How Do I Prepare for Interviews?
Be prepared to discuss your teaching interests. Keep in mind that schools will often have teaching needs at the first-year level. Rehearse specific answers about which courses you would like to teach, and what your approach to them would be.
Even more importantly, you should be ready to discuss your publications and research projects. You should be able to state the thesis of a piece of work concisely. Developing a concise yet interesting statement of a thesis takes practice. Make sure that, when asked this sort of question in an interview, you will neither flounder nor digress. You should also practice answering questions about ideas for future work, or your “research agenda.” You want to leave the impression with your interviewers that, given the opportunity to pursue your scholarly interests, you will be a productive addition to the school. When you are asked what questions you have for your interviewers, do not ask about salary and benefits; those questions can wait until you’re offered the job. Instead think of questions that will reveal your scholarly interests, such as opportunities to organize conferences and workshops. If you are applying for a clinical teaching position, you should be prepared to discuss why you are highly qualified to supervise students in the types of cases or projects that the clinics may handle.
On-Campus Interview Preparation
When you are preparing for an on-campus interview, you should try to familiarize yourself with the work of faculty members, particularly those whose work is related to yours. Your job talk should not ignore faculty publications on the same topic. At the same time, you shouldn’t pander to your audience by invoking their work where it is not relevant. Find out how long you are expected to speak and whether the protocol at the school is to let you finish the talk or be interrupted with questions right away, as with an oral argument in court. Practice and time your job talk. Ideally, practice it in front of an audience that can ask probing questions: colleagues (if you are being open with them about seeking a new line of work); law school classmates (if they are available); your spouse or partner (if he or she is game); or (as a last resort), the mirror.
Remember that you are more expert on the particular subject of your paper than most of your audience. Many in the audience will not be in your field, but some will, so you have to balance providing enough background for the non-specialists against spending too much of your time on basics. If you are interested in and enthusiastic about your topic, the talk should go well.
Try to anticipate hard questions and to have responses. It’s okay to pause to think about a hard question. You are being evaluated on the quality of your mind rather than the speed of your answers. Most questioners want you to feel comfortable and are not out to trip you up. If you don’t understand a question, it’s okay to ask for clarification, and if you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to say something like “I want to give that some more thought. Thanks for the suggestion.” (Just don’t answer every question this way!) Above all, be responsive to questions and respectful of all questioners.
Throughout your time on campus, show enthusiasm for the school and its location. Think of ways to show that you have some acquaintance with the history of the school, and ask questions about it. Demonstrate your intellectual curiosity by asking faculty members about their work, as well as discussing yours. In your meeting with the dean, convey that you enjoyed meeting the faculty and are impressed with the school, the students, the building, the curriculum—whatever is plausible.
The process as a whole is difficult, and can be at times dispiriting. Patience is necessary, in some cases across several years; many candidates have gotten outstanding jobs in their second (or successive) year of applying, usually after writing a bit more. In addition, many schools hire according to their substantive area needs. They may not be looking broadly at all promising entry-level candidates but are focusing on candidates with a genuine interest or actual experience in a particular field. These needs and school budgets change year by year, so you may be attractive in a subsequent year simply because your field is now the object of a search. Hang in there!