This blog is no longer active, although the posts are archived here. This page on the AMS site has career information.
This blog is no longer active, although the posts are archived here. This page on the AMS site has career information.
Whether you have been invited for a phone interview, an interview at the Joint Meetings, or an on-campus interview, one can never be over-prepared. Carefully consider the questions listed below and how you would answer each question. It might be helpful to have a friend or colleague conduct a practice interview for you using these questions.
Questions asked by an interviewer:
While an exhaustive list of questions that could be presented to a candidate could never be compiled, below is a list of commonly asked questions.
Why are you interested in our school (possibly in comparison to where you have been)?
What is your ideal balance between teaching/research/service?
Can you describe your teaching style?
What is your typical classroom like?
What is something that you did in the classroom that didn’t work as well as you might have liked? What did you learn from this? / How did you respond?
What are your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher?
How could you use your skills to improve their curriculum?
What classes are you willing/prepared to teach? Not willing?
How are you going to adjust to teaching lower level students?
Can you describe your research?
What are your future research goals?
Are there possibilities for undergraduate research in your area?
How do you plan to find a research community if you join our school?
What kinds of service you might be interested in?
What would be a good activity for our Math Club?
How will working at the institution help you improve/grow?
Questions asked to an interviewer:
One thing will undoubtedly occur during an interview – the candidate will be asked if they have any questions for the interviewers. One should always have questions about the job and the institution in general. Here is a list of possible questions.*
What is the typical teaching load (for a junior faculty member)? How many preps?
What courses might I teach in my first few years?
When are courses scheduled (days of week, times of day)?
What is the average class size?
What is a typical class size (max/min)?
What is the population in the upper level courses? Are they mostly math majors? What is the breakdown of majors/non-majors? What about in lower level major courses?
Is the school open to different styles of teaching?
Would I get to teach upper level math courses? What is considered “upper level” at your school?
Will I have the opportunity to design my own class?
What is the teaching load? What does that mean in terms of number of classes?
How many office hours are faculty expected to have? Will I be expected to be on campus/in my office every day?
Will I be able to/expected to teach courses in the summer?
What is the service requirement for junior faculty?
What are research expectations for tenure?
How do current faculty find their research communities?
Are current faculty active in research?
What resources are in place to help me keep my research going?
Do faculty have travel funding?
Are there summer funds available?
Are there opportunities/expectations to work with undergraduates on thesis/research projects?
Is it possible to get course releases for junior faculty?
Are there opportunities to interact and possibly collaborate with faculty in other departments or with faculty in nearby schools?
Do pedagogical articles count toward scholarly research? (Or articles co-authored with students?)
What is included in your definition of scholarship?
What are your daily schedules like?
What is this region like? Where do faculty live?
Are living expenses in line with salary? Is there on-campus housing for faculty?
How are the local school systems/districts? (for your own family needs)
Is there a daycare on campus?
Can you describe a typical student at your school?
What technology/programs are available to me? For the students? In labs? In classrooms?
Do you have an active math club?
Are the department faculty involved in the local MAA/AMS sections?
Where do your undergraduates go from here?
Do faculty typically remain in the department? Have you had a lot of turnover?
Has anyone in your department been denied tenure?
What is your tenure process like? What sort of pre-tenure evaluation process is in place?
Is there a publication quota for tenure?
How do faculty use their sabbaticals? When are you eligible? How long are they? Do people usually get them when they are eligible?
What are your expectations for grants?
What do you like most about working here?
The above lists give you an idea of what might be asked of you. The lists also give you an idea about what to ask those individuals interviewing you. Clearly you would never ask a single individual all of the above questions. Be mindful of the scheduled length of the interview and compile a list of questions compatible with that time frame. You will have more time to ask questions on an on-campus interview than you will have in a phone interview or an interview at the Joint Meetings.
There is a great deal of advice about interviewing on the internet and through other venues. Be prepared. Be as relaxed as possible. Be professional. Learn as much as you can about your potential position and place of employment. Your new job could be right around the corner!
*These questions were compiled at the 2012 Career Mentoring Workshop for Women in the Mathematical Sciences (CaMeW) where the author served as co-director.
Negotiation following a job offer is often an enigma. Do you negotiate? If you do negotiate, what do you negotiate for? Salary might be the first thing that jumps to mind when negotiating but there are other factors to consider as well.
