I have heard that interviews are very different in the UK than in the US. Can someone tell me more how do they work?
Are the questions asked different?
Date: 14 Feb 2012 22:03
Number of posts: 8
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Earlier this year I interviewed at a mid-tier UK university. Interviewing in the UK is much less of a big deal than in the US, but note that they are probably interviewing up to 10 people. Prepare to spend only a couple of hours at the university in total. I was interviewed for about 45 minutes by a panel of 4 people, then had to give a 20-minute talk about how I fit the job criteria, to some other faculty from the department (although I was never told their names). In the panel interview, I was asked:
1) Tell me about your research
2) Tell me about your teaching experience
3) Some people like doing the dishes, others hate it. How do you feel about admin? [correct answer was "I love it!"]
4) A lot of our teaching is done in teams. What are some things that can go wrong in a team?
5) How much of your time do you expect to spend on research versus teaching? [I answered 50/50, which got some laughs. Apparently there was no official work time built in for research, even though the job ad was strongly worded towards a research perspective].
There must have been some other questions to make it a full 45 minutes, but those are the ones I can remember off the top of my head. At no point did I get to meet with anyone one-on-one, or get a tour of the department, or meet with the chair, or eat lunch, or any of the things one expects to do at a US interview. I got the job (and declined).
I've done both UK and US interviews, and they're very, very different, even at a top-tier UK research university (UCL, etc.)
Its much more like an interview for any other professional job — many people invited on one day, a single interview by a large panel, and then often a lunch or dinner, typically with the other candidates. If you want to arrange individual meetings, that's up to you — of course its a good idea to do so. The decision will be made by the interviewing panel, though, and not the department as a whole (although the rest of the faculty will give input after your talk).
Stillstanding's description of the panel interview more-or-less matches my experience. There's a standard set of questions that they ask, with each person on the panel asking one question. Usually there will be two or three representatives from the department, and two or three externals — a dean, a member of another department, etc. Here's the sort of questions I've got.
1) Why do you want this job?
2) Tell us about the background for your research?
3) If you were to design a new masters course, what would it be? (UK universities make a lot of money out of specialized masters courses, e.g., psychology and society, neuropsychology and language, etc).
4) What's the relationship between theory and data? (that was in a linguistics department, can't imagine any psychologists asking that ;)
5) I'm a faculty member in X [where X is philosophy, education, etc]. How does your research relate to my interests?
6) Tell us about your lecturing experience.
UK universities have benefits and disadvantages compared to the US. There's much less teaching, and much less pressure to get big grants — a lot of equipment and testing space is shared. And although there is no official tenure, all positions are essentially tenured (as you can see by the amount of dead wood in even the best UK departments). That's balanced by less of a chance to run your own big lab, shitty start-up grants, and lower salaries. Being in a mid-ranked UK university is likely quite depressing — much less passion for research — but the top 10-15 are great, and full of very smart, passionate people. And European scientists are doing some of the most interesting work out there (when they aren't making up all of their data…).
any idea about turnaround times on decisions? do they happen more quickly than the US? or does it vary
If you get the job, you'll probably hear either same day or next day — they often press for a _really_ fast decision, so if candidate 1 turns them down, candidate 2 may hear a week later.
I interviewed on a Tuesday and was told I got the job on the following Monday. Apparently this is because the committee did not get to meet until the weekend.
Thank you very much to both ukinusa and stillstanding, all of the information given has been very helpful.
Just a reply to the post by 'ukinusa':
There is a lot of variability at universities in the UK. If it is a top or top-aspiring uni, then yes there is less teaching, however there is a lot of pressure to get big grants and high impact factor pubs (think IF > 5) every year. This means that the three-year 'probation' period (as tenure is called) is more challenging than US tenure, as the big publications and grants awarded must come quickly. Then there is much less dead wood at these places because there is no tenure and many departments are starting to use performance-based dismissal or restructuring and lay-offs to remove those who are not getting money and Nature publications.
Also, all of this has to be done without much start-up funds and no private lab space. So those who make it are able to pull research out of thin air (or focus on theory or model based work). Working at a middle-rank place, though, as mentioned is different. Much higher teaching load and therefore less research focused. Not necessarily depressing though—some of those places have better research facilities and support. Also the lower ranked places often have only a one year probation without any real requirements, and then hardly threaten anyone's job security.
The rest of the replies on interview format and the quick decision time are spot on. Some people I know were offered the job within an hour of the final interview! It is a bit awkward meeting the other job candidates during the interview process, but that can be a useful networking opportunity and generally is positive—everyone is in the same boat after all.