Interviewing for an academic post in the UK

A few years back, I wrote a blog post on how to apply for an academic job in the UK. I ended it commenting that I would do something similar on how to interview, but never did—partly time, partly Covid, partly not wanting to say too much while I was still the one doing the interviews several times a year. I write simply as someone who has interviewed something over a hundred candidates for academic jobs, and has formed some views on the things that, in my view, helped some candidates, and the things that seemed to disadvantage others. I dismiss some points as embarrassingly obvious (the candidate who referred to the students we were asking them to teach as ‘lazy little f**kers’ did not get the post, oddly enough). The points below are things I have seen credible, well-prepared, candidates trip over, and as such are things I have wanted to pass on to those who have sought my advice. The comments below are roughly what I have passed on to every colleague or student who has asked me for advice in the last few years. They seem to have worked for most of them—no doubt more because I have had the privilege of having outstanding colleagues and students than because this advice really changes things, but this stuff at least hasn’t hurt… These comments are about the UK system, because that is what I know. Typically, in the UK, a candidate for a lectureship in an Arts discipline will be asked to give a presentation (20-30 minutes, to prospective colleagues and (perhaps) graduate students) and to attend an interview. I am assuming that pattern in what follows, as it is what I have experience of, from both sides. Getting an interview is the tough bit; if you keep getting interviews you will get a job fairly quickly.To make the point I made previously again: you can appear as someone wanting any job, or you can appear as someone wanting this job. Try to know as much as you can about the context, and explain why this particular role and your passions and experience are a perfect match. (Yes, and then do the same next week for a different role.) From my perspective, as an interviewer, I am interested in how you will fit into our context; if you can show me you have looked into who we are, and still want to work with us, you go a long way to reassuring me on this point.The person specification matrix remains king (or monarch of unspecified gender). Look at what we say we are going to test at interview and give us what we need, or at least as much of what we need as you can.There is an incumbency bias, but it is not vicious, or at least should/might not be. The committee is essentially asking ‘can you do this job?’; if one candidate has been doing it on a temporary basis with some success, they have a clear advantage over other candidates.You can blow it in the presentation session, but you can’t win it there. If the crowd form the view that your research is facile, or that you wouldn’t be able to teach our students because of a lack of presence/broad knowledge of the subject/whatever, then you have a very high mountain to climb (Typically, after these sessions, those present are asked for comments, to rank the candidates in order, and to specify if any candidates appeared unappointable; if your prospective colleagues suggest that you are unappointable en masse, you will not get the job—no-one wants to have to manage that car crash. If they rank you as appointable, but behind other candidates, then you have a chance—the committee have access to documents and the interview, and others will understand if these made the difference.)For the presentation: do what we have asked you to do (please?); keep to time (please?); present adequately well—if you are brilliant, this will be noted, and will count in your favour; if you are inadequate, this will make you unappointable. ‘Adequately well’ here means: audible; expert; clear; able to engage with questions. Bonus points for saying something interesting, but if we are asking you to role-play an undergraduate lecture, you don’t need to excite the experts in your field.On this, remember that most of the committee are not experts in your field (although most of the presentation audience might be). Probably only one of the committee members from within the School is actually a subject specialist; the others are adjacent —Biblical scholars assessing a theologian, e.g.—but that generally means they stopped giving serious attention to...

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Musing on anointing: some (rather Baptist) thoughts on the Coronation

I did not watch this morning’s coronation; I read the liturgy when it was published, and have today read the sermon text. I saw various people on social media, including many who are on my ‘generally sane’ list, speaking excitedly about how this explicitly and unapologetically Christian event was going to be broadcast to the world—and I realised I couldn’t agree, although I didn’t know why. I am not republican: I think a non-political Head of State is an excellent thing, and, while the current form of British monarchy is not a system you would invent, it does guarantee that. No doubt it should be reformed in all sorts of ways, but I am not convinced that, if we ripped it up and tried to devise something better, we would succeed. I was therefore surprised by the level of antipathy I felt towards the coronation. I tend to ignore royal events: I find pomp and pageantry merely distasteful (if I never have to be in a formal academic procession again, it will be too soon). The coronation, however, actually troubled me. I have been trying to think through why, and ended up, as I often do, in the seventeenth century. (I realise talking about the seventeenth century on the day a King Charles was crowned is potentially in bad taste, but…) The 1644 Confession of Faith of those Churches Commonly (though falsely) called Anabaptists was signed by representatives of seven baptistic congregations in London, all holding to Calvinistic soteriology, and all directly or indirectly offshoots of the Jacob-Lathrop-Jessey Separatist congregation that had more-or-less survived through the first half of the seventeenth century in London. It is, in my judgement, the best confessional document Baptists have ever produced, in English at least, although it is clearly of its time, and not something one would reintroduce unedited today. One of its key features is organisation around the munus triplex, the threefold office of Christ. This was borrowed from the 1596 True Confession of the church that Henry Barrow and founded, and that then had Henry Ainsworth as its pastor in exile in Amsterdam, because the former pastor, Francis Johnson, was still imprisoned for his faith in London. Both documents locate a surprising amount of content under the offices of Christ. It is not just that the kingly office of Christ drives their commitments to congregational government and separation of church and state; christology proper, soteriology, accounts of revelation and authority, matters of ecclesiology, and even eschatology, sit under these heads. The munus triplex is in origin a hermeneutical rule: there are three offices in ancient Israel (at least as ancient Israel is narrated in the Hebrew Scriptures) that are marked by anointing: priesthood, prophethood, and kingship. To call Jesus the ‘Messiah’ or ‘Christ’ (Hb/Gk for ‘anointed one) is to insist that these three offices all find their true meaning and fulfilment in Jesus. Thomas Aquinas presents the doctrine like this; Calvin starts to use it as an organising principle for narrating the work of Christ. The expansion of its range amongst the English Separatists and Baptists is extensive and perhaps surprising. It is also dependent on a further claim that King Jesus does not delegate any of these offices: he is our great high priest, so there is no need for any human priesthood; he alone is the true prophet, and so we look for truth nowhere other than his word; he alone is king, and so no-one else may presume to command any congregation of his people. Now, both the expansion of the scope of the offices and this point about the lack of delegation are contestable, of course, and so other theological constructions than a Baptist one are possible. But the instinctive Baptist fear/complaint/demand is always that some human authority is trying to muscle in on a role that belongs to Christ alone. British Baptists have not, generally, been anti-monarchy: there is a temporal realm, that requires governing, and a monarchy is a possible way to do that. The seventeenth-century English Baptists, even when persecuted, did not stop declaring their loyalty to the crown—but they thought that, in imposing forms of worship and doctrine, the crown had badly over-reached its authority, and was trying to govern where Jesus alone can reign. So, to anointing, and coronation, which is centred on anointing in ancient British tradition, at least. The instinctive Baptist worry will be that, in using the symbol of anointing (particularly in claiming it is not symbol but sacrament, as some do), there will be a danger of confusing a proper temporal role with that role that belongs only to ‘the Lord’s anointed, great...

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