How to Prepare for Interviews for Your First Academic Faculty Job

Amer Zeidan, MBBS, MHS
Published: Sunday, Jan 11, 2015

Amer Zeiden, MBBS, MHS

The big moment has arrived. After many years of medical school, residency, and fellowship training, you have finally been invited to interview for your first academic faculty job at your top-choice institution. All your past hard work culminates into excitement about this great opportunity. You will finally have the chance to show potential future employers your true worth and what you are capable of achieving. However, this excitement is usually accompanied by significant anxiety and uncertainty about how to best prepare for the interview that will be extremely influential in landing your dream job.

Based on recent experience, I would like to share some helpful pointers with senior hematology/oncology fellows who are preparing for their first academic job interview. My article focuses on how to prepare for an interview after your mentors, faculty advisors, and program directors have hopefully helped you get invited to interview at your favorite institutions. These points are directed at first-time clinical-research faculty position interviews, as this is what I have just gone through. Nonetheless, the same general principles apply to interviews for basic science faculty, private practice, and industry jobs.

Be prepared to commit a significant amount of time to the interview process

Academic job interviews usually involve 2 or 3 separate visits to the inviting institution (assuming the first visit goes well). Each visit usually involves a day or two of interviews and an invitation to dinner the night before. Interview visits are usually separated over the course of a few months, and usually require 3 to 4 days of your time (including the days of arrival and departure).

Although you may be able to fly in the night prior to an interview and leave the following evening, it is usually difficult to schedule interviews with all “must-see” faculty and leadership in a single day. During your last year of fellowship, you should have the flexibility to dedicate at least 1 week each month to interviews.

Try not to commit to too many interviews with different institutions

Try not to interview with too many institutions at once. Unlike the residency and fellowship interview process, where many applicants interview with 10 to 15 different institutions, the ratio of invited candidates to open academic positions following fellowship is much lower; usually not more than 4 to 5 invitees per job. Interviewing with 3 to 5 institutions is usually sufficient (assuming that you are a good candidate).

Understand that the interview process can be logistically, mentally, and physically exhausting. Most institutions will conduct an extensive screening process. Expect institutions to review recommendation letters, contact your references, and conduct a phone interview with you before extending you an invitation for an in-person interview. If you are invited for an in-person interview (especially a second interview), chances are good that the institution has a genuine interest in you and would like to offer you the job.

Prepare to adapt to a variety of types of interviews

First, second, and third interview visits usually have different focuses. The first visit is generally intended to ensure that you would be a good fit for the institution’s program as a person (in addition to your work/research). Most academic institutions will ask you to give a 30- to 45-minute presentation about your research during your first visit (or sometimes during the second visit) to assess your presentation skills in addition to the quality of your research. Make sure to practice your presentation a few times prior to the interview, know your slides well, and be prepared to field questions. Know who will be in the audience—you can ask the interview coordinator— as the degree of introductory material, complexity, and other aspects of your presentation should vary significantly based on who is attending (eg, medical students attending vs faculty experts only).

The first interview should also allow you to gain as much information about the institution as possible, in a courteous and respectful way, of course. Never show negative reactions to anything you learn during the interview (eg, clinical time commitment, salary) even if you don’t like what you are hearing.

Instead, be observant and collect as much information as you can. You will have plenty of time to process the information after your visit to decide if you are interested in a secondlook. If you decide not to return to the institution, be respectful in your response and inform them as early as possible so they may consider other candidates.

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