Bad Answers to Good Questions

by Mary Morris Heiberger and Julia Miller Vick
CAREER TALK
Friday, February 23, 2001

http://www.chronicle.com/jobs/2001/02/2001022302c.htm

Here are a few common interview questions and a few truly terrible answers that you should avoid at all costs:

Question: What are your research plans? Answer: I haven't had time to think about that yet.

Question: Why are you interested in our department? Answer: I know you may be surprised that someone with my background would be interested in this job, but it's a tight market.

Question: How did you come to develop your dissertation topic? Answer: My adviser thought it would be a good idea.

Question: Do you have any questions for us? Answer: No.

Question: We often ask junior faculty members to teach the introductory course. How does that sound to you?
Answer: Well, I could do it for a year, but after that I'd rather teach more interesting courses.

Question: Why are you interested in this institution? Answer: It's near the beach and I love to surf.

Sometimes it's not your answers that can doom your chances in an interview, it's your questions. Some examples: (Note: The problem here is not with the information the candidate is seeking, but with the inept way of trying to obtain it.)

Don't ask: How much do I have to teach? Do ask: Could you describe the typical teaching load?

Don't ask: How much advising do I have to do? Do ask: How many students do new faculty members typically advise?

Don't ask: How many students go to school here? Do ask: Actually, you shouldn't ask this at all. You should have found out this information in advance from the college's Web site or catalog.

Don't ask: When is the chairman retiring? Do ask: Can you talk a little bit about how the department has changed in recent years and what future directions you hope to pursue?

Don't ask: How much politics is there in the department? Do ask: What types of decisions are typically made by the chairman and what ones are made by the standing faculty? What process does the faculty typically use in arriving at decisions?

Don't ask: How much does the job pay? Do ask: It is not to your advantage to discuss salary until an offer has been made. So don't ask now. When you're offered a position, a figure will be named, and that's the right time to negotiate.