Ten Habits for a Highly Successful Job Talk

in univerCity

As you may or may not recall, I applied for some jobs this year. So yeah. Moving on from that subject, my glorious university has some openings in my department this year. For the past 6 weeks we have been hearing the job candidates. These are all good people who, I know, are on many other shortlists around the country. They will all get hired somewhere. As I have gone to these job talks with the explicit understanding that I may very well have to duplicate this performance elsewhere, I took some mental notes. Below is my first draft of observations as a “audience” member. I think if the world was fair; if roses were red, violets were blue and i loved her; these habits would get you the academic job. But, we all know how the real world works right? [hint: no, I do not love her].

1. Show us that you are a scholar. One easy way: Show us that you have read others who have worked on your broader thematic questions and you have something to say about it. Don’t drop names. Drop methodologies.
2. Have broader thematic questions. Be self-aware as a scholar. What is it that you are doing? How is it that you are doing it? How does your complete and utter mastery of mimamsa in the RgVeda help the incoming graduate student who wants to study textile patterns in 19th century Madras? Broader themes, people. I had to repeat myself already.
3. You should have two conclusions: a material one to your presentation and a broader one to your thematic issues. Address the question of relevance, of connectivity, of future inquiries and collaborations. Take the 5 minutes.
4. I personally would like to hear a narrative: A set of questions, a body of evidence, your search through the archives, your findings, your contentions, your analysis, your conclusion. But not a “personal” narrative. No need for that. Or if you are able to cohere your chapter into bookends of contemporary issues/questions, it can be worth sitting through. But if all else fails and you just worked on some lame-ass boring shit for 10 years of your life then at the VERY LEAST, have a SET OF QUESTIONS: don’t just paint a word picture that I have watch dry for 40 minutes.
5. Your talk should not take any more or any less than the scheduled time. You should not drone in a monotonous tone. Sit up straight. Make eye contact in one or two spots. Sip water at key places before you restate your case. Breathe. Smile. Smile. Smile. Like a maniac, if need be. Appear relaxed as possible. Use your body effectively. Raised hands, fingers etc. to highlight your points. Remember that unlike a panel where there are three other heads to distract an audience, there is no other distraction in the room except you. No one has ANY choice but to watch you. A lump on the seat is not a good impression.
6. Handouts, movies, shadow-puppets should be used VERY carefully. They distract, break narrative flow, create unnecessary headaches. If you use handouts, use them at one or two specific times. Do not constantly interrupt yourself to go between the handout and your recitation. Whatever it is you want them to learn, ain’t that important. Movies, etc.: if you have to use them, do them at the beginning and then get on with the business.
7. Make a list of the top 5 things that the hiring institution may ask you to do. If “teaching” comes up in your list, I’d say lets give it some thought, eh? Know the institution. Know their pedagogical styles. Have some concrete ideas of course matter, course texts, techniques that you will employ. Feel free to share this information with anyone who asks you.
8. Answer every question. The first 2 or 3 are KEY. The audience will look at your demeanor, how you handle the question, how specifically you answer it, how seriously you consider it. Be direct. Make eye contact. If you have an answer, deliver it and shut up. Don’t hem, haw, stretch out your little victory. Move on. If you don’t have a clear and direct answer, you should be able to bullshit for a minute MAX and shut up. No need to build castles of dung either. DO NOT LOOK LIKE YOU ARE AVOIDING THE QUESTION. And don’t get into intellectual pissing contest with the questioners either. Yes, we know that you are the smartest walnut in the Great Grains Cereal but they all HAVE a job and you DON’T. Have conviction in yourself but be brave enough to admit that you might have to look into this or that. No harm.
9. Stories are so good. A small anecdote from the archives or from your research trip can really bring to life the pygmy people you study. Please keep your stories for when you go drinking with your buddies.
10. So what are you selling? Yourself or your dissertation? Who are these people going to bump into in the hallways? Sit on committees with? Chat with uncomfortably on Friday teas? Have extra-marital affairs with? Plot the destruction of the pathetic lives of grad students, who show signs of intellectual awakening, with? Build cliques and clans and tribal structures with? You or Your dissertation? Depending on your answer, please adjust everything above.

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