Some Typical Academic Interview Questions

Carol Ormand adapted the questions below from a list of interview questions compiled by Heppner & Downing in conjunction with following journal article: Heppner, P. & Downing, N. (1982) Job interviewing for new psychologists: riding the emotional roller coaster. Professional Psychology 13: 334-341.

Jump down to

Questions you may be asked

You may, of course, be asked a wide variety of questions. However, the list below is made up of questions that are fairly typical of interviews for academic positions in the geosciences.

About research | About teaching | About fit

About your research

  1. Tell me about your research.
  2. Where will your research take you next?
  3. What kind of [support/start-up/lab space/equipment] will you need for your research?
  4. How will you fund your research program?
  5. How will you involve students in your research?
  6. What is your approach to supervising [undergraduate/Masters/Ph.D.] student researchers?
  7. How would you go about recruiting talented students to [the geology major/your research program]?

About your teaching

  1. What courses would you like to teach [in addition to the one or two specialty courses specified in our job advertisement]?
  2. How would you teach [name of a course]? What approach would you take?
  3. How would you deal with the challenge of [a large lecture class, teaching non-science majors, teaching a mix of science and non-science majors, students with poor writing/math skills, limited resources]?

About how you will "fit" in the department or at the institution

  1. What attracted you to this particular job advertisement?
  2. Where would you like to be five years from now?
  3. How do you feel about living in [a big city/a small town/the middle of nowhere/the opposite side of the country from where you've been living]?
  4. How do you see yourself fitting into a deparment such as ours?
  5. How do you see yourself fitting into our institution? Variations:
    • At a liberal arts school: how will you contribute to our liberal arts mission?
    • At a church-affiliated school: how will you contribute to our [name of religion] tradition?
    • At a women's college or historically black institution: how do you feel about teaching at a historically women's/historically black institution?
    • At a public university: how do you feel about teaching at a public university?
    • At a community college: what do you see as the role of community colleges in today's changing educational landscape?
    • At many different kinds of schools: how will you make your classes accessible to students from a broad (racially, economically, academically) spectrum of backgrounds?
  6. We have a fairly heavy teaching load here. How will you make time for research, on top of all of your other responsibilities?

Questions you may ask

It is wise to be prepared to ask some questions, yourself. It shows that you have done some research about the institution, the department, and the position, and it demonstrates that you are interested enough to want to know more. Here are some questions appropriate to each of the people (or groups of people) you are likely to talk to. There is some overlap of questions, as more than one person may be able to answer a particular question. In some instances, it's helpful to see whether you get the same answer to those questions from different people.

To the chair | To the dean | To the committee | To the faculty | To the students

To the department chairperson

  1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the department? the institution?
  2. Is the administration supportive of the department and its program? How does that support manifest itself?
  3. What are the immediate needs of the geology program? How do you see me fitting into those needs?
  4. Where do you see this department, five years from now?
  5. What are the relationships like among the various departments in the college/university?
  6. How are departmental decisions that affect the faculty made?
  7. What behaviors are valued in this department?
  8. What are the procedures for promotion and tenure?
  9. How many faculty in the department have been denied tenure in the past ten years, and what were the reasons?
  10. What is the salary range for this position?
  11. Are salary raises computed on a percentage basis or a sum increase? What has been the past "track record" for raises?
  12. What kinds of monies are available to cover professional convention expenses?
  13. What other resources are available, such as research assistants, teaching assistants, computer services, research space, and secretarial assistance?
  14. How do you handle transportation for field trips? How does that work?
  15. How would you characterize the students here, both geology majors and the general student population?

To the college dean

  1. How do you perceive the department in relationship to other departments in the college/university? How do you perceive the college in relationship to other colleges in the university?
  2. Five years from now, where would you like to see the college? the department?
  3. How is the economy affecting the financial budget for the university? the college? the department?
  4. What are the strongest departments on campus? the "up and coming" departments? What do they do particularly well?
  5. At a publicly-funded institution: What is the legislative atmosphere in the state regarding funding for higher education? How does this state compare with other states in terms of funding for higher education?
  6. What have been the enrollment trends in your college? In the university? Why?

To the search committee

  1. Where is the committee in the job selection process? How many people are you bringing to campus? What is your timetable for making a decision? When can I expect to hear from you?
  2. How did this position become open?
  3. Who was in this position previously? Why did they leave? What did this previous person do well in their job? What do you wish he/she had done differently?
  4. If you had magical powers, and could create the perfect person for this job, what would that person be like?
  5. What does the work load consist of in terms of courses, advisees, etc.?

To the department faculty

  1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the program?
  2. How do you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the program?
  3. What are the challenges currently facing the department or program?
  4. How would you describe the ideal candidate for this position?
  5. What kind of research is being done within the program? within the department?
  6. Do you do collaborative research with other faculty members, either in this department or in other departments?
  7. What is the expected courseload? number of advisees?
  8. What are the students in the program like? How are they selected/recruited? What have your graduates gone on to do?
  9. What is the history of the program? the anticipated future direction of the program?
  10. What do you like best about working here?
  11. What are the areas of conflict in the department? How is the conflict handled?
  12. How would you describe [name] as a department chair? For how long is he/she going to continue to be chair? What will happen after that?
  13. What are the support services like (e.g., secretarial assistance, teaching and research assistants, travel monies, field trip logistics)?
  14. What do you do for enjoyment?

To the students

Students can be very informative, as they are usually not inhibited in offering their honest opinions.
  1. What are the strengths of the program here?
  2. What do you wish for, that you don't have, as a student in this department?
  3. What are your professional goals? after graduation? in five years?
  4. If you know some recent graduates, what are they doing now?
  5. Who amongst the faculty do you think does a great job? What do they do particularly well?
  6. Especially for graduate students, or some highly competitive undergraduates: How many of you have published an article in a professional journal? presented at a national convention? belong to national professional organizations?
  7. How frequently do you socialize with faculty? with other students in the program?
  8. Is the program atmosphere conducive to your learning and development? Would you recommend it to a friend?
  9. If I were a good friend of yours, what would you tell me that I might not ordinarily find out about this place?