Job Talks

Job Talks, by Prof. John Greenwood

  1. Have talk prepared in advance. Talk should be different from writing sample, and different in topic. It should be accessible to a broader audience than your specialty. Should be self-contained and adaptable to different faculty and faculty/student audiences. Ceteris paribus.
  1. Master your talk. Memorize it if you can, but at least rehearse it until it becomes second nature. Time it to around 40 mins though recitation. Imagine giving the talk; check out room in advance if you can.
  1. If using power point, check your equipment and their equipment in advance. Slides should be illustrative, not merely bullet points repeated on handouts or slides of what you are reading. Rots the brain.
  1. Engage your audience through eye contact and gestures. Stand rather than sit.
  1. Modulate voice and control speed of delivery. Throw in a couple of quotations/lines of poetry if appropriate. Make it interesting but not gimmicky. Entertaining but not vaudeville. Just enough coffee.
  1. Anticipate natural and unnatural misunderstandings of your work and rehearse respectful ways to deal with them. Prepare phrases like ‘That’s a very interesting point/question, although I’m not sure exactly how it bears on my thesis,’ ‘I’m not familiar with idealist metaphysics, although I respect the tradition, but wonder how directly it bears upon questions of moral psychology etc.’
  1. Dress smart but comfortable. Be yourself. Know your philosophy.


Job Talk Basics, by Prof. Jesse Prinz
• Know who they are
• Assume few if any in your area
• If some are, say, continental, bear that in mind
• Make the talk accessible to students
• Every job talk is a test of teaching skills
• Exude enthusiasm (but not mania)
• Pacing matters
• Look at audience
• Smiling is contagious
• Humor (but not in excess)

• Don’t give outline
• Pose a question that gets audience thinking
• Use concrete examples
• Show critical skills
• Show constructive skills
• Solve a problem
• Indicate why the problem/solution matters

If Teaching
• Pose and motivate questions
• Be interactive
• Make sure they follow
• Diagram different positions on board if possible
• Use concrete examples or get them to come up with some
• Have them respond to each other

Methods (General)

• Always
o Practice
o Try to find a couple of points to interact with audience

• How to pick
o Always ask, what will the method do for me? Then use it that way!
o Ask, what am I good at?
o Slides are good when material can be presented visually (no talk on a screen)
o Speaking without slides or paper is impressive, accessible, and engaging—especially good if you are teaching a class
o Reading is ok if precision is important, but only if you read and write beautifully

Methods (Specifics)
• Slides
o Pictures help
 Bigger the better
 Think visually
o But too much flash can give the impression that you are compensating
o Don’t bring all bullet points at once
o Too many words distract (fewer the better, none as regulative ideal)
 If your bullets contain more then a sentence, something has gone wrong.
 If you have a full screen of text, something has gone wrong
 Keep font large and san-serif, offset headings in bold
o Arguments with premise help, highlight each as discussed
o Presenter tools in Powerpoint allow you to make notes to yourself
o Never speak to the screen
o Bring talk on Flash drive

• Speaking
o Maintain control
o Be highly organized, so people can follow
o Practice a lot
o Break monotony by using blackboard a couple of times

• Reading
o Avoid academic monotone, alter pace, act
o Look up as much as possible
o Break from reading at least three times to use board or say something extemporaneously
o Make sure you have a good justification for reading (Is your prose gorgeous? Is exact wording crucial? Would you mess up otherwise?)
o Write the paper to read, rather than reading something for print
o Using drama, narrative, or other devices that engage your audience

• Handouts
o If using slides, no handouts (too much to look at)
o Handouts are appreciated but potentially distracting
o No one complains if there is NO handout, so use only if they add
o Main reasons to consider:
 If you talk is structurally complex
 If it’s places burdens on memory (do you refer back to a technical term)
 If you present an argument that you will exam systematically
 If you include technical material (symbols)
 If you quote historical texts
 If you want people to have a record (as with this handout)
o If you use them, use them with a specific function
 Quoted passages
 Talk outline (for complex talk)
 Key terms defined
 Thought experiments/vignettes
 An argument in premise/conclusion form
o Try to keep to one page (can be double sided)
o Bring copies yourself so as not to burden the department

Q & A
• Listen carefully, reconstruct question if you are unsure
• Look for frustration—you can always say, “Let’s talk more about this later”
• Know when to say, “I’ll have to think more about that” (then reply later)
• You can say “That’s a good/interesting question,” but not each time
• Draw on knowledge not in the talk, to show depth in the area
• Retain a positive demeanor, not cocky or flip, but take pleasure in having a good philosophical discussion about your work, even with skeptics
• Thank the audience

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