Consider the following. You have completed your on-campus interviews and you are now on the phone with a college official who offers you a job. What do you do first? After an initial moment of joy, you ask the official for the details of their offer. You are then given a time interval to consider the package. Always take the time to consider the offer – never accept during the initial phone call! With the offer in hand, how do you determine whether it is fair? Should you ask to add anything to the offer? These are questions we will now address.
Is the proposed salary fair? To answer this question, you can consult published salary information. The American Mathematical Society (AMS) annually publishes a report on salaries in the mathematical sciences. Here is the link for the 2011-12 data on average salaries by faculty rank and type of institution http://www.ams.org/notices/201203/rtx120300410p.pdf. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) publishes an Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, which gives average salaries across all disciplines. You may look up average salaries at most colleges and universities in the appendices of this document. See http://www.aaup.org/reports-publications/2011-12salarysurvey for links to this information. These publications give you valuable information about what is typically offered an individual with your qualifications and rank.
The published information listed above will help you to evaluate your offer. If your offer seems low, you have data to support your request for a higher salary. Additionally, if you have multiple job offers, you could use that information to support your a salary request. Finally, you could simply ask for a higher salary. The institution could decline your request, but they will not rescind your job offer.
In current economic times, it is possible that the institution cannot offer you a higher salary. However, there are numerous other things that one can negotiate when accepting an academic position. These include
Extra time to consider the offer
Computer resources (software and hardware)
Start up funds
Credit for previous experience on your tenure clock
Funding for Project NExT or similar organization
Deferment of your official start date at the university
As you consider an offer, decide what is most important to you. Determine what will make you happy and prosperous in your new job and ask for it! You might have to be flexible, but most institutions will work with you. In the end, the institution wants you to have a successful career with them.
The Joint Committee on Employment Opportunities runs a help desk at the Joint Mathematics Meetings each January, this year in San Diego. We’ll be there next week 10-5 on Wednesday and Friday, January 9 and 11, 2013. We help with the big and the small, from looking at resumes, doing mock interviews, and discussing likely questions to checking over your attire to be sure your hair is in place and your garments not suddenly askew.
Speaking of questions, some likely ones are:
Can you describe your research? Be able to give a brief description.
What resources would you need to continue your research program?
What background would students need to be able to do research with you?
Which courses that we offer are you able to teach?
Is there anything you can’t teach?
Given the opportunity, is there a course that you would develop for our program? What would be the required prerequisites?
Are you involved in or interested in any outreach?
Do you have experience with students from diverse backgrounds?
And the big two:
Do you have any questions for us?
Please note that it is not proper to bring up salary and benefits at an initial interview. You should be selling yourself in what you can do for them and not trying to find out what they will do for you. Be sure to be specific to the school or industry to which you are talking and not answering in generic terms.
May everyone’s job search be successful.
Summer has past, fall is upon us, and it’s time for another job search season. This is the perfect time to sit down with your adviser and honestly discuss the types of jobs you want to pursue and how to be successful in your search.
What type of job are you interested in?
For example, if you want an academic position, are you primarily pursuing teaching, research, or a combination of both? This is important for your adviser to know. His or her letter of recommendation will play an important role in your application, sometimes conveying subtle information. A letter with two pages on your research program, followed by a cursory sentence stating you are collegial and good in the classroom sends a certain message, as does the reverse. Your adviser may not know your teaching first-hand, but should know your interests.
Letters of recommendation
Many candidates include letters of support from senior members at an outside institution. It can be difficult to know all of the respectable names in your field, and who is willing to write for you just from reading your work and vitae. Talk to your adviser for suggestions. Also ask about timing, as you want as many results as possible to highlight, but should give reviewers ample time before any deadlines.
The mechanics of the process
How many jobs should you target? What do you include in a teaching statement? What is the proper length for a research statement? Just how many letters do you need? Which recommendations are a must? Your adviser has likely seen materials from past students or applicants. He or she also has more experience with c.v.’s and can help you spot missing or extraneous information. If your adviser is fairly new, or less familiar with the particulars of the type of job you are seeking, it may be helpful to also ask another person for additional advice, but your adviser will still have much to offer.
