Montreal Research Group on
Here are some
ideas on putting together a good job talk, based on years of observation,
experiments (failed and successful experiences of my own), and discussions with
colleagues past and present. Below, I focus on the
talk, the Q&A, and the
one-on-one/small group sessions.
And remember, practice, practice, practice. You only get a few
shots a year if you are lucky, so it is better to fall flat on your face in
front of a friendly audience with no stakes, rather than when the job is on the
line. Finally, some additional
thoughts at the end.
Make it clear and well organized—the audience should know where you are
going at each step—using transparencies or computer projection is useful
Make the talk simple enough so that somebody who studies (or does) sewage
maintenance can follow—not all attendees will be in your field—so a
political theorist/Americanist/public administration/whatever should be able to follow your argument.
- What is the puzzle, the question,
that animates your interest and your research?
Identify the relevance of your question—who cares? The talk should be
interesting, not arcane
Be clear about what your argument is and define the limits of its scope—what
is it that you seek to explain and what do you think is important.
Identify some, not all, of the counterarguments/conventional wisdoms you are
Be clear about your variables and methodology—why these cases?
You will not have time to get into the details of your case, nor should you
try, as case studies, unless something is really cool, are likely to bore
the audience. You could highlight a mini-case within one of the cases.
- If using quantitative techniques, explain
the setup of one of your analyses (not all of them), and show a few of the
most interesting results. Your transparency or slide should use, dare
I say it, color, to highlight the most
Wrap up with a summary and the implications for future research,
highlighting your next project.
In the Q&A,
(the most important part in most departments)
Think before answering each question.
Focus on answering each question through the lens of your theory. Use your
theory to highlight what is and is not more important.
- Many questions will essentially ask how
would you do the project if you did it just like the person asking the
Be relatively brief in your answers—most of the audience will have questions
(they want to hear themselves speak) so give them a chance to talk.
It is ok to stay “I don’t know” but not to every question. Be aware of what
your limitations are.
Do not be defensive—people may find flaws in your work that nobody has seen
before. The purpose of this exercise is to see how you think on your feet.
In the one on one or
small group sessions,
ask about money
--the chair will tell you.
- Don't ask directly about
department politics--if there are problems, people will usually tell you,
particularly the individuals causing the problems.
ask about teaching load
if you are interviewing at a liberal arts college or other institutions that
are avowedly serious about their teaching.
about teaching support—not TAs but rather computer projection, funding for
simulations, workshops on teaching, etc.
about the students and show that you are interested in teaching.
can ask about research support but do not obsess about this either
about the town.
about their research and their teaching.
- Ask about the requirements for getting
tenure--the response is usually vague but can highlight a variety of
- Show a genuine curiosity about the place.
Show a sincere interest
without appearing desperate or arrogant.
Be aware of the particular
school for which you are interviewing.
Figure out its priorities and
where you might fit.
Find out what the faculty
members study (at least the ones in your field).
Do not fake who you are, but
been a convention to thank the chair and perhaps others via email upon your
return home--will not affect your status, but is nice.
outcome of the process has something to do with your performance, but there
are a bunch of factors that have nothing to do with you. It is like
poker, in that you can play your hand as best you can, but sometimes the
outcome is beyond your control due to department politics, individual
idiosyncrasies, and the position of Mars relative to Jupiter.
returning home and after you know the outcome, seek out feedback about what
you did right and wrong so that you can do better in the future.