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.
Amer Zeiden, MBBS, MHS
he 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.
The focus of the second interview is usually to address any remaining questions; during the second visit, you will generally meet with several leaders from the institution (eg, department chief, cancer center director); learn additional details about the position (eg, salary, benefits, start-up funds), and go on a real estate tour of the area if you have not already done so. Most negotiations occur after the second interview, although this sometimes happens after the first interview. You should be able to distinguish what is negotiable (eg, start-up funds, research protected-time) from what is not (eg, salary and benefits) and make sure these line up with your expectations and your priorities. Take note of any deal-breakers.
There will rarely be a third interview; this is more common when applying for advanced positions. If there is a third interview, it is usually just to iron out final details after both parties have indicated preliminary approval. The second and third visits are usually good times to find housing in the area.
Know your CV by heart
This might seem like a no-brainer, but there is nothing worse during an interview than feeling or appearing clueless about a paper or a poster in your CV on which an interviewer asks you to elaborate, even if that work was done a long time ago. Be prepared to talk about anything on your CV—from a poster you presented in medical school, to charity work, to hobbies you have listed. I experienced interviews in which most of the 30 to 45 minutes were spent talking about the hobbies on my CV.
Be sure to review your CV the night before the interview to make sure your mind is fresh about any items you may have forgotten about over time. Be prepared to explain any gaps in your CV convincingly and address any concerns.
Do your homework
During each day of interviews, you could meet separately with as many as 12 to 15 different faculty members for 30 to 60 minutes each. This may include chatting over lunch or dinner.
Be familiar with the research focus and work of each of your interviewers. Make sure to obtain a list of persons you will interview with from the visit coordinator. If a final list or itinerary is unavailable,
ask for the preliminary list so you can look each person up via Google, PubMed, etc. Those you interview with will expect you to show interest in their work and they will be happy to discuss their work with you and explore opportunities for collaboration. Write down the major points for each interviewer on your itinerary, especially if you are scheduled to meet with many people.
Additionally, be prepared to ask questions. You will undoubtedly be asked if you have questions during the interview, and you should show interest by asking a question or two. In addition to knowing your interviewers, you should know major highlights about the institution, city, etc. For example, during one of my interviews at a university with a major team in college football, the subject of their team came up several times in conversation. Unfortunately, I didn’t know much about college football. I can tell you now that I should have been better prepared on this subject!
Go with the flow
Be prepared to stay on message in terms of showing why you are a good fit for the position you are interviewing for, but go with the natural flow of the interview. Don’t force subjects that may not be of particular interest to the interviewer. There will be a significant amount of repetition involved during the many interviews you take part in, but you should always make sure to be, look, and act fresh and engaged. Be sure to explain to the interviewers why you are a good fit for the institution and why you are a precious talent that they can’t afford to let go.
Be courteous and respectful
Finally, be courteous and respectful to everyone. This includes secretaries, coordinators, drivers, and anyone else that you meet during interviews. Say thank you, show appreciation, and be attentive to what non-faculty staff tell you. Word usually travels fast around the institution about how nice, or not so nice, of a person you are.
Don’t be late
Never arrive late for an interview. Unless you have a really good reason, arriving late to an interview is rude and could reflect negatively on your chances of landing the position you are interviewing for.
Good luck, everyone!