We here at On the Market are here to help, but remember that your adviser has been through this – and successfully, too!
No really, I do want this job…
Show them you really want the job. That’s the title of a recent advice column by David D. Perlmutter in the Chronicle of Higher education. (http://chronicle.com/article/Show-Them-You-Really-Want-the/132281) In this economy, your response might be, “Isn’t it obvious?” The truth is there are signals you send to potential academic employers indicating if you really want this job, or just any job, and no one wants to hire a candidate who feels they belong elsewhere.
Dr. Perlmutter offers great advice about tailoring your application and interview for all job seekers. For mathematicians seeking employment in academia, there are a few particular places in the job application process where you can show your interest.
The cover letter:
Most candidates will use the cover letter to highlight their research, teaching experiences, and awards. You can also use the cover letter to explain why you a good fit for the department, such as your ability to lead undergraduate research. Additionally, you can demonstrate that you are a good fit for the location if you have family within driving distance or a hobby, like camping, worth mentioning. (This can be a concern for schools in certain geographic locations, like rural towns.) Don’t be overzealous in forcing a connection. It’s a good idea to learn more about a school through their website, but gushing about a particular aspect, such as a student club, that in actuality has been dormant for years just draws attention to the fact you are unfamiliar with the school.
Generally speaking, it is unnecessary and in fact ill-advised to contact a faculty member at every school you apply to. There are some cases, though, where it makes sense. If you know someone in the department, such as a connection at a recent conference, then it doesn’t hurt to alert them to your application. If there is someone who would be interested in your work (and you can explain why – not just someone listed in your area on the webpage), then it may be appropriate to contact them. Additionally, if you are starting to receive offers for interviews, consider contacting your top 5-10 schools for an update on your status.
Perhaps the best way to show your interest is to ask questions. What do you already know about the department? Demonstrate this knowledge, while learning more about the specifics. Are you familiar with a peer school? This may also be a good starting point for questions.
A University will generally invite three candidates to campus for each open position. From a department standpoint, there is a good chance that these candidates have other interviews, meaning competing offers. If the first choice candidate waits two weeks to respond, and then declines, the other two candidates may already have accepted offers elsewhere, and it may be too late to invite others from the short list. In this case, if all three candidates are equally qualified and all good fits, then enthusiasm for the position can make the difference. You will meet a lot of people during the campus interview, and they all should be assured that you want to be their colleague.
Another academic year is over, and summer is here. This is the perfect time to study for quals, read papers on the arXiv, and contemplate your future. Aiming for academia? Intending Industry? Guessing you’ll do government work? Now is the time to really think about what you want to do with your hard earned degree.
For many of us, graduate school can seem like we’re stuck in suspended animation. We watch friends enter the real world: building careers, buying homes, and starting families. In the meantime, we pursue our love of mathematics. We spend day after day correcting calculus quizzes. We spend week after week forcing Matlab to compile. We spend month after month diagram chasing. After years of mastering these tasks, we earn our degrees and now enter the real world ourselves, or rather enter the job market.
Before spending that last year in graduate school writing the perfect cover letter and practicing the perfect job talk, why not take a moment to think about what you value in life? What do you want foremost from your career?
Is it financial security?
The AMS annually publishes statistics on starting salaries for new Ph.D’s entering academia, government, and business and industry. The AMS also publishes more detailed data for academia by type of institution. Check out last year’s report at:
For a more long term picture of academia, the Chronicles of Higher Education annually publishes median salaries by academic rank at most institutions:
Is it location?
Start looking at the universities, companies, and government organizations in the places where you want to settle. Be open to all possibilities, and be realistic about your chances of landing each position. You may be more than qualified to work at every institution in the area but will be competing with a large pool of equally qualified applicants. Are there particular classes you can take or skills that you can develop to strengthen you application? Do you know someone, or know someone who knows someone, who can help you network before you apply? Don’t be afraid to mention geographical connections in your cover letter.
Is it scholarship?
Academic positions usually mean some balance of research, teaching, and committee work. You choose your own scholarship, but are expected to produce quality results. Publish or perish, as they say. As a graduate student, it can be difficult to know the expectations at different types of institutes, and the resources available at each. For example, smaller schools may expect fewer papers per year, but may also have no colleagues you can collaborate with, and limited travel funding to find some. If you have an opportunity to attend conferences as a student, use down time to chat with participants about their institutions. If you don’t, keep in contact with fellow graduate students who finish before you, and ask about their experiences.
