MLA Interviews

General Perspectives

For some people, MLA is a ritual, part of the initiation rite that welcomes (or terrorizes) people into the profession.  Much has been written about it and it is certainly worth you time to peruse this material (see below).  It is also highly recommended that you attend MLA before you go on the market, just to get a sense of the conference.  It is huge, requiring many hotels that are filled with job candidates waiting in hallways, rushing across packed lobbies, often decked out in blue or black suits.  What you wear is of course a matter of style and it is important to be yourself.  But avoid either the completely predictable conservative suit or the outlandish.  You get to wear whatever you want once you get the job; express yourself but remember that in the sea of identical academic suits, it will not be hard to put a unique spin on your self-presentation. 

Check out these essays:

Ball, Cheryl E. 2014. “Interview Disasters.” Inside Higher Ed.

Baron, Dennis.  “The Job Interview.”  The Chronicle of Higher Education Career Network (January 21, 2002):

Bugliani, Ann. “The MLA Job Interview: What Candidates Should Know.” ADFL Bulletin 24.1 (1992): 38–39.

Broughton, Walter, and William Conlogue. “What Search Committees Want.” Profession 2001. New York: MLA, 2001. 39–51.

Donadey, Anne. “Interview Tips.” San Diego State University. 26 Sept. 2014.

Johnson, Mary Dillon.  “The Academic Job Interview Revisited.” Chronicle of Higher Education (Oct 15, 2004):

Kress, Susan. “The Inappropriate Question.” ADE Bulletin 120 (1998): 36–38.

Land, Mike.  “Being Yourself on the Interview Trail.” Chronicle of Higher Education (Oct 29, 2001):

Lederer, Herbert.  “Dos and Don’ts for MLA Convention Interviews.” MLA Professional Resources website:

Mangum, Teresa. “The Interview -- Readiness Is All.” Inside Higher Ed. 9 Dec. 2009. 26 Sept. 2014.

MLA Committee on Community Colleges. 2006. “A Community College Teaching Career.” MLA             

Moore, David Chioni. “Timing a First Entry onto the Academic Job Market: Guidelines for Graduate Students Soon to Complete the PhD.” Profession 1999. New York: MLA, 1999. 268–74.

—.  “Should You Go on the Market This Year.” Chronicle of Higher Education(Sept 8, 2000):

Papp, James. “The Stars and Ourselves: An Ordinary Person’s Guide to the Foreign Language Market.” ADFL Bulletin 30.1 (1998): 44–51.

Pink, Steve. “A Good Search.” Chronicle of Higher Education (June 3, 2004):

Schneider, Alison. “Frumpy or Chic? Tweed or Kente? Sometimes Clothes Make the Professor.” Chronicle of Higher Education (January 23, 1998): A12-14.

Skinner, Lee. “MLA Interviews from the Candidate’s Point of View.” ADFL Bulletin 31.1 (1999): 15–18.

Stivale, Charles J. “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Interviewer.” ADFL Bulletin 34.1 (Fall 2002): 41-46.

What Happens at Interviews: Some Typical Questions 

In thinking about interviews, you should always bear in mind that search committees seek to open a conversation with a prospective colleague. The forms their questions take and their style of engaging you will vary widely depending on the composition of the committee and the culture of the department they represent.  So these questions are not "typical" in the sense that you can count on being asked them.  But thinking about how you would answer these questions will go a long way to prepare you for answering any number of likely questions about your scholarship, teaching, and professional trajectory.  

For additional resources on the job interview and likely questions, see and

1.  Tell us about your dissertation.  (This can take a more pointed form, as in "What is the argument of your dissertation?")

2.  How would you situate your work in the field of [postcolonial / comparative literature / China Studies] studies?

3. What is the most important contribution of your dissertation to the field of X studies?

4. What do you think of so-and-so’s earlier landmark study on your topic?

5.  Who are your primary interlocutors in the dissertation? 

6.  What do you need to do to make your dissertation into a book?

7.  What was the basic argument of the article you’ve had accepted by [Critical Inquiry]?  If this essay isn’t part of your dissertation, what’s the connection between it and your larger project?

8.  What do you think are the 3 most important critical works published in your field during the past few years?

9.  What do you plan to work on next?

10.  What’s the connection between your research and what you do in the classroom?

11.  How would you teach the sophomore Introduction to Literature course at our college?

12. How would you introduce students to contemporary critical theory?

13.  What survey courses are you prepared to teach and how would you go about it?

14.  What’s your dream course and how would you organize it?

15.  Would you be prepared to teach immediately in our graduate program?  If so, how do you understand the difference between undergraduate and graduate instruction?

16.  What kinds of assignments do you give in your courses?

17.  How many [19th century] novels would you assign in a semester to our undergraduates?

18.  What do undergraduates need to know about “theory?”  Conversely, why does the study of literature still matter?

19.  Are you interested in different theories of composition pedagogy?

20.  What’s the most important thing you want students to learn in your courses?

21.  How would you organize your courses and teaching differently in a quarter system?

22.  How would you adjust to a different student population?

23.  How do you teach [title of a frequently taught text in your field]?  How would you teach if differently to graduate students?

24.  Why do you want to move to the Midwest/South?

25.  Why did you apply for this job?

26.  What do you read/do when you’re not doing research or grading papers?

27.  What questions do you have for us?

Questions You Might Ask (and Those You Shouldn’t) 

1.  Can you tell me a little about the student body at X – especially the majors and non-majors who take Literature courses? 

2.  (Assuming this isn’t sufficiently clear from earlier portions of the interview:) What are some of the courses you hope your new hire will cover?  What would be a typical distribution of courses (lower division/upper division/graduate; topical/survey; literature/composition; lecture/discussion) for a faculty member in your department in any given year?  (This can be useful way of finding out about teaching load, without asking directly.) 

3.  (If applicable):  Are there opportunities for interdisciplinary and/or for cross-listing courses? 

4.  In what forms of service do junior faculty typically participate?  Do they have the opportunity to serve on department committees?   

5. In what directions do you see your department moving over the next several years in terms of curriculum or research initiatives?  (Or if your web research has brought to your attention some specific curricular or research endeavor already underway, then ask about it.) 

6.  What do you appreciate most about working in X department or at X university or in X city? 

7.  Could you tell me the time line for your decision on campus visits?

Don’t Ask About:

  • salary, moving expenses, parental leave, partner hiring, benefits, etc.  These are premature questions.
  • where faculty spend their summers
  • course reductions
  • anyone’s personal life