How NOT to blow an academic job interview in design, the arts or the humanities (Part 1)

This is the first of a series of short pieces that will appear on the AIGA DEC blog in the summer and fall of 2015 that are being written on behalf of emerging, university-level design educators. These posts will address issues pertinent to engaging in the academic job interview process.

What follows has been adapted from a presentation I give once per semester to soon-to-be-finished M.F.A. and Ph.D. recipients at the University of North Texas. I make this presentation with two other professorial colleagues from outside design to a (usually) large and diversely populated group of grad students as one means to help prepare them for entry into the university-level, academic job market. Much of what follows is directly relevant to emerging design educators; other portions are relevant to most people seeking full-time or part-time positions in departments that teach some forms of what many in the academy refer to as the “arts and humanities.”

Avoid ALL typos or grammatical errorrs like the ones that are occurrin’ in this sub-head in any and all presentation and correspondence materials that you plan on having anyone other than yourself see

(You shouldn’t have to be reminded of this, but I’ve seen far too many emerging university-level educators blow this to not make mention of it here. Holy sheesh, people…)

Some general-yet-crucial things to remember about interviews and presentations, in no particular order of importance:

  • Be aware of how the context within which a given interview or presentation will occur affects its perception >> this includes factors such as accounting for the type of room(s) you’ll present or be interviewed in, as well as preparing for the type(s) of audience members who will be listening to or interacting with you.


  • Tailor your presentation and the operation of your interview to the type of institution you have been invited to >> what “plays well” at a tier one research institution may not be well-suited for a smaller, private institution.


  • Be sure to qualify the significance of your scholarship >> just because you believe that what you’ve been working on during your graduate experience, recent fellowship or post-doc endeavor is worthy of the “high attention” of others isn’t sufficient enough to convince them that it actually is. You need to speak and/or write about why the knowledge you’ve developed/scholarship you’ve authored/creative or design initiatives you’ve engaged in is significant in light of the other scholarly and/or professional work that forms and frames the current landscape of your discipline. Describe how and why your work complements or refutes extant work, or how and why it is (necessarily) new and innovative.


  • Bear in mind that an interview and a scholarly presentation is a performance that requires you to “play yourself” really well >> don’t try to be someone you’re really not as these interactions progress lest you be perceived as false, or arrogant, or a jerk, or incompetent, or some combination of these. Speak and be who you naturally, truthfully are: if you’re not a good fit for them/their institution/their department, or they for you, it’s a good idea to ascertain this during the interview and presentation process rather than during your first or second year of employment with them.


  • Also bear in mind that the questions you ask are just as important as the ones you’ll be challenged to answer during the presentation and interview process >> you need to be able to engage the people you’re interacting with during these exchanges in meaningful dialogue, which will require you to inquire about matters as diverse as their curricular plans in the near- and far-term, how the program you’ll teach within fits—and doesn’t—with other programs at that institution, what types of community-based and/or inter-disciplinary opportunities there might be available to you, what type(s) of support they have in place for your potential travel and scholarship/research, etc.
By Michael R. Gibson
Published June 10, 2015
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