Friday, December 02, 2005

 

Ask the Administrator: Interview Tips

A female (it’s relevant) correspondent writes:
-------------

I will be interviewing for a tenure track job at a local community college
at the Large Annual Convention in my field. Do you have any suggestions on
how to prepare for the interview? I'm not sure what to expect so I'd
appreciate any insights (including into what I should bring and wear!).

My field is (a language). The position description specifically says they are
seeking a generalist with a focus on language teaching. I am ABD from a
respected university (one of the top, but not an Ivy), currently adjuncting
at a local liberal arts college while teaching (a language) part-time to
elementary students and finishing my teaching certification.
-----------

I have a general policy of not giving women fashion advice. The only fashion rule I’ve found useful for interviews is to never wear something for the first time to an interview. It will look a little too new, making you look like you’re trying a little too hard. Other than that, I’ll have to ask my female readers to leave tips as comments.

The candidates who have come off best, in my experience, have been the ones who turn the tables; treat it like you’re interviewing the college. Not in an arrogant way, of course, but assume that you’re worthy, and try to suss out whether the job is worthy of you. How do they do academic advisement? How well-developed is their assessment program? In what direction are enrollments moving? Has there been a lot of internal turnover, especially at the higher levels? Are there other women faculty in the department, and if so, approximately how many out of how many? (If you’d be the first, be prepared for an extra advisement load as everyone else’s female students seek you out.) How are the textbooks chosen? How long has the department chair been the department chair? Is the faculty unionized?

Taking this approach can help in several ways. First, it shows you as both confident and knowledgeable, and makes you seem less a supplicant. (Desperation is not attractive, as I spent my teens learning.) Asking about the employer seems more confident, and less arrogant, than talking about yourself. Second, it gives you a better idea from the outset as to how comfortable a home the college would be. Third, other candidates won’t do this, so you’ll stand out in a positive way. Finally, if you take at least some control of the agenda, you make ambushes less likely.

A few years ago, when I was looking to leave my previous school but hadn’t yet found my current one, I had an interview at a small college I’d never heard of in a city I immediately liked. (It was one of those day-long gauntlet visits where you talk to a dozen different people single-file, trying desperately to seem fresh as you answer the same questions over and over again.) Somewhere around the third or fourth questioner, I thought to ask whether the faculty was unionized. He answered “not yet...” For the rest of the day, I asked everybody why I got that answer, and the conversations became lively, revealing, and far more informative than they otherwise would have been. When I got back home, I decided not to accept the position if offered. (As it happened, within a few months, they had sent the VP packing, and been written up in the Chronicle for mismanagement. I’ll take “Dodging Bullets” for $100, Alex!) The city still seemed great, but the college as it stood then would have been a nightmare.

In terms of materials, I’d stick with the basics: c.v., business cards, a sample syllabus. If they want more, you can always send it later. Don’t lose valuable discussion time rifling through a pile of documents; the rifling makes a bigger impression than the document will. Keep it simple, clean, and professional.

Good luck!

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.

Comments:
Great suggestions, Dean Dad.

I'll second especially the suggestion that you interview the school. The school has already decided you're qualified, and now they're trying to decide if you're the best fit for what they do/are. You have to decide that on your end, too.

As far as clothes... Curse the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but I hate clothes! (Ok, all better now)

Again, I'll second Dean Dad's don't wear something for the first time, though I never would have thought of that. Dry run whatever you're going to wear through a day of teaching or other activities in