Presenting an Effective Interview Seminar

Many on-site interviews for major research and/or teaching positions involve presenting a seminar about your research work.  This gives potential co-workers (even those who are not part of the formal interview process) an opportunity to evaluate the quality of research, communication/teaching skills, and the personality of the individual.   A JOB TALK is often more about the individual’s interpersonal and presentation skill than it is about the nitty-gritty details of their research.  Obviously, it is important to make an effective presentation.  These presentations typically include the following.

Introduction
  • Introduce yourself and provide a little background information.
    • Educational background.
    • A very brief overview of your research and teaching history.
    • General information about yourself that you would like the audience to know.
  • Outline your presentation.
Describe your research
  • Explain your objectives and goals, and why your research was needed.
  • Describe your effort in reaching these objectives and goals.
    • If speaking to a mixed audience, avoid using too many specialized terms and spend a little time providing a high-level explanation in basic terms that all audience member will understand. (As a general rule, all audience members should understand at least 40% of your talk.)
    • Provide enough technical details so that the experts will get a sense of your depth of expertise.
    • Keep your audience’s attention by including a few relevant anecdotes, interesting facts, or humorous comments (keep it professional).
    • Describe your results fully and accurately, but don’t lose your audience with tedious derivations or complicated tables and figures.
    • Attempt to draw connections between your research and needs of the organization where you are interviewing.  Mention collaborative possibilities and potential funding sources when possible.
Summarize your talk
  • Provide a brief summary of your talk.
  • Try to give your audience a few key points that they will easily remember so they will leave feeling that they have learned something new and will remember you.
Invite questions
  • Make sure you fully understand the question before answering.
  • Don’t take offence to any question.  View every question as an opportunity to demonstrate your depth and breadth of knowledge, and your interpersonal skills.
  • If a question or comment points to a weakness in your work, acknowledge the need for more work and indicate what you learned from the experience.
  • Answer questions as succinctly as possible and don’t let one or two questions consume all of the time.
  • Be prepared to demonstrate your familiarity with relevant literature to indicate that you are informed of what others have done or are doing.
  • Anticipate how you will handle unexpected questions and problematic questioners.  If you don’t have an answer to a question you might say, I’ll need to spend some time thinking about that” or “That would make an interesting follow-up research project.” If someone is dominating the Q&A time you might suggest that the two of you discuss the matter more after the seminar.
General Tips
  • Determine who is likely to be in the audience. This will help you decide how much time should be spent providing context for your research, how much technical depth you need to provide, etc.
  • Ideally, your talk should illustrate three technical aspects of yourself: 1) your technical depth of a subject, 2) your general breadth of knowledge, and 2) your vision (what’s left to be done, how your work can translate to other areas, what more you would like to do, etc.).
    • Polish your presentation materials.  Your slides should be visually appealing, easy to read (don’t put too much info on a slide), and free of grammar and spelling errors.
  • Practice your delivery many times.
    • Consider videotaping yourself and critique your performance.
    • Understand that speaking faster to say more does not improve a talk. Give yourself time to make points clearly and for the audience to comprehend the information.
    • Practice in front of coworkers and friends.  Invite them to ask tough questions so you can practice fielding questions.
    • Body language matters – Your physicality should portray confidence and enthusiasm. Stay grounded with both feet on the floor, using good posture,
    • Engage your audience.  Make eye contact with those in front of you and don’t spend too much time talking to the projection screen.
    • Be very courteous and respectful of your audience.  Talk to them as you would the faculty in your department.  Don’t interrupt.
  • Make sure all of the audience members can hear you.
  • Stick to the schedule.  Generally an hour is scheduled so limit your presentation to 40-45 minutes and reserve the remainder of the time for answering questions. This shows that you respect to your audience’s time.