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I have been invited for a postdoc interview. After reading some questions and answers, I noted that sometimes the applicant is required to give a presentation/talk. In my invitation, nothing is mentioned about a presentation or talk during the interview. Now I am not sure: should I prepare a presentation because it is the norm?

(Of course I have some presentations from my previous talks/conferences. I just have to review it and do some changes.)

Edit: after a short email, they replied that presentation is not needed

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    Consider asking them about the interview process and specifically whether they expect you to give a talk. – Dmitry Savostyanov Sep 26 '17 at 10:18
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    The title suggests a different question to the body text. – Jessica B Sep 26 '17 at 10:58
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    Why can't you simply send them an email and ask them? – stackoverflowuser2010 Sep 26 '17 at 22:04
  • @JessicaB What would be a proper title? – user3624251 Sep 27 '17 at 19:24
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In my field (theoretical computer science) either way is normal: some interviews include a presentation, some don't.

If they haven't told you that you'll be making a presentation, the natural assumption is that you won't. But there's no harm at all in asking them in a short email. Obviously, you'll spend some of the interview talking about the work you've done so far, but discussing your work is completely different from giving a presentation and it would be a waste of time to prepare a presentation that isn't going to get used.

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At least in my field and country, giving a talk about your previous work is pretty common for the hiring process of any academic position. But that does not mean you should prepare a talk. Nobody can seriously expect you to know this and automatically bring a talk to a job interview just because it’s the unwritten norm (and you probably do not want to work with the people who do). Moreover, it is impossible for you to deduce the desired length, audience, scope, and other aspects of the talk.

Instead, you have to estimate how likely it is that this aspect was just forgotten in the invitation (e.g., going by the other details it contains). If you think that there is any non-negligible chance that this is the case, just ask them.

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    I would suggest that the OP ask about the talk no matter what. First of all, yes, there is a chance that they are assuming a talk will be given and didn't mention it. But even if this is not the case, I think it is still a good idea for the OP to raise the possibility of giving a talk. There is no way that asking about this can be held against a job candidate. – Pete L. Clark Sep 26 '17 at 12:04
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    @PeteL.Clark: I can imagine some situations where it’s slightly detrimental, e.g., if the OP has already been given a clear schedule for the interview that obviously doesn’t leave room for a talk. But that’s really for the OP to decide … – Wrzlprmft Sep 26 '17 at 12:10
  • @Wrzlprmft But in that case, the host department can just say "No, thanks." No harm, no foul. – JeffE Sep 26 '17 at 15:54
  • @JeffE well they might also unnecessarily push around their own schedule to make room for a talk assuming OP really really wants to give them a talk when he maybe doesn't care or actually prefers not giving a talk. Albeit this risk could be minimized in the way the question is formulated based on the context from the invitation... – Frank Hopkins Sep 26 '17 at 21:50
  • @Darkwing I assumed that OP would simply ask "Do you want me to give a talk?" not "So when is my talk? I am giving a talk, right?" – JeffE Sep 26 '17 at 23:12
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There are two ways you can handle this, and both of them are good options. But quite frankly, if I were in your place, I'd take the second option.

First, you can ask them now whether they will want you to be ready for a presentation. This will start presenting you as a good communicator, and that is a big plus. This also takes the guesswork out of the process. Most likely they will give you a definite answer (although I would not), and the question will be settled.

Second option, and in my mind the most desirable, is to go in loaded for bear. Be prepared to give a full presentation, a short presentation, and a summary of your previous work which is most likely to be of interest to them, and at least a thorough summary of any other work you have done. They will inevitably ask about your past work. At which point you can say, "well, I think project x would be most interesting to you. I can give you a quick summary, a short presentation, or a full presentation, what would you prefer...". They will be impressed with your preparation, and might be non-committal with their answer. Unless they tell you exactly, go with the short presentation and adjust up or down in detail as you see their interest peak or wane.

One of the big things in any interview process is to have some WOW! factor, something that sets you apart from other applicants and leaves your interviewers unable to forget you. The fact that they have left the need for a presentation unspecified gives you a great opportunity to have a big time WOW! Why erase that by asking ahead of time?

  • Both ways mentioned in your answer make sense to me, however, I personally would prefer the first one for the following reason: First, it takes less time and effort to prepare the talk when you already know the format upfront. Second, assuming the perspective of the hiring PI, I'm not sure if the "WOW factor" would most likely arise from the talk itself - I would rather assume it comes from an impressive track record (i.e., excellent publications in top venues) in combination with a well-prepared talk (a good delievery of option 1 would already do for that). – lighthouse keeper Sep 26 '17 at 16:13
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    @lighthousekeeper - the problem is that there are always more than one applicant with "an impressive track record". A very real factor for any job applicant to think about is "what will I do that will set me apart from the other impressive applicants?" First, taking less time and effort to prepare should not even be a concern, especially not if additional time and effort will set you apart. Second, an impressive track record and well-prepared talk will not set you apart. Good applicants will have that, and you will not be the only good applicant. – user51808 Sep 26 '17 at 16:26
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    "One of the big things in any interview process is to have some WOW! factor, something that sets you apart from other applicants and leaves your interviewers unable to forget you." As someone who has done extensive faculty hiring, I don't really agree with this. Only a few people are brought in to interview for a position; none of these people are going to be forgotten. Moreover, most candidates who get job offers give interviews that are good in an expected way rather than in an unexpected way. However, watching someone give a talk is extremely useful in making a decision... – Pete L. Clark Sep 26 '17 at 18:21
  • ...because you get to evaluate them on their command of their work, their teaching skills and their ability to interact intellectually with their prospective colleagues in real time. If other candidates are not giving a talk and you can contrive to give a good talk, that's a huge advantage. (At my tenure track job interview, one of my proponents signed me up to give an extra seminar talk beyond the one given to the entire department. This gave me an advantage, I think.) If you don't ask whether you can give a talk until you arrive, it may be too late to schedule it; that's a big risk. – Pete L. Clark Sep 26 '17 at 18:25
  • Finally, the idea that someone would ask you whether there is an interview and you would not give them a clear answer seems pretty weird to me. May I ask: are you a tenure track faculty member? – Pete L. Clark Sep 26 '17 at 18:26

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