Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed: How to Give an Excellent STEM Job Talk, by Russ E. Carpenter (Stanford) & R. Parrish Waters (University of Mary Washington):
For Ph.D.s on the job market in the sciences, no element of the hiring process is more important for making or breaking your prospects than the job talk.
At some point in the 2019-20 hiring season — once you’ve made the long journey from application packet to Skype interview to campus visit — you will have to deliver a job talk. It will play a large part in determining the next decade or more of your career.
Yes, other aspects of the campus interview — the one-on-ones, the dinners with professors, the lunches with students, the meetings with administrators — will influence the ultimate decision about whether you are hired. But the job talk is where you can really shine — or very publicly fail. It is where you are given the stage to showcase your lecturing abilities, convey who you are and what you do, and, importantly, demonstrate how you could contribute to the department and the institution.
Given the impact of this segment of the interview, you would think that less-than-stellar job talks were a rare find. Sadly, far too many applicants find themselves in the midst of a cringeworthy monologue, full of disconnected experiments and overly complex graphs with no central theme or story. Worse yet are the applicants who never realize that at all, as their audience struggles to follow along (and mentally moves the candidates into the "no" pile).
In short, regardless of the number of lines on your CV, a poor job talk is the quickest way to sink your chances of landing the position. But, dear reader, you already know that — as we’re not the first to stress the importance of the job talk. A quick search turns up articles stressing practical (a checklist of what to include), professional (know your audience), and obvious (practice, practice, practice) advice.
Here, rather than repackage those tips, we stress points that we see as fundamental to a good job talk.
We come at this issue with a unique perspective: Both of us are rising academics, with backgrounds in neurobiology, who have been on both ends of the "bad job talk." Frankly, we often find ourselves commiserating over the number of job talks we see that just flat out miss the mark.