The Flourishing Academic

A blog for teacher-scholars published by the Duquesne University Center for Teaching Excellence

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Interviews as Reciprocal Exchange

by Jess Dunn, Instructional Consultant at the Center for Teaching Excellence at Duquesne University

Interviews have been a part of my life since the beginning of high school. I have interviewed for just about everything you can imagine: stock person, roofer, temp, graduate school, fellowships, and, most recently, internships. And every time I begin a new process of interviewing I am met with a small army of well-meaning and wishing friends, colleagues, parents, and mentors with advice (sometimes asked for, other times…errr…volunteered let’s say) on how best to present myself in the interview. However, what is not often talked about are the ways in which the interview process is reciprocal.

That is to say, when you are in an interview, you are being given the opportunity to evaluate the position, the workplace environment, and your potential colleagues just as much as they are evaluating you. Though I have interviewed many times and for many different types of positions, it wasn’t until I began interviewing for an internship that I started thinking of interviews in this way. I had several informative, interesting, and–dare I say–enjoyable interviews over a period of a few weeks.  During one day-long group interview, one of the interviewers said several times, “You are interviewing us as well.” It might be an exaggeration to say my mind was blown, but it was certainly re-calibrated. Prior to this, I was usually so conscious of how I presented myself in interviews that I missed the opportunity to really take in what was being communicated about what it would be like to work in that environment alongside the people who were interviewing me.

When I began to think of interviewing as a reciprocal exchange I found myself being more aware of my environment, more engaged with the people around me (not just interviewers but fellow interviewees), and asking better and more thoughtful questions. Prior to this shift in thinking, I chose the questions I asked as an interviewee more on the basis of how they would make me appear than what I needed or wanted to know. Beyond asking questions that were more specific and pertinent to my needs and wants, I also became more aware of what was being communicated in less direct ways. I spent more time observing interactions between colleagues, how comfortable they were with each other, how familiar or formal, and how the power and interpersonal dynamics operate and are expressed. In the past, I utilized my intuition to pursue or decline a position (like that time I interviewed for one of those “College Students Wanted for Summer employment, make up to $15/hour” jobs and the interview communicated that it was a pyramid scheme). However, taking a stance of reciprocity in the interview process has allowed me to be far more intentional and, as an extra bonus, much less self-conscious and much more self-assured!


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Top Advice for Graduate Students’ Application Portfolios

hire me button

Image by Stuart Miles,

Post by: Rachel Luckenbill and Michael McGravey

Each year the Center for Teaching Excellence presents our Landing an Academic Job series. The sessions are designed to help graduate students prepare for the job market and features advice from experienced faculty and administrators. This year’s series opened with the session, “Preparing the CV, Cover Letter, and Research Statement,” featuring advice from Drs. Philip Reeder, Greg Barnhisel, and Lauren O’Donnell. What follows is a brief overview of some of their comments:

Cover Letter

  1. Tailor your letter: (1) First, know whether you are applying to a university that stresses teaching or research and emphasize the appropriate one in your letter. (2) Second, know the University’s mission and what the department you are applying to emphasizes about itself.
  2. Three words of emphasis: Versatility, Engagement, & Professionalism, along with a demonstrated genuine interest in teaching.
  • Versatility: demonstrate your variety as a teacher. What are the different courses, subjects, sub-topics you have taught? If you have only taught one, identify what you have done differently between semesters or academic years.
  • Engagement: what have you done with students outside the classroom? Show hiring committees that you are willing and excited to support students in extracurricular activities.
  • Professionalism: hiring committees want to know that you are confident and that you are capable of handling tough work.
  • Genuine interest in teaching: especially if you are applying to a teaching-centered school, make sure your tone and evidence convey that you are committed to teaching and that you can link your research to the work you do in the classroom.
  1. Respond Professionally, Not Personally: Hiring committees want to know what makes you a good fit for the university and the department; your answer should not include the personal element. While your favorite aunt might live in the same city as the University to which are applying, you should instead stress your desire to work for the University because of its offerings (e.g., a specialized archives that speak to the topic of your current research) or identify how your professional profile meets a core value of the department.

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

  1. Be thorough but not verbose: Give the hiring committee the evidence they need to know that you are the best candidate for the job but make sure that evidence is organized, concise, and free of jargon.
  2. Shorter is not always better: While you strive to be concise in the language you use, do not widen the margins and shrink the font just to fit everything into four pages or less. It’s okay if your CV is longer, as it demonstrates all of your accomplishments!

What you want to avoid, however, is supplying unnecessary information (like the article you published for your high school newsletter or the grocery clerk position you held last summer). You want to demonstrate ample experience that is pertinent to the job description, even if it means handing in a CV longer than 5 pages (just imagine: Dean Reeder’s is more than 40 pages at this point!).

  1. Tailor Your CV for the Job: The CV is not a static document. In the same way that it grows each time you have a new accomplishment, you should also tailor the CV to each position you apply for.Questions you should ask yourself when tailoring your CV for a particular school:
  • What should be listed first for a teaching institution? A research institution?
  • Should you emphasize research more than teaching?
  • Will they want to know about your community service outside of your academic institutions?

Research the values of the specific department and school to which you are applying so you can emphasize the things they will find most attractive and useful in their discernment.

The Research Statement

  1. This is Not Your Life Story: This document is meant to convey the background story of your research and its future trajectory. Stick to the pertinent information and avoid writing a narrative about your life and desire to cure or resolve the unattainable. Demonstrate small, achievable steps over a five-year period without rehashing your life’s work.
  2. Be Concrete: Show the committee that you have a concrete specific plan you intend to pursue. Ask yourself:
  • Would you look like someone who knows exactly what they need and exactly what they hope to accomplish?
  • Or will you look like someone who has a vague idea of what they need and only a general concept of what they might accomplish?
  • What is it that you want to be (realistically) known for?
  1. Be Unique and Independent: No one wants a researcher who will simply parrot what their favorite mentor told them or piggyback on another scholar’s project. Yes, your work might reference the work of someone else, but demonstrate that your specific experience and ideas are unique and that you can work independently without depending on someone else’s momentum.

  2. General Advice for All of these Documents: Just like the shampoo bottle reads—rinse, lather, rinse, repeat—your documents should go through a similar process: write, edit, revise, & repeat. Each of these documents will change for specific job applications. So know the colleges and universities you are applying to, edit your materials, seek the advice of colleagues and experienced mentors or professors, and don’t fear rejection. Keep working at it!