Interviewing and Confidence

This past week I did a handful of “Interview Bootcamp” sessions with clients, and will soon have many more.  People are starting to look ahead hopefully to the pain and the glory of conference interviews and campus visits.

And it got me thinking about interviewing. What’s a good interview, and what’s a bad one?

There are many places on the web that you can find lists of potential academic interview questions. Here’s one to start. I may well post my own such list some time in the coming weeks.

But for today, I don’t want to talk about lists of questions, and how to prepare for them. I want to talk about attitude.

Because, in the end, it’s attitude that makes or breaks the interview.

Basically, in a nutshell, confidence sells. And desperation smells. Before any interview, no matter how brief, you must put yourself into the mindset that you ARE worthy of the job.

What does that mean? It means believing, at a core level, that you:

are a first class intellectual

have something important to say

are a major player in your field

are poised to challenge orthodoxies in the discipline

are excited to get your ideas into the public realm

love to share your ideas with students

are equal to any classroom situation

find inspiration in others’ work

believe that you can contribute to a department

believe your discipline brings critical insight to the human enterprise

Yes, the job market is awful. No, there aren’t enough jobs for the candidates who need them. Desperation would be a natural outcome. But desperation will cost you your chance for the job you want. The fact is, self-confidence gets jobs.  And self-confidence is displayed by a calm and friendly but firm assertiveness of manner.

You do not apologize, you do not make excuses, you do not pander or flatter or laugh too much or twist your hands.  You simply remember that you ARE the expert in your field.  You DO know how to teach.  Your discipline IS important and fascinating, you ARE qualified to go toe to toe with the very leaders of your scholarly world.   Don’t cave, and for God’s sake, call your interviewers by their FIRST NAMES!  You belong!  You’re one of them!

The most important thing?  That you retain your sense of dignity and self-worth.  Yes, the job market is awful. But no, you do not therefore have to grovel.  You will survive with or without this job.  Maybe poorer, maybe sadder.  But you’ll survive.

So hold your head up, straighten your shoulders, turn your sense of humor back on,  and remember:  you ARE good enough, whether you have a tenure track job, or not.

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.


Interviewing and Confidence — 7 Comments

  1. Commendable article. Just one minor comment though: Not so sure that calling your interviewees by their first names immediately will be a good idea, especially in the continental European academic context.

    • fair enough—-Europe is different, as are many parts of the world outside the U.S., and may well require more formality.

      My advice is ALWAYS geared to a U.S. context, although I don’t always make that explicit. In the U.S., calling a search committee member “Professor So-and-So” could well instantly eradicate any chance you had of getting hired. Because it instantly situates you as a graduate student and not a professional/potential peer.

  2. Hello Karen,
    I love your blog and work, thank you! One quick question. Does this “not calling them by title” apply when writing cover-letters and in email correspondence?

    Keep up the brilliant work,


    • yes it does. do NOT refer to them as “professor X” in your letter, in sentences such as “The job at U of X appeals to me because of the potential to collaborate with faculty such as Nelson and Morris.” NOT Professor Nelson and Professor Morris!

  3. Just had a round of interviewers, repeating that mantra has been so helpful. I’m in biomedical sciences but it still applies and really helps with asserting the self-confidence I lacked in the past in interviewers. Have had two interviews so far and have been beyond pleased with how I have been able to exude confidence and keep my cool. Thank you!

  4. Pingback: 40 Interview Tips (Complete List) | Any Intern

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