How To… Approach a Job Interview

In Part 2 of how to land your dream job, Associate Professor Martin Crotty talks about the do’s and don’t’s of job interviews. He explains what interviewers are looking for (and what will turn them off!) and gives some fantastic tips on how to make sure you shine in any interview.



Associate Professor Martin Crotty’s research interests include war and Australian society, sports history, masculinity, and education.
Associate Professor Martin Crotty studied in New Zealand before moving to Australia to undertake postgraduate studies at Monash University and the University of Melbourne. After four years of teaching History at the University of Newcastle in NSW, he took up his current position teaching History at the University of Queensland in early 2003. He has since served as the Deputy Dean of the Graduate School and is the current Head of School for the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry.
Martin’s major publications include Making the Australian Male: Middle-Class Masculinity, 1870-1920 (1901) and a variety of journal articles, book chapters and edited collections, including The Great Mistakes of Australian History (2006), Turning Points in Australian History (2008) and Anzac Legacies: Australians and the Aftermath of War (2010). He has supervised widely, and has seen some fifteen MPhil and PhD students through to completion.

Do prepare yourself thoroughly, thinking about your attributes, qualifications and how they make you a good fit for the position that is being advertised. Research the role, research the unit and organizational environment, and think about what it is about you that makes you a desirable applicant. 

Don’t hide your light under a bushel, or assume that your virtues will shine though simply from your CV. You have half an hour or so in which to convince the selection committee that you are worth investing hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars in over the longer term.

Make sure you answer the questions. The same sets of questions are being posed to every interviewee, and the selection panel will be noting how well everyone answers them. Don’t avoid the question, even if it is a challenging one. If you have a weak suit, it’s better to be upfront about it, and to perhaps discuss how you might overcome it or why it is outweighed by areas of strength, than to obfuscate.

Employers are looking for what they have asked for in the selection criteria – but so much more. You have to be able to do the minimum that is requested – you must be able to teach that course that is scheduled to begin in six weeks, for example, and you must be able to deliver a good lecture, mark an essay, upload results, produce publishable research and so on. Employers usually have immediate and short-term needs, and you must be able to satisfy these. But to one degree or another, any candidate who is being interviewed will be able to do this. So you need to think about the desirable criteria for an appointment, whether stated or not, and how you are able to satisfy these. What is your upcoming research programme? What are your publication plans? Are you intending to apply for a major ARC grant in the near future? How do your research interests mesh with current research strengths, or your teaching talents with the future teaching agenda? Are you clearly a warm and collegial sort of person who those interviewing you would like to have as part of the team? What can you offer them if they take you on?                  

Employers are turned off by the use of notes or obviously pre-prepared answers. Yes, you should prepare, and yes you should think carefully about how you are going to respond to likely questions, whether they are difficult or easy, and whether they concern your strengths or your weaker suits. But if you have to read it off a piece of paper or a screen, it looks terrible.

Try to practice. Job interviews can be stressful, disorienting and altogether unsettling – just when you want to most appear focused, together, comfortable and confident. Run through answers and questions in your mind – visualize and imagine. If possible, gather together some friends and colleagues and get them to put you through a mock interview or two – and tell them to be challenging, and to debrief you afterwards.

Never overcook, exaggerate or (almost inconceivably) fabricate experiences, attributes or qualifications. Apart from the inherent evils of such dishonesty, even if just one exaggeration is exposed, all of your legitimate claims will have doubt thrown on them – and you’re finished.

Think about how you can impress without showing off. It’s a difficult balancing act, but you want to ensure that the selection committee is well aware of your wares but without you appearing a braggart. Where and how, for example, might you be able to make reference to that conference you organised, or that course you re-developed, even if not asked about conference organisation or curriculum development.

Remember that several people are being interviewed in all likelihood, and they are all probably capable of doing the job. So go in with the goal of impressing rather than being defensive or playing it safe. You need to shine and to stand out from the others. But if it goes to someone else – so be it. Review what you might have done better, and treat it as a learning experience.

The problem with a lot of job interviews is that they can often become reiterations of what is in the CV and the letter of application. The selection panel have already read this material. Yes, you’ll need to refer to it, and to provide further evidence and assurance that you meet the selection criteria, but you need to make the selection panel want you. It’s thirty minutes or an hour to sell you and your work to people who are probably mainly strangers. It’s your pitch – and you need to ensure that it doesn’t become bogged down in mundane matters such as the number of lectures you have given, the standing of a particular journal that you have published in, or matters which should already have been categorically addressed in your letter of application and CV. The best job interviews address the essentials, but soon move to a higher plane.

How To… Write a Successful Job Application

For many Early Career Researchers this time of year is job hunting season so we’ve lined up a two part special on how to land your dream job. In Part 1 Professor Kate Darian-Smith takes us through the key steps of writing a successful job application. She advises us to research the position, address the selection criteria clearly and to proof read everything!

Kate Darian Smith Profile Pic

Professor Kate Darian-Smith holds joint appointments as Professor of Australian Studies and History and Chair of the History Program in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, and Professor of Cultural Heritage in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning. She is an elected Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia (ASSA).

You’ve recently finished or are about to complete your PhD in History, and have seen an advertisement for job where you can use the skills and experience gained through doctoral study.  This could be for full or part-time work. It might be for academic teaching or research support, or for a graduate level position in government, management, publishing or a field that relates to your thesis research and qualifications.

