Every year graduate students, recent graduates, and postdocs to make the rounds on the academic job interview circuit. When you’re looking for a faculty position at a college or university in this difficult academic job market, it’s easy to forget that your job is to evaluate how well the position matches your needs. In other words, you should ask questions during your academic job interview. Why? First, it shows that you’re interested and attentive. Second, it shows that you’re discriminating and won’t just take any job that comes along. Most importantly, it’s only by asking questions that you’ll obtain the information that you need to decide if the job is really for you.
Questions to Consider
The following are various questions that you can examine and custom fit for your specific interview:
- How is the university organized? What are the major units and administrators of the school and what are their responsibilities? What does the organizational flow chart look like? (Note that you should do your homework beforehand and be somewhat familiar with the university; ask additional questions to clarify your understanding.)
- How are departmental decisions made?
- How often are departmental meetings held? Are decisions made in departmental meetings? Who is eligible to vote on departmental decisions (e.g., all faculty or only tenured faculty)?
- May I have a copy of the departmental annual report?
- What’s the relative importance of teaching, research, and service for promotion and tenure?
- What is the average time that faculty members spend in each academic rank? How long is it before assistant professors are reviewed for promotion and tenure?
- What is the nature of the tenure review process?
- About what percent of faculty receive tenure?
- Can grants be used to supplement salary?
- What type of retirement program is there? What percentage of the salary goes to retirement? What does the school contribute?
- What type of health program exists? What are the costs and benefits?
- How many undergraduate and graduate students are presently in the department? How are their numbers changing?
- Tell me about your student population.
- Where do the undergraduate students go after graduation?
- What kinds of technology are available in the classroom?
- How well does the library meet departmental needs? Are the reserves adequate?
- What courses are you looking to fill?
- How do the department and university support the improvement of teaching?
- What are the department’s research strengths and weaknesses?
- What are the department’s plans for growth and hiring?
- What resources for research are available within the department (e.g., computer facilities, equipment)
- Is there a research office on campus to help faculty write grants?
- How important is research in determining tenure and promotion?
- Is outside grant support essential for promotion and tenure?
- How are graduate students supported?
- How do graduate students select research advisors?
- What kinds of financial support are available for research and supplies?
- Is this a new position? If not, why did the faculty member leave?
One final caveat is that your questions should be informed by your research on the department and school. That is, don’t ask questions about basic information that can be gleaned off of the department website. Instead ask a followup, in-depth questions that show that you’ve done your homework and that you are interested in knowing more.