Everybody knows that interviewing for a graduate or post-graduate position involves prep work. You want to be sure to effectively communicate that you are a polished, serious candidate. In addition to preparing your answers to expected questions, you may need to practice a job talk, teaching demonstration, or give an informal summary of your previous work. However, you can make that work a little easier by following these simple tips. For all you academic job hunters, also check out this article on the cardinal sins of interviewing.
Practice your elevator pitch.
Although this step is not necessarily easy, this step can reduce your prep work in other areas. The amount of time it takes to relay your elevator pitch should be extremely short (e.g., less than 3 minutes). Your elevator pitch should be the response to “Tell me a little about yourself” and “Why did you apply here?” If you can concisely summarize the answer to those two questions, you will find that your response to a variety of different questions will relate to your reason for applying and how you choose to sell yourself. For example, if you are applying to a research-heavy institution, your elevator pitch should contain information about research–yours and theirs. When you answer other questions, (e.g., “What are your research interests?”, “What areas of collaboration do you foresee?”), your answer will be strongly tied with why you applied there and how you describe yourself. Although you still need to prep for other questions, a well planned elevator pitch can include the prep work for a multitude of other questions.
Leave large jewelry at home.
If you tend to wear jewelry on a regular basis, wear minimal jewelry. You don’t want to be tempted to touch or fidget with your jewelry at all during the interview, which can be very distracting for others. I once observed an interviewee incessantly fidgeting with her large, dangly earrings–don't do that. Even if you wear a ring and nothing else, you don’t want the interviewers to constantly look at how you fidget with your hands the entire time.
Buy hand-warmers or tissues.
Research shows that feeling physical warmth can lead to changes in social thinking (Williams & Bargh, 2008; Steinmetz & Mussweiler, 2011). For example, people who briefly held a warm cup of coffee were more likely to rate another person as having a “warm” personality than were people who held a cup of iced coffee ( Williams & Bargh, 2008). Therefore, if you tend to be cold all the time, you can hide your hands in your pockets to stealthily warm them up before you shake anyone’s hands. If you tend to get sweaty palms, put a tissue in your pocket to absorb any moisture prior to shaking someone’s hand.
Prep good questions.
People love talking about themselves. So prep some questions to get people talking about their university, work place, research, or teaching. Two of my favorite generic questions include: “Why do you love working at [university/school/institution]?” and “What are some of the great things happening at [university/school institution?” Try to keep the line of questioning positive. For example, don’t ask them “What are some of the departmental problems that need addressed?” Instead ask them, “Where does the department see itself in 10 years? How would the ideal applicant contribute to that vision?”
Prep your thank-you notes ahead of time.
If you know your interview itinerary ahead of time, you can bring a stack of thank-you notes with you already addressed and stamped. After your interview, you can finish writing each thank-you note while the interview was fresh in your memory. This can be an excellent preparation step for your interview ahead of time, as it will force you to familiarize yourself with the faculty pages of each interviewer and the department’s website in general. If you do not have an itinerary ahead of time, still bring a stack of thank-you notes and use your time when you’re back in your hotel room to look up the address of each interviewer. Send the thank-you notes directly from the hotel or as soon as you have access to a post-office box to ensure that your notes of gratitude are sent as soon as possible to the committee while you are still fresh in their memory. If sending a hand-written note isn’t your style, you can be sure to have the e-mail drafts prepped and ready to go, too. Try to send them no later than 24 hours after the interview but not too soon (i.e., within minutes of the interview).