A 4-step plan for preparing for your first academic interview

Scaling the Ivory TowerYour job market year is mostly spent putting together job portfolios, meticulously crafting standout cover letters and curriculum vitae, and submitting numerous, possibly even hundreds of job applications. Despite this arduous work, the most vital component of the job market process has not yet occurred: the actual interview.

Successful interviews involve practice and preparation. You can practice generic interview skills at a mock interview, the benefits of which I’ve outlined in my previous blog article. This post will outline some areas to focus on when preparing for initial interviews.

Receiving an academic job offer generally involves two types of interviews: The first, or initial,

  1. The first, or initial, interview is shorter. It usually involves only you and the search committee. If you are successful in this first interview, you’ll move onto a second interview.
  2. The second interview frequently involves a campus visit, where you interview with more of the faculty. You may also interview with some of the school’s administrators. Tips discussing preparation for the campus visit interview are reserved for my next blog post.

In the economics field, initial interviews are generally conducted at the Allied Social Science Association (ASSA) meetings in January. Preparing for these interviews begins the moment you receive a call for an interview request. This brief call should give you information concerning the interview, including the following:

  • the date and time of the interview,
  • the location of the interview
  • the interviewers that will be present.
  • an interviewer’s contact information in the event that you need to reach them while at the conference.

If the caller does not volunteer some of this information, be sure to ask for it.

Setting the date and time of the interview

While you do not have control over the location of the interview or the interviewers that will be present, you do have some control of the date and time of the interview. Of course, all potential jobs are important at this point, as you still have not received a job offer. However, you will want to schedule the jobs that interest you the most at a time where you tend to be most alert. For many people, this means scheduling preferred interviews early in the day before fatigue sets in. This is especially important for individuals conducting a wide job search who receive a large number of interviews all scheduled to take place at the conference.

If this is not possible, just be sure to allow a large enough break between interviews to regroup and prepare.

Determining the sequencing of your interviews

You also have some control over the locational sequencing of your interviews. If your schedule begins to fill, or if you expect it to fill, it is best to utilize a city map when scheduling to ensure there is enough time to get to one interview from another. While the conference has a main hotel, the interview rooms for schools are often located elsewhere.  Most off-site interviews will take place in nearby hotels. Some will require a lengthy walk. The last thing you want to do is to show up late to an initial interview.

Preparing for the interview itself

Now to the content of the interview, where you only have control over your own answers. You have 30 – 60 minutes to convince the search committee to extend you an invitation for a second interview following the conference. Your answers, therefore, need to be coherent, informative, and persuasive.

This is where you will need to “do your homework.” You should have already researched the school somewhat when applying for the job. Now, however, you need to up the intensity of your efforts and refresh your memory. You should become very familiar with the specifics of the job you are interviewing for and be sure to highlight how your interests and experiences fill that role.

Becoming familiar with your interviewers

If you followed the advice from above, you will know who will be in the room in the initial interview. You should become familiar with the interviewers’ research and teaching interests. There is a chance that you have some work in common with one or more of these individuals. This gives you the chance to sell yourself as a potential collaborator. It also gives them something to remember about you specifically.

You should become familiar with the goals of their department, school, or college and emphasize how your work would contribute to those goals. This not only highlights your own achievements, but it also signals your interest in their school. Campus visits are costly and job searches are costly. Even if you are a stellar candidate for their position, you will not receive a second interview request if your interviewers feel you might decline their job offer in the end.


This may seem like a significant amount of work for a such a short amount of time. It may be especially difficult for those with many interviews in a few short days. Obviously, time is a scarce resource that you must allocate wisely. The amount of time you put into preparing for each interview should be a function of the number of interviews you have.  The fewer interview opportunities you receive, the more prepared you should be for each interview.

The first interviews are the beginning of the end of your job market year. They present the schools’ first attempt to filter through their hundreds of applications. You were selected because your job portfolio signaled to them that you are a potentially good fit for their position. The first interview gives you a chance to highlight relevant aspects of your work and experience that may not be obvious to employers reading through your job portfolio. Your goal is to convince them that their intuition was correct. A successful initial interview leads to a campus visit.

And a successful campus visit leads to a job offer.


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