Also remember that research groups, businesses, and government agencies can offer interesting and fulfilling problems with real world application; the catch is that you may not pick which ones you work on.
Is it the students?
Institutions granting Ph.D.’s or Masters degrees offer the opportunity to mentor graduate students and/or postdocs. You can help a new mathematician launch his or her career, and further your own scholarship in the process. You might teach graduate level courses in your specialty, which can also help you strengthen your knowledge. Don’t forget there are undergraduates here too, and undergraduate research is very in.
Institutions without such degrees shift the focus to undergraduates. Many have smaller class sizes, meaning you can get to know your students well. Some also offer unique teaching opportunities or activities with student organizations. Small schools can often focus their mission. Some schools court high achieving students ready to dive into undergraduate research; some schools specialize in offering opportunities for under-represented groups, such as first generation college students; some schools attract students interested in community outreach.
Navigating the job market can be an overwhelming task. It can help to first sit down and really think about what you are looking for in a career. What is an absolute must? When are you willing to be flexible? What skills can you cultivate now to make you more competitive? Who do you know who can help you in the process?
The following is contributed by Sharon Garthwaite, another member of the Joint Committee on Employment Opportunities.
Congratulations! You’ve been invited for an on campus interview at an academic institution. This is both an exciting and terrifying prospect, as this is now your chance to show the department in person what makes you a top candidate. So just who is going to determine whether or not you are a good fit? Here is a list of people you might meet during a campus interview. Note that the specific subset varies depending on the type of institute and position. Most importantly, note that every single person on this list may have a say in the decision to make you an offer, whether it be passing along comments, a direct vote, or a veto. Every interaction you have from the moment you arrive on campus (or even meet a representative at the airport) to the moment you leave is part of the interview.
This includes the Dean, the Provost, and the President, or representatives from their offices. They will be interested in your background, your research, your teaching philosophy, your ability to contribute to campus life, and your general collegiality. Be prepared to describe your research to someone who is knowledgeable and from an academic background, but possibly not in your area or even in mathematics. Also be prepared to explain why you think you are a good fit for the students, and why you are interested in this particular campus. You may be asked about the resources you would need to continue your scholarship. Additionally, you may be asked if there are any obstacles to you taking the position should an offer be made. You can decide how comfortable you are discussing issues such as a two body problem. Keep in mind that these are the offices that will ultimately address some of these obstacles during negotiations should you receive an offer. They will also discuss you with the department, so assume these concerns will be passed along unless explicitly stated.
The Chair of the Department:
The chair may explain the timeline of the search, such as when he or she expects to make the first offer, how long you have to consider it. If you choose, you may share information about other interviews or offers that you have, especially if you have a deadline looming. You can choose to discuss any obstacles, such as a two body problem. You may choose not to if you feel that it will affect your chances of an offer; on the other hand, if you mention it when an offer is made, it may be difficult to find a solution during the short window you have to accept or decline the offer.
At some institutes it is the chair that determines starting salary, whereas at others this is determined by administration. The same is true of other resources, such as a start-up fund for research and travel.
Faculty in the Department:
You may meet every tenure or tenure-track member, depending on the size of the department. Some meetings take place one-on-one. Additional meetings may take place in small groups during seemingly informal interactions, such as dinner. (Remember that any interaction, including meals, is part of the interview.) Some members are interested in your teaching and general collegiality. Others want to talk to you specifically about your research or collaboration potential. This is your chance to get know your potential colleagues and gauge their particular balance of teaching, research, and committee work. This is also your opportunity to ask newer members of the department about the resources they have found usual at the university while assuming their new role. Many candidates will choose to research members of the department ahead of time, such as visiting department web pages to learn names and research interests. Keep in mind that many faculty members will do the same research about you prior to your visit, and easily stumble across personal pages, such as Facebook, twitter, blogs, and even comments on other people’s blogs.
You may be asked to give a research colloquium. If so, remember that most, if not all, of your audience are not specialists in your field. A good rule of thumb is that the first 15 minutes should be accessible to a first year graduate student, then next 15 minutes to any professional mathematician in any field, and only the last 20 minutes for people in your field. Be sure to practice your talk at your home institution and incorporate feedback before you go to your first interview and to revise your talk from the reactions before the next interview.
