I am sure that people have said this in other places. In particular if you are looking for a job and have not seen Dr. Becca’s aggregator then you have not lived. But this is on the top of mind right now.
I’m on a search committee for a position outside of my area of research, but in basic science, not for a clinical position. There are (of course) lots of politics swirling around the position. Its not a standard TT replacement for a particular line in the dept, but something awarded by the Dean for Good Reasons. Importantly it is a TT addition to the department, and to the group within the department in this area. And it has a weird ad that is a political compromise amongst some of the forces within the group that is hiring. That history in the end may not matter, but it seems to me more than the average amount of broo-hoo-ha going on. I try, as my mother recommended, to rise above it.
The person who came in yesterday was clearly brilliant. Funded, ja ja, published, doing important science (significant and innovative), etc. Someone told this candidate to craft the talk to reach parts of the department not in the group. So the talk started with a slide of a neuron and its parts labeled (given that I think some people in the dept don’t know this, it was probably an ok start). But it went downhill. I was lost after about 15 min. So was someone in the group who talked to me about it later. In a meeting with candidate, when I pushed about bigger picture and relevance, the candidate came through: everything that should have been in the talk.
So, the advice? Firstly: read the ad. If it says that its a broad biology department, remember there are going to be plant physiologists and insect neurobiologists and macrosystems ecologists. It is hard to talk to everyone, but context is critical. It is an art to show that you know your stuff, that you’ve done Important Work, and yet not lose people. But that is what impresses on a job search.
Secondly, do your research. This is easy now (compared to pre-web). Read the web page of everyone in the dept (unless the dept is 80 people, then you can probably stick with the division). Make lists of what areas are being worked on. You may actually meet these people. Talk to the search chair – ask what they are expecting. Who will be at the talk (people from other departments?)?
Thirdly, practice your talk to someone who is not in your group, but who has gone to job talks. Get them to tear it apart.
Yes you are scientist, but as is true for grant applications, you are trying to persuade someone. If the expressions “selling yourself” and “selling your science” make your skin crawl because they are not pure, and sully you and your science, then figure out what phrasing you need to understand that you are not making the decision. Someone else is. And you need to persuade, help, convince, whatever word you like. Science is a team sport. And part of the purpose of the interview is to determine if you can be part of their team.