#Dispatches From the Front: Interview Advice for and by International Scholars

Dispatches From the Frontlines is our weekly advice post based on the crowdsourced wisdom of our wonderful readers. Each Monday, we crowdsource a question we get from a reader on Facebook and Twitter with a link to a google form. You share YOUR experience, insight or advice from your own career using the google form. We collect the responses and share them in a post. We explain more here about confidentiality (guaranteed of course), etc. Find us on Twitter with the hashtag: #AcademicDispatches.

Read to the bottom for our new question for this coming week.

Today, responses to the question: I am an international scholar as are many of the people in my department, so it is challenging to prepare for job market interviews. I know you recommend not memorizing answers to avoid sounding like a robot. I would love to know how other non-native English speakers prepare to not sound too rehearsed for standard questions or to handle unexpected questions, which can be quite challenging.

There are some great tips here from 5 respondents.

First off, the question of memorization. Basically don’t memorize blocks of text, but rather responses to specific questions, which you then must PRACTICE, over and over, until they are second nature:

I didn’t memorize my answers, but I did type them out so I at least knew what my ideal answer would be. From there I would practice my answers—out loud—in the shower, around the house, in the car. That helped me get used to the sound of my own voice, practice the physical formation of the words with my mouth, tongue. Of course, during the interview I was nervous and didn’t get it perfect, but more of my Skype interviews turned into campus interviews than not. (Assistant Prof, Social Sciences; single cisgender white female, age 51; went on the job market in my 40s)

This respondent says the same: Memorize themes, not specific answers. And, use FLASH CARDS!

Im on the job market as well and a non native speaker of English and my department isn’t the most helpful when it comes to advice for campus interviews. Considering that more than half of the department is foreign national you’d think we all support each other and faculty would support their grad students but no. My advice as a non-native English speaker is memorize themes rather than questions per se. Like : questions to ask everybody, specific questions for the dean/ questions for you: what do YOU want to know etc. And I have a couple flash cards you can look at during breaks. I crucially lacked this kind of info last year and I am learning from it. (Grad Student, Humanities; Early 30s white cis female on the job market Humanities)

Don’t forget that it’s not just a matter of words, but of your STORY: who are you? Construct a consistent and linear identity. As I say in my job market workshops, you want to make yourself into a “package”–so that your research, teaching and service emphases and outcomes all feed into a single consistent narrative that is easily and consistently recalled by all interviewers when they debrief after the fact.

First figure out what your storyline is. Who are you as a scholar? That will help you in creating consistency in your answers. Instead of sounding like a robot, you will have a few common themes to tap into (your research ,your teaching, your visions).

Another tip: when you PRACTICE (again!), film yourself to see what you can do better.

Start practicing early. You can film yourself answering typical job interview questions. Watch the films and see where you could do better. This is even more fun if you do it with a friend. Interview each other, film the answers, and give each other feedback. (Grad Student, Social Sciences; I am a PhD Candidate in Anthropology. I’m white, so I got that going for me. But people still notice my accent and usually ask me where I’m from, and I’m not always as quick in thinking on my feet when I have to do it in my non-native language.)

Nobody is saying it’s easy to have to watch yourself on video! It isn’t! (I, Karen, took about a year of Facebook Lives and Webinars before I got used to it). But it’s worth it.

I definitely don’t want to sound over rehearsed – I use bullet points like I would in a powerpoint presentation in index card kind of format to make it easy to flip through. I also make a video which I then listen to (I hate this as I am not fond of hearing my voice in this way. But, I have found it to be quite useful) (Grad Student, Humanities, 30, Indian).

And, to wrap up…. PRACTICE. But not just with your one good friend, but with a range of people so that you can get used to different approaches.

Practice! Have your colleagues (native- and non-native speakers of English) act as the interviewers. Do lots of practice interviews with different people until you feel more comfortable answering on the fly.

Shout-out to this respondent, who decided to set up their own job market workshop! Well played!

Motivated by my own frustration with the lack of mentoring I received as a grad student and junior faculty member, I have developed and run “survival skills workshops” for 20 years for doctoral students on (among other topics) getting a job, and for the last 7 years have run a 3-day workshop for incoming faculty in my college to de-mystify and facilitate the first years of a being a faculty member. (Tenured Prof, STEM; Former department head, former associate dean)

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Question for this coming week: People who have served on search committees! What do you wish candidates knew, that they continually don’t know? What do you wish candidates would do differently? What core pieces of advice would you give?

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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.

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