Preparation Guide for Graduate Student Workshop Groups and Mock Interview Panels
For general advice, preparation, and information about job search and the market for U.S. positions at universities in economics and related fields, see the following sources:
(I) “A Guide and Advice for Economists on the U. S. Junior Academic Job Market 2018-2019 Edition,” by John Cawley.
(II) “Job Market Guide,” Washington State University School of Economic Sciences.
The sources listed above are incorporated below, mostly verbatim, to assist the participants in the WEAI GSW Program to prepare for (1) the workshop groups during which students will present their job market papers and (2) mock interview panels where faculty advisors and others will serve as interviewers and give students an interview experience simulating what happens at an ASSA interview.
Job Market Paper
Typically all of the faculty members in a department have a vote when deciding the ranking of candidates. They are not all experts in your field, far from it, and do not have expertise in the particular techniques that you are using. An overarching question, which appears both in the excerpts on the job market paper and in the excerpts on the interview process, is this: can you explain why someone outside your field would be interested in your research question, approach, or results? More, can you demonstrate competence in the institutional setting that gives rise to your research topic?
Excerpts from (II), pp. 13-14:
“It is hard to characterize exactly how the seminar will go. Some places adhere to very strict rules about no questions, except brief clarifying questions, until the end of the formal presentations. Other places start interrogating you from almost the first moment. At some departments graduate students are expected to challenge you, and the faculty will be silent. The point is, it is hard to judge how the seminar is going from the reaction and interaction of the audience, so don't read too much into it as it is on-going. In all cases, be ready and willing to adapt to the questioning style graciously. If you come to an impasse with a questioner, agree to disagree, and move on. Keep control of the seminar, after all, it is your seminar, and also feel free to (occasionally) admit you do not know the answer to a question.
The goal of your presentation is to provide an interesting and engaging experience for your audience while convincing them of the value of your work and the care and knowledge with which you have created it. Therefore, again, know your audience, and present your seminar accordingly. If it is an economics department, then speak to a general audience of economists. This would be a substantially different presentation than if you were speaking mainly to econometricians in an analysis arm of a large firm or agency.”
Excerpts from (I), pp 52-55:
“The most valuable asset on the job market is a high-quality, polished job talk. Practice it again and again for different audiences. Draft answers to anticipated questions. Know it well enough that you can make a lot of eye contact instead of reading from overheads. At some point you may become sick of your job talk but maintain your enthusiasm and keep it fresh.
When planning your talk, leave time for interruptions. It is important that you be able to explain your results and implications clearly, without having to skip slides or talk very fast because you’re running out of time.
Make sure that your PowerPoint slides are legible. Do not cut and paste into your PowerPoint slides a full table from your dissertation – people will probably not be able to read it. A font size of 20 is the minimum. ...Tufte (1983) is a classic reference on the effective presentation of quantitative information via graphs and charts. He also wrote a pamphlet on how to design an effective PowerPoint presentation.
At the beginning of your talk, provide an outline of the talk and quickly summarize your findings. You might be tempted to wait until the end of the seminar to announce your findings, but a seminar isn’t a murder mystery in which knowing the ending ruins the show. You want people to know your findings as soon as possible. …
Emphasize why your paper is of interest to all economists, not just those in your field. Put your research in the context of the previous literature, but don't spend much time criticizing the previous literature. Instead of emphasizing the negative aspects of what others have done, emphasize the positive aspects of what you’ve done. Make sure that, when you are citing literature, you correctly pronounce authors’ names.
Do not try to dodge questions during your job talk; answer them as best you can. When people give you comments, write them down. This serves several purposes: 1) it will help you to remember the critiques of your paper, which will guide your future revisions; 2) it indicates that you are listening to what people are saying; and 3) it can be used to provide closure when there’s a disagreement -- you can note the person’s complaint, thank them, put down the pad and move on with your talk.
In the course of reading for your dissertation, you should have absorbed enough institutional knowledge about the subject of your job talk paper that you are the foremost expert in the seminar room. Fair or not, if you don’t know much institutional knowledge about the area of your job talk paper, people may assume that your work is superficial. For example, if your paper is on food stamps, seminar participants will expect you to know details like eligibility levels, current caseloads, the extent to which food stamp programs vary across states, when the program was created, and how the food stamp program was affected by welfare reform. Institutional knowledge may be especially important in interdisciplinary departments; non-economists are less able to evaluate the quality of your economics research, so they may use the depth of your institutional knowledge as a signal of your quality.”
In an ASSA interview, typically the interview panel will consist of the job search committee, but not always. You should inquire in advance of the ASSA meetings, look up the CVs of the panelists, and know whether any on the panelists have expertise in your specific sub-field.
