Job Market Interview Questions

David 1Rene did mock interviews yesterday with three of our current job market candidates.  Here is a list of a few of the questions he asked:

  • Tell me a little about yourself.
  • Tell me about your job market paper.
  • What do you want to teach?
  • What do you want to work on after you graduate?
  • What is the most important paper [in your specific field]?

Some general advice:

  • Often, the next question will be based on your previous answer.  Try to carefully steer the conversation away from things you don’t want to talk about.
  • Don’t sound canned, but have short 1-2 minute answers prepared for as many potential questions as you can.

Words of Wisdom – Rene Stulz

René Stulz holds a seminar for Ph.D. in their third-or-higher year of studies, in which students present their research to one another and give/receive feedback.  In our first meeting of the 2016-17 year, he gave the following counsel:

  • By November of year 5, you should have several papers ready to share, with one of them polished to a very high level.  But never write bad papers just to increase your count.
  • When you go on the job market, people want to see:
    • skills
    • enthusiasm for your paper and for the profession – show that your interest goes beyond your job market paper
    • at least two solo-authored papers
    • at least one co-authored paper
  • Counsel for third-year students:
    • You don’t need a perfect idea to start a paper, otherwise you’d never do anything.
    • Start with an idea, and improve the idea as you work.
    • That being said, read a lot. “The worst thing you can do is to go and start writing a paper tomorrow.” You need to know how your idea fits into the literature and makes a meaningful contribution.
    • Stay up to speed on material from your previous classes, especially the finance classes.

Words of Wisdom – Shai Bernstein

Shai Bernstein from Stanford visited OSU last semester, and offered some advice in his meeting with the Ph.D. students.

  • Carefully document the questions you are asked during your presentations, and the success of your answers.
  • People don’t want to hear a lot of details and motivation in your job interview – they want to hear a simple, clear overview of 2-3 points that you want them to remember.  Your career will succeed along similar lines. The papers that are remembered are clear, powerful, and memorable.  Other papers float around and eventually fall through the cracks.

Job Market Advice – The Big Picture

Rajmakal Iyer from MIT came to present to our department today, and the Ph.D. students met with him as we usually do.  We asked him about his advice for students, and especially for students going on the job market.  He said the mistake most people make is to assume that their interviewers have read their paper and want to talk more about the specifics.  Raj’s tips are summarized as follows:

  • Nobody has read your paper, beyond the title and maybe the abstract.
  • Tell them in 1-2 sentences what your big idea is – where does your paper fit into the real, interesting, big picture.
  • Don’t forget your big picture when people are asking questions about specifics during your presentation.
    • If necessary, point the questioner back to the big question you’re trying to answer and tell them it doesn’t hurt you even if they are right.
    • If necessary, tell the questioner he or she has it wrong–nobody knows your paper better than you.  Stand your ground and tell them why their understanding is not correct.
    • When the questioner is right and it may hurt your results, admit it, thank them, and move on.  You might mention how you tried to address the issue, or how you could try to address the issue.  You may also say that there is no good way to address the issue and admit that your paper hinges on assumptions you make.  Defend your assumptions.
  • Job interviewers do not expect you to have everything right.  If they did, they’d offer you tenure on the spot.  They want to see how you think and what you find interesting.
    • Don’t just focus on one paper in your presentation.
    • Make clear how you intend to extend your work in pursuit of your big questions.

Raj had Brian Baugh, who is going onto the market this year, practice his elevator pitch for a few minutes.  Knowing nothing about Brian’s paper beforehand, Raj was able to present it in so much more clearly and concisely than Brian, once he understood the basics.  I think Brian found this very helpful.