Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Job Interview Advice

Posted by L. Trouille

With the job application season coming to a head, we thought it would be useful to share potential questions astronomers and physicists may be asked during a phone interview for a tenure track university faculty position. This is the first in a series of posts with job application resources for academic and non-academic positions.

Potential Questions:


-What are your teaching interests? Which courses would you be interested in teaching?

-How would you handle X teaching situation? (relevant to intro courses through advanced courses)

-Some variation on – what is your teaching philosophy?

-If you were allowed to develop any course you like, what would it be?


-Variations on questions about your research – ‘Describe your research and its significance in two minutes or less’ to ‘How would you describe your research to someone outside your field?’ to ‘What is your most important contribution to your research field so far?’ to ‘Where do you see your research leading in five years?’ to ‘How will your research program complement the work already underway in the department?’

-What is your general approach to mentoring?

-What are specific projects you are working on that lend themselves to mentoring undergraduate researchers? Masters students? PhD candidates?


-If the department has access to a local telescope, how would you use it for outreach and teaching?

-If the department has access to specific research telescopes, how would you use them in your research?


-Have good, thoughtful questions to ask them at the end of the interview. Show that you’ve done your homework (see next item).

-Do your homework! Know as much as you can about the department, the courses offered, the research teams, and how you fit in. It makes the interviewers feel that you are really interested and may already belong.

-In case there’s a lull in conversation, have prepared questions about your interviewer’s research. Scientists love to talk about their work.

-Focus on the positive. Especially in a first-round phone interview, the reality is that they’re looking to see who to cut from the list.

-Think outside the box. If the committee is looking for someone with particular experience in X, think about academic and non-academic experiences you have that put you in a good position to fulfill whatever X may be.

-Stay relaxed! If you’re doing a phone interview, consider setting up a mirror to watch your face and relax if you see yourself getting tense. That tenseness will translate into your voice and your answers.

-If salary comes up before you’ve had an offer, consider responding with, “At this stage, I’d like to show that we’re a great fit. I’m extremely hopeful that I’ll receive an offer and we can then negotiate at that stage.” Or some other version that you’re most comfortable with.

Also, check out these online sites for additional questions and advice:,64844.0.html

We plan to compile this and other information we gather as an additional ‘job application’ resource page on the website. Please take a moment and send us a comment with additional questions or useful advice you’ve received for this stage of the process or helpful websites.


Laura Trouille & the CSWA