- Find out the exact rules of the game. You would think that the contours of a political science job talk would be standardized across universities. It ain’t. Find out from whomever invites you what the expected length of the job talk should be, and how long the Q&A will be after that. DO NOT EXCEED THE SUGGESTED LENGTH OF THE JOB TALK. Run-on academics are the worst academics. The last thing you want to do in a job talk is have members of the department you want to join thinking to themselves, “Sweet Jesus, why is this person still talking?”
- Get your main point across within the first five minutes. No one attending a job talk is as interested in your subject matter as you are. Most of the people attending your talk are not in your subfield. You need to convince this audience that you have found an interesting puzzle, what your provisional answer to that puzzle is, why this answer is a big deal, and why you should care even if you do not study this particular area of politics. The first five minutes should be aimed at the political scientist in the room who knows the least about your topic. The rest of the talk is devoted to how you can prove your answer is correct. That is the segment that can be directed at your particular subfield.
- Don’t try to put everything you know in the job talk. It’s a rookie move to worry that you will neglect a key part of your research and therefore overstuff the talk. Again, DO NO EXCEED THE SUGGESTED LENGTH. If nothing else, a hard time constraint disciplines you to be sure that you offer up the most important portions of your argument. And do not worry if you have to elide some details — this is what the question-and-answer period is for. The less that is in your talk, the more that will come out in the Q&A. And this is good, since …
- The Q&A matters even more. With enough prep, anyone can give a good job talk. What separates the successful from the less successful is how they answer questions about their work. Search committees are looking for confident answers that demonstrate a thorough grasp of the material. Do not try to bluff your way out of a question that you do not understand. Ask for clarifications when necessary. Say “I am not sure” when necessary.
- Have technical backups. The worst feeling is being ready to give a talk only to find that the technology is acting buggy that day. As Saideman notes, “Do have a PDF of your slides in case your software does not work so that you can at least page through on the projector through your outline/figures/tables. Keep your files on your laptop and on a usb key and on dropbox—plan for technical failure. Have a printout.” Even if you do not need to use any of these technical backups you will probably rest easier knowing that they are there.
September 13, 2017 at 8:15 AM EDT