Improve Your Job Talk

5 minute read


To err is human. We all make mistakes occasionally, but mistakes during a job talk may cost you a nice job offer. Here are some tips for delivering a good job talk.

Know the time.

  • A usual job talk is 60 minutes to 90 minutes. Know ahead of time how much time you have for the job talk. The time you have will dictate how much detail you want to cover.
  • Remember how Google map allows you to zoom in or out on different map sections? In terms of managing your time, you also need to provide that function for your talk. Suppose the attendees asked many questions in the introduction section. After answering those questions, you should zoom out to give people a bird’s eye view of the literature and background so that you will have sufficient time to cover the results and contributions sections of your talk. Similarly, if not many questions are asked, you should zoom in on some challenging topics to show how much work you have done and why they are important for your research.
  • Some new Ph.D. students might keep asking you about technical details that are not your main contributions. Some professors do that too. To make time for you to cover the main work you have done. You should move such conversations out of your previous job talk time. For example, you can say something like: I’d be happy to talk about this offline.

Check for typos in slides.

  • When you give a talk at school ABC, you can leave the ABC’s logo or school name out of your slides. If you include those, please make sure it is the right name and logo, not the name and logo of the previous school you visited yesterday.
  • The same applies to the date of the presentation.
  • You can use Grammarly, ChatGPT, or your friends, or hire copy editors to proofread your slides.

Use clean slides.

  • Use bullet points instead of long sentences in your slides. When your slides are crowded, they compete for the audience’s attention. People cannot listen and read simultaneously, so they won’t hear what you say when they read your wordy slides.
  • Have a page number on your slides. It is easier for others to ask questions like: “Can you please go back to page 19?”
  • I understand some slides have to be crowded, like the results tables. Use animations on those crowded slides to help guide people’s attention.

Ask questions.

  • Treat it as a discussion instead of a lecture. Don’t rush to cover too much content. Take time to make sure the audience gets what you want to cover. For example, you can ask, “Is this point clear?” and encourage the attendee to ask questions by pausing at some critical points.

Use your body language.

  • Use open gestures and big movements. Please don’t put your hand(s) in your pocket or cross your arms on your chest. Because showing your palms tells the audience that you have nothing to hide. After all, you need the attendee to trust your message so that they want to be your colleagues in the future.
  • Video record yourself to diagnose and correct distracting habits, like shifting your weight from leg to leg.

Use Your voice.

  • Speak up. Too low a volume makes people feel sleepy.
  • Use some vocal variety. Again, speaking monotonically will not help you deliver your message.

Get familiar with the school

  • Know the names of the people in the room. The department has a directory with their photos and names for your reference. During your whole-day interview, including your talk, address them by their first name. For example, you can say, “This analysis answers Cheng’s earlier question” instead of “This analysis answers his earlier question.” Even if it’s the first time you meet each other, addressing them by their first name shows that you have done your homework of studying their directory. Another benefit of addressing them by their first name, instead of Dr. so-and-do, is priming them to treat you as colleagues instead of students. Some fresh Ph.D. students tend to call another professor as Professor so-and-so or Doctor so-and-so. But you want them to hire you to be their colleague, not to hire you as a doctoral student.
  • Test the devices before the talk. Survey the room for your presentation, visualize the beginning of your talk, and think about how you want to move. For devices, please have some backup plans. For example, please bring your own clicker, and know how to use your phone or iPad to remotely control the presentation mode. Keynote slides on Mac are beautiful, but many schools may need a USB-C to HDMI connector to load the slides from your Mac. You might use Powerpoint or Google slides, which are more readily compatible. Besides saving your presentation file to a thumb drive, you can save it to cloud storage and share it publicly. You will need help remembering the long URL directed to your slides file. Therefore, shorten it using some service like or with some easy-to-remember alias. For example, I can shorten this dropbox URL: to The short link will be much easier to remember and type on a computer.