It feels a bit awkward to write this post this very evening but, however, I planned to write it and so I’ll do…

I’ve been to some job interviews for lately (three to be precise). In all three interviews it happened that I was asked a question I did not prepare an answer for (although I had heard this question before and should have known that it’ll be asked). Hence, I thought it could be helpful to collect some standard questions here.

Probably I should add that I am talking about job interviews for professorships in mathematics in Germany. When I looked around on the web for tips and tricks for job interviews, I found a lot of tips for the US market. Most of the tips seem to apply to the German situation but I had the feeling that a post specifically for Germany could help.

When you apply for a professorship in Germany you send your documents as requested – usually that is:

  • Your CV.
  • Your list of publications.
  • Your teaching record.
  • A list of your projects (third party funded).
  • A cover letter.
  • A copy of your PhD certificate.

I have everything but the cover letter and the certificate within the CV. Sometimes you’ll be asked to send some kind of “teaching statement” or “research statement” and sometimes they ask for evaluation sheets of lectures. Recently I’ve seen more advertisements that directly say that they want digital applications via email.

Respect the deadline! Once the deadline has passed you have to wait. If the committee is quick and you’re lucky you’ll hear something after a few weeks (two or three, say); if you do not hear anything for more than six weeks, you are probably out of the game. In case you are lucky you will be invited for a job interview (sometimes by email, sometimes by snail mail and sometimes by phone). Usually there will be five to seven people invited. The job interview always takes place at the university you applied to (I think – I have never been asked for a phone or Skype interview). It always consists of

  • research talk (between 30 and 45 minutes) and
  • the actual interview with the committee.

Sometimes you will be asked to

  • give a lecture for students

and I was once told that there will be an interview by students. It never happened to me that special meetings with other faculty, the dean or anybody else were planned neither I had special campus tours.

I will focus on the job interview here. Usually, the committee consists of some math professors (three to six or so), a PostDoc or PhD student, some students (about two) and some member of the non-scientific staff. Moreover, it may happen that some member of the university board is present.

The question almost always follow the general guideline: Research, projects, cooperation, teaching, administration.

  • What are your next goals for your research? Variations are: Where to do you see yourself and your research in five or ten years? What are the important issues in your field? Here you can use what you have talked about in your research talk (and you can prepare your talk such that it helps you here). Have something concrete and some more general vision.
  • What was your motivation to apply for this position? You should have a good reason (different from “I apply to every position I can find.”) and you should tell the commitee.
  • What are your experiences with third party funding? Usually the committee would like to hear that you know where to get money for research and that you know how that works.
  • What possibilities for cooperation do you see? I think this is a crucial point and I often put some effort in to find out what is happening in the math department, in computer science, in physics and in the engineering department. However, I think that it is quite difficult to judge if there is the possibility for cooperation by just looking at the research themes on the webpages. Sometimes they sound pretty interesting and related but then it turns out that goals are different. It also happens that there are possibilities for cooperation where you do not expect them (which happened to me here in Braunschweig). Hence, I am quite careful here.
  • What lecture did you teach, what would you like to teach and hoe does that fit in our system? While the first two parts are easy, I usually found it quite hard to figure out how some system work from the inspection of the webpages, Modulshandbüchern or Studienordnungen. However, I try to be prepared by looking for lecture in their system which I could give. Often you will be asked “What do you think about “service teaching?” (meaning something like “math for engineers”, “math for biology”,…). There is an obvious false answer here I don’t really know what is the sense of this question…
  • What is your experience with administration? Basically the same as for the “service teaching”-question. There is an obviously false answer.

    For sure there are more standard question and probably I’ll add them as they come to my mind.

    When the committee is through with their questions, you’ll will be asked it you have any. Have some! Ask about the library, the expected travel budget, if there are positions associated to the professorship, the IT administration, how many students are there, if there are plans for larger research projects,…

    Finally, I briefly summarize what happens after the interview: After all job interviews are through, the committee will decide on a subset of the invited guys (I think three to five) and ask some “big shots” in the field for reports. and an the basis of this the committee will form a list (in most cases with three places, exceptionally a shorter list on two or even one, in rare cases with two people on the third place). This takes at least three weeks but can take up to several month. The list has to go through the university administration which may take another few weeks. Strictly speaking you’ll not be contacted unless you are on the first place. However, you can ask the head of the committee (by phone – I not sure if email is appropriate) what has happened to your application. In case you are not on the list, the first thing you’ll hear officially is that the position has be filled (which can be several month or even more that a year later).