Dr Andrew McInnes Workshop, ‘Academic Interviews’, Q&A


In case you missed Dr Andrew McInnes’ workshop on Academic Interviews, we’ve compiled his Q&A session here.


Do you have any advice about what to do if you have an application which requires a statement and a cover letter? Do similar rules of meeting the criteria apply to cover letters?

So, personally, I now prefer the box filling exercise I described which I think is more transparent and accountable than the CV/covering letter model. However, the same principles apply: organize your covering letter to show how you meet and/or exceed the essential/desirable criteria. As you often only have 2 pages to do this, make sure your answers are short, specific, and to the point.

How much emphasis is placed on the job application content as opposed to interview questions?

If you get through to the interview, make sure you are ready to present the main points of your application again. The interview panel will be aware that interviewees are nervous and anxious about their performance and good interviewers will do their best to put interviewees at their ease and get the best out of them. You have to be ready to present that best in your application – it’ll be why you’ve been shortlisted – but also make sure you repeat that best – in clear answers to questions about research, teaching, and potential – in the presentation and interview. Practice, practice, practice – both presentation and likely interview questions.

How may having extensive teaching and curriculum design/implementation experience in secondary schools/further education colleges before and during your PhD impact a panel’s view of you as an applicant?

This is great – make sure you explain how your experience and curriculum design will help you in a Higher Education context. Give specific examples of your experience and show how they are applicable to HE. Make it clear that your experience will support basic things like classroom management, organisation, student support, pastoral care.

Do you have any advice about how to pitch the ‘big second research project’ in either the job letter or interview?

Think of it like the classic ‘elevator pitch’ – say what it is and why it will be significant – and suggest what kind of funding it might attract – in a pithy paragraph or short spoken reply.

I want to know whether early-career lecturers/ PhDs from other countries can appear for academic interviews in the UK or these job roles are limited to people resident in the UK? Also, whether there is a hidden expectation of not being an “old” PhD researcher to be shortlisted for a Job interview? Thanks a lot.

Academics and departments – and universities – are keen to make international hires. They are sometimes blocked from doing so by the UK government’s ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants. There are ways around this but staff are often at the mercy of HR departments for timescales, which become key to who is allowed to apply. The key thing any applicant has to do when applying is forge a narrative of their academic career out of what might feel like a fragmentary experience. Explain how your experiences have shaped your research and teaching practices and potential.

Do universities expect candidates to have a teaching qualification (such as a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education), or do we normally work towards that on the job as an early career academic?

It’s great if you have a qualification already – but I think universities are obligated to say that they’ll accept you if you accept you’ll have to work towards getting a qualification once in post – so, phrase something like ‘I look forward to participating in the university’s learning and teaching in HE qualification to further develop my skills in this area’.

Do most employers look upon having a large internet presence, i.e. being active on academic twitter or blog about their research favourably as an example of ‘public engagement’? 

This depends on how you’re using social media, how many followers you have, and how accepting your potential employer is of the medium. So, if you’re tweeting mainly about your research and getting lots of public interaction, I think universities will look on that favourably. By ‘lots of interactions’, part of what I mean is 1000s if not 10s of 1000s of followers. Universities are often paranoid about reputation and will more or less police academic social media use. I think the important thing in your question is the idea of public *engagement* – it helps employers if they’re heard of and/or can easily find out about the candidate and what they find looks professional and impressive. So, I’d recommend you make sure you have done web presence and that that presence is kept up to date.

What weight do your reference letters carry in a standard application, and do you have any strategic tips about the selection of one’s referees?

I recommend keeping to the standard PhD supervisor for 1 referee – the 2nd referee should usually be your current line manager. They should be able to speak to your teaching skills. In any case, I’d say more weight will be put on what *you* say about your teaching and pastoral support strategies. Referees are usually sought only after unis have shortlisted you do you have to get over that first hurdle!

Do you think that one of the “hidden job specification” criteria, which seems rarely mentioned in job ads, is having a 1st monograph either published or in the pipeline in order to get a Lecturer role?

I didn’t get any interviews until I had my first book (ha, only so far) under contract – so I would say yes. But I’d say it was different for different unis. And also that you can offer a narrative which shows how what you have done makes you a good fit for the dept and that you have lots of potential.