Faculty outside of the department:
Some universities may include a faculty member outside of the department on the hiring committee. This might be because your position has an aspect that ties to another department. For example, the department may be hiring an applied mathematician to teach classes aimed at biology students. This could also be because the university mandates it for all searches. If you do have such a meeting, this person can offer a different perspective on the department with which you are interviewing, and a look into how other departments on campus view it.
Some department may arrange for you to meet with a small group of students or have students lead the campus tour. This is your chance to see what the students at the institution are like. It is also their chance to learn who you are, what you research, and your teaching interests. The students may give feedback to the department, including whether or not they would sign up for your class next Fall. There may also be more formal interactions with students, such as teaching a sample class or presenting a colloquium.
These might be very brief, such as an academic assistant escorting you to an administrative office. Keep in mind that these staff members may report to the hiring committee on your personality and level of collegiality.
You might meet a member of HR to discuss benefits and policies, such as maternity leave. Some schools may do this through other means, such as during the meeting with the Dean or the chair.
Real Estate Agents:
Some schools schedule an appointment with a real estate agent so that you can gain a better sense of the realities of moving to take the position, such as the housing costs and availability in the area, school districts, and shopping. Some schools may opt to have a faculty member take you on a tour of the surrounding area. Members may also ask you about personal interests, such as hiking, to highlight what the area has to offer. Some schools may be trying to determine if you are not only a good fit for the position, but also a good fit for the area, meaning if you would be content living in the location and climate where the school is located.
So many people in such a short time! Remember, every interaction is part of the interview. Also remember that interactions are not one way: this is your chance to learn as much as about these people, the position, the school, and the surrounding area as they learn about you.
The 2012 Employment Center was held at the Hynes Convention Center during the Joint Mathematics Meetings. Just over 100 employers and 800 applicants participated in the three and one-half days of interviews. These numbers are similar to the previous year’s ratio. Most interviews were arranged in advance by the employing institutions through Employment Center software or private arrangement. Computers onsite provided access to the system and to email.
An applicant waiting area offered a quiet place to wait for the next interview to begin. Employers also utilized their own private lounge area with internet and printer access. While many job candidates
were hoping that more employers would be present, all in all, those participating found it to be a quiet and centrally located setting to hold interviews.
New this year, Employment Center information was accessed through the Mathjobs.org accounts. In addition to requesting and scheduling interviews, employers and applicants had access to materials (if requested or made available) uploaded to Mathjobs.org. An EC icon made it easy for both employers and applicants to recognize Employment Center participants. Reactions to combining the Employment Center with Mathjobs.org were positive, and many noticed that the tension level throughout the area seemed diminished.
Registration for the Employment Center at the Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM) 4-7 January 2012 is now open. The link to the instructions is
This is a great place to interview for jobs, mostly academic but some industrial and governmental ones as well. Follow the instructions carefully and put your best self out there. There are good suggestions on the instruction page but I want to highlight one and expand on another.
The Joint Committee on Employment Opportunities (JCEO), which sponsors this blog, staffs tables outside the interview area for people to come get help. We answer questions on interviewing, conduct mock interviews, do last minute checks of dress, and even straighten ties. There is a sign-up sheet at the table to reserve time, recommended for mock interviews, but also deal with walk-ins on a time available basis. You don’t have to be registered with the Employment Center to talk with us. I encourage you to take advantage of our help.
My expansion is in the area of dress for interviews. The basic principle is that you want the interviewer(s) to pay attention to what you bring to the job and not your appearance. Also, you want to be as comfortable and confident that what you are wearing is correct so that you don’t focus on what you are wearing. Men, a dark suit, dark shoes (NO SNEAKERS ) and socks, shirt and tie that coordinate is all you need. Women, as usual we have more options as well as more to think about. A business suit, skirt or pants, is great. The skirt should be long enough that you can sit comfortably and not be conspicuous in its shortness. Blouses should not show any decolletage, not only when seen straight on, but also when someone tall looks down at you. Flats or low to medium heels are recommended as you will need to walk a lot. Since your looks are not the desired focus, jewelry should be discrete.
See you at the JMM.