Your task is to write a job application that is successful in getting you to the next stage of the process—most usually an interview.  Here are some step-by-step suggestions to assist with that process.

Step 1: Research the position and employer

Before you begin writing an application there is research to do.  Make sure you carefully read the position description and/or selection criteria and the qualifications required. You can  seek further information via the contact person listed in the advertisement. Desktop research on an individual or institutional employer is relatively easy and is recommended. You might also know someone who has worked in a similar role or for the same organisation, so ask his or her advice.   The more informed you are about any position, the more focussed and assured your application will be.

Step 2: Evaluate your experience and personal qualities

Look closely at your achievements and see how they match the position criteria.  Think laterally about the capabilities you have acquired in academic life.  You should review the ‘graduate attributes’ published by your university, and think about ‘transferable skills’ in the workplace.  For instance, your PhD can be framed as an exercise in project management, with the time-specific delivery of evidence-based complex analysis offering solutions to key problems! Make sure, too, that there is a good match between job requirements and your personal strengths and qualities.

If you don’t have the required qualifications in key areas, then don’t waste your time—or that of the selection committee—by applying.  Sometimes, though, the matching process can be blurry.  Again, if you are not sure, it is important to ask.

Step 3: Writing a Winning Application

Writing a strong and convincing job application is not easy.  Give yourself enough time, and ideally ask a mentor or peer to read over your draft. Do a short plan, so that you know where you want to stress certain attributes and can avoid repetition.

Some job applications have a form to be completed on-line. Other applications are ‘free-form’, and in this instance make sure that your presentation is clear.   Whatever the format, you need to convey your enthusiasm, competency and individuality and why you are an excellent applicant. Take care with your writing as it should be compelling.

Most job applications ask for the following: response to selection criteria, up-to-date Curriculum Vitae, and a list of referees. Sometimes, a short cover letter or summary document is also necessary.

Response to the selection criteria: This is the opportunity to outline your experience against the job requirements. Do this logically, and with enough detail so it is easy to understand what prior employment or training actually means.  For instance, if you worked as a research assistant for Professor X, explain what this involved. Choose examples that are most pertinent. Be relatively succinct and keep to the point. Indicate your motivations and passions, and highlight your strengths—your voice has to shine through.  If relevant, you might also append a short teaching portfolio, copies of publications or a statement about future research projects and interests.  And while you want to put a positive spin on your past, be careful not to misrepresent your experience.

Curriculum vitae:  It is a good idea to keep your CV up to date. It is an important document and should be straightforward to read and well laid-out.   Ensure it is an accurate record of publications, and list these in conventional academic categories: books, chapters and refereed articles as well as non-refereed and media publications.  You should also include conference papers, and an outline of academic teaching.  Avoid extraneous information, but do ensure your skills and capacities are clearly stated.

Referees: Choose appropriate referees.  An academic position needs academic referees (such as your PhD supervisor or examiners), but a non-academic position might require a different referee list. You might include a sentence on why you are listing a referee: ‘Dr Y was my PhD supervisor and can comment on my research and analytical skills’.  Make sure all referees are willing to be named, and send them the final application and CV.  If written references are submitted with the application, give referees the maximum time and all the information they need to do this.   It is also a courtesy to thank them and let them know the outcome of any application.

Finally, make sure that you carefully proofread all documents.  Sloppy formatting and small typing errors have no place in a job application, and can cast doubts on your professionalism.  Make sure, too, that you submit the application on time!

Check back next week for Part 2 with Associate Professor Martin Crotty who will be discussing how to shine in any interview!


Q&A with Lynette Russell

If you didn’t get an opportunity to meet our amazing and hardworking President, Professor Lynette Russell, at the AHA Conference in Newcastle last month, then here’s your chance to get to know her a little.  In this month’s Q&A she talks about how and why she is inspired to write history and her vision for the Australian Historical Association as well as the future of the discipline. As ever, she has fantastic advice for ECRs, encouraging us to not let the bureaucracy get us down and to seize every possible opportunity.

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Emerging Historians – Dr Claire Wright

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Dr Claire Wright – AHA member since 2017

My name is Claire Wright, I am an economic historian, and I have recently completed my PhD at the University of Wollongong. I am currently a casual academic at UOW, the biggest component of which is co-coordinating a first-year history course. My new position – as salaried researcher on an ARC Linkage Grant looking at the natural history trade – kicks off very soon. Continue reading

How To… Do a Radio Interview

In this month’s How To Series, ABC’s Michael Cathcart shares the golden rules of giving an engaging radio interview. He takes us through the process of landing a radio slot to the ways historians can enthrall their audience by having a bold narrative, being enthusiastic and above all sharing a love of history!

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Q&A with Stuart Macintyre

To get us all ready for a week of thinking and breathing history at the Australian Historical Association Conference, we have a Q&A with Stuart Macintyre, Emeritus Laureate Professor of the University and Professorial Fellow of the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. In this thought provoking piece, he talks about the changes that have occurred in academic history, reflects on the way historians’ choice of subjects are made both by interest and opportunity, and discusses the never ceasing thrill of opening an archive file at the beginning of a day of research. Stuart will be one of the panellists on our Early Career Researcher Round-table, ‘The Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow: Writing a winning grant application’, so come along and hear more of his fantastic advice for ECRs – all welcome!

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