again be in a
bargaining position unless you have offers to move to another school.
If you decline the offer, be diplomatic. Never burn your bridges. Express
appreciation for the confidence in you as a candidate, and say something
positive about the department. Focus on your personal reasons for declining
- Perhaps it goes without saying, but show a definite interest in each of these
people and in the research/teaching/projects they are doing. People tend to be
more positively disposed to someone who is interested in their work than
someone who shows no interest in it. Where possible, point out how their work
might dovetail with your own, and how there might be an opportunity for joint
- Show a sincere interest in their program/department. I've seen candidates
come to our Advertising Department to interview, and all they talk about is
their research & teaching of journalism classes, without ever mentioning
how that experience would transfer to, or benefit, our department. They seemed
to forget what department they were in! If you're not really interested in
their program, don't interview there.
- Mention ways that you could see yourself contributing to their current
efforts. Talk as if you could see yourself working there, to help them
visualize you working there.
- Tact! Remember that different faculty members have different opinions and
agendas. For example, some feel that classes should focus on giving students
useful skills, while others feel classes should help students learn to think
without any need to teach them practical skills. Be honest, but don't
- Think before you answer a question.
- Be a good listener. Don't talk when someone else is talking.
- Don't call a faculty member by their first name unless they invite you to do
- Be confident and show your knowledge, but avoid arrogance.
- Be nice ... to everyone.
� 1995 Trina Sego and Jef I. Richards