Excerpts from (I), pp. 39-43:
“Interviews generally begin with a request that you describe your dissertation. Explain your paper in broad terms. The interviewers may know nothing about your field, so be sure to explain the economic intuition and logic of what you are doing and explain how it is of interest to a wide audience. Rehearse one-minute and five-minute summaries of your job talk paper until they are polished. (However, don’t give the impression of reciting from a memorized script – talk naturally.) Don't be afraid to admit the limitations of your work; you don’t want to put yourself in the position of trying to defend something that's not defensible.…
[B]e prepared for “big picture” questions, which can take several forms; e.g.
- Why is this economics?
- Why is this an interesting question?
- Why should we care about your results?
- Who would pay to know the answer to your research question? (Why does it matter, and to whom?)
- What are the policy implications of your work? Sometimes candidates overreach and claim policy implications that are in no way supported by their work; make sure that your answer actually does logically flow from your empirical results.
Interviewers want to make sure that the job candidate is responsible for the idea behind the job market paper and the decisions made in it. They want to hire a smart independent thinker and good economist, not just a drone who takes orders from their advisor. Interviewers might ask:
- How did you get the idea for this paper? (Interviewers may be curious if your advisor simply handed you the idea.)
- Why didn’t you estimate (an alternative regression model) instead?
- Why didn’t you use (an alternative dataset) instead?
Employers want to hire people who will be productive. They want someone who will have defended their dissertation before starting the new appointment, and they want someone who will transition quickly to their next projects. So they might ask:
- When will you finish your dissertation?
- What are the next three papers you will write? (Be prepared to discuss the research question, conceptual framework, data, and methods on each.)
- What is your research agenda for the next five years?
- Do you plan to continue collaborating with your coauthors/advisors? (An ongoing working relationship could be good, if it leads to good publications and is a relationship of relative equals, or troubling if a candidate continues as a de facto research assistant on the advisor’s projects because the candidate lacks original ideas.)
Interviewers may want to see how well you know your chosen field, so they might ask:
- To what journal will you send your job market paper and why?
- Who would be the ideal referees for your job market paper, and why?
- If you were to teach a Ph.D. course in your field, what would be the key papers on the syllabus?
- Which senior economists do you wish to emulate? Why?
- Tell us the best paper you’ve seen presented in a seminar recently, and explain what made it the best.
- Based on your reading of the literature and participation in seminars and conferences, where do you see (your field) going?
Interviewers may want to see if you know where you fit in the discipline:
- Will your research use structural models or a more reduced form approach?
- In general, what journals do you consider to be the appropriate outlets for your work?
- What will be your major conferences?
- Do you think you'd be happy in a department like ours? (Especially likely to be asked by interdisciplinary departments or liberal arts colleges.)
In general, interviewers like to see if candidates are smart, can think on their feet, and are good communicators. They might ask:
- (Pointing to one of your paper’s tables): Please interpret and explain this parameter estimate so that anyone could understand it.
- Be prepared for interviewers to ask about your papers other than your job market paper. I’ve heard interviewers say that they know the candidate can have a polished discussion on the job market paper, so they want to spend the entire interview talking about the other papers on the CV.
- In general, interviewers might want to spend some time talking about an issue unrelated to the job market paper but important in that field of economics, just to see how the candidate thinks and speaks extemporaneously.
Here are some questions you might hear about teaching:
- What is your teaching experience?
- What would you like to teach? What textbooks or journal articles would you use to teach those courses?
- How would you teach? What is your teaching philosophy?
- How would you teach our students (undergraduate / masters / nontraditional / Ph.D. students) in particular?
Employers may also want to determine how good a match you think it is, and whether you’d be likely to accept an offer:
- Why are you interested in our school? What in particular led you to apply for a job with us?
- Is the location of our school (rural, regional) a problem?
- Where else are you interviewing?
- Is there anything you would like us to know that isn’t on your CV or in your application? (This is an opportunity to explain why you think it’s a good match.)
It’s OK to ask for the motivation behind an interviewer’s question, or to ask for clarification. You may be interrupted during your responses; this is normal and you should not panic or get angry. Do not try to dodge questions; to attempt to do so would insult the intelligence of your questioners. Consider all questions seriously and answer them as best you can.
Excerpts from (II), p.8:
- “What is your dissertation (job market paper) about? (2 minute and 5 minute answers)
- Why is your research important?
- What do you have to offer our department? (Mention 3 things: research, teaching, and team player or collegial)
- Who on this faculty might you collaborate with in research?
- Why this person?”