General advice for faculty job interviews
April 2013 (perspective of a postdoc)
(This article is adapted from excerpts of Reflections on my tenure-track assistant professor job search.)
The main piece of advice I would give to any faculty job candidate is: Strive to engage, not to impress.
Throughout your interview, act like an assistant professor who is genuinely interested in engaging with colleagues about research, teaching, and academic mentoring. Don't act like an insecure and overeager kid (i.e., grad student) who is trying to impress a bunch of professors with your so-called accomplishments. Unless you're an absolute superstar, every single faculty member who is interviewing you has more research publications than you, has raised more grant money than you, has done more service work than you, and has more teaching experience than you. Trying to impress them is futile.
The faculty want to gauge whether you would fit in as a potential colleague in their department. In other words, would they enjoy having you around ... potentially for life? Once I began empathizing with the faculty's perspective, my initial nervousness melted away, and I started having fun at my interviews.
After eight grueling interviews, I've concluded that being a great communicator—truly empathizing and connecting with others—is by far the most important trait for a faculty candidate. After all, most of what a professor does at work is communicate: meeting with potential collaborators and funders, writing grant proposals and technical papers, advising students and postdocs, teaching, reviewing papers, performing committee service work, and giving technical talks. Thus, since all interview candidates are technically qualified for the job, I suspect that the best communicator likely gets the offer.