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Tips for the Job Talk by Axelrod
Robert Axelrod, “Tips for an Academic Job Talk,” in PS
Politic Science and Politics 18:3 (1985): 612-3.
Before the Talk
- Ask about the format of the talk so that you will know how much time
you will have.
- If possible, schedule the talk early in the visit. This will make
the individual meetings more productive.
- Practice your talk, even if it is in front of just a few friends.
This will help you be realistic about the timing, get the phrasing down,
and learn what parts are unclear.
- Try to get a half-hour to yourself just be the talk to review your
During the Talk
- Start by giving the title.
- Next, ask people to hold their questions until the end (except for
brief questions of clarification). Otherwise you are likely to get interrupted
and never finish the talk. If you are interrupted, and you can’t
give a very short answer in a single phrase, ask the person to save
the question until the end.
- Be sure to explain near the beginning why a nonspecialist might be
interested in your work.
- Be realistic about the time it will take to give your talk. Be ruthless
with yourself in planning what you will be ale to say, and what you’ll
have to leave out. If you are running short of time during the talk,
it is better to cut a pre-planned optional section in the middle than
to be prevented from giving the conclusion.
- Near the end, be sure to explain why your substantive conclusions
are of importance beyond the immediate topic of the work.
- A good talk, like a good musical, has a theme that people can whistle
to themselves on the way out.
- For most speakers, it is better to use a detailed outline than a script.
If you do read talk, be sure that you do not read too fast, that you
don’t use a monotone, and that you maintain eye contact.
- Use a blackboard to help focus attention and to have a common reference
point with the audience. Use handouts if the material is too detailed
to put on the blackboard. Be sure the handouts are not too complex and
are well labeled. Have plenty of copies of the handouts with the pages
After the Talk
- The hardest task is to appreciate what a questioner is getting at.
Ask for clarification if you are no sure, for example, by restating
the question in your own words and if that is what was meant.
- It is not a crime to pause before you reply. It might even make you
- It is not a crime to take notes on the remarks from the audience,
especially on an interesting point tht you hadn’t thought of.
It might even make you look like you care.
- It is not a crime to say “I don’t know” or “my
data aren’t decisive about that but I’ll be glad to speculate.”
- If a few people are dominating the questioning (which often happens),
say “I’d like to call on the person in the back of the room
now who hasn’t had a chance to ask a question yet.”