What to Expect When You’re Expecting an Academic Job Interview, Part I: Getting the Interview

by Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS, FACSM

The Scholarship of Public Health addresses topics relevant to scientific publishing, dissemination of evidence and best practices, and the education of current and future professionals. This post offers advice on getting an academic job interview.

If you followed my previous advice on how to make yourself competitive for employment, you’re ready to find gainful employment. Congratulations! Now I’d like to give you some practical advice on navigating the job search experience so that you can learn to sniff out the good jobs and have them offered to you. First, let’s start with the application process, and break that process down into several steps;

Step One: Find Jobs to Apply To
  • There are numerous sources out there to find jobs in public health. The APHA career center has a nice job board, as does the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Emory School of Public Health. Additionally, sites such as Research Gate and LinkedIn are increasingly posting jobs that might be of interest. Some journals have job sections still, as does the APHA newspaper. Finally, some folks still post jobs on job boards at conferences, which I think is absolutely quaint and adorable.
Step Two: Apply for the Jobs
  • Most universities will have you apply through their human resources page, sometimes with a separate email to the search chair. Personally, I would recommend emailing the search chair with your application packet regardless of whether they request it or not. This is a calculated risk, since it can seem a little pushy/eager if not specifically requested, or can be misinterpreted as an inability to follow directions. However, if you specify in the email that you’ve submitted it formally through HR, most folks will let you slide. The reason I like to do it is that it can allow you to include materials that you might otherwise have to cram into a few allowed documents on the HR site. For example, some HR sites only allow for a CV, letter of interest, and a list of references. That means that you either have a brief cover letter (which isn’t thorough), or an amazingly long one (that no one wants to read). To me, a good packet includes a brief cover letter, a teaching statement, a research statement, a service statement, a vitae, and two published articles. If you email the packet to the search chair, you can send the long version. The components of a good packet will vary by job, but I like to see these things as a search chair:
    • Cover letter – In brief, who you are, what you’re applying to, why you’re qualified, why you’re a good fit, and something impressive you’ve done. I like to keep it to a single-spaced page, or two pages maximum. This is a great place to show them that you know who they are and who you are.
    • Teaching statement – I like to see a single-spaced page each on teaching, research, and service (as applicable to the position). The teaching page should get at your philosophy of teaching. If you don’t have one, get one. The teaching statement basically shows the committee that you’ve thought about it and/or have experience.
    • Research statement – This is a good place to talk about the research you’ve conducted and/or been involved in. Sometimes you have experience that doesn’t lead to publication (eg, you were a data collector on a project), or works in progress that you can mention. This is also a great place to talk about your future plans and indicate (if relevant to the position) that you’ve thought about funding for your work. It’s a great setup for your research talk if you do it correctly.
    • Service statement – This is one that most people don’t include, but I like to have one. It’s a good way to highlight the service work you’ve done, and your overall service philosophy (so develop one). I like to highlight how my service dovetails with my research and teaching, and can often be linked to dissemination activities (that you should be engaging in).
    • Vitae – The curriculum vitae (or CV) is the signature piece of your application packet. It’s the most important component, so be sure to get some guidance on the best way to format it (this is a nice resource), and get plenty of eyes on it before it goes out. I don’t know what makes a great CV (besides evidence of productivity and impact), but I know a few things that make me cringe every time I see them (eg, pictures/graphics). Generally, I recommend that junior applicants not add too much fluff. What is fluff? Fluff is stuff like award nominations (unless it’s the Nobel), manuscripts under development, unfunded grants, and non-career related volunteer work.
    • Representative publications – These are often requested and are a good way to highlight the work that you intend to build upon in your new job. Ideally, these are first author, even if that means you submit a dissertation chapter that is under review (watermark it as such), but a co-author publication may make sense if you played a specific role in the research that you can articulate in your research statement or cover letter.
Step Three: Play the Waiting Game
  • Step three sucks.
  • It’s fine to confirm receipt of your materials with the HR department after a reasonable amount of time (~48hrs) if you don’t get a confirmation email. It’s also acceptable to follow up with the search committee chair after a week if your email goes unacknowledged. Be polite, very
  • Spend the time between submission and the interview preparing for the interview. My next post will talk about the interview process. In the interim, make sure you clear some room on your credit card if possible. You may need it (more about that next time).

Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS is the Associate Editor of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice and an Associate Professor in the Department of Family & Community Medicine of the Wake Forest School of Medicine at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, USA. Follow him at Twitter and Instagram. [Full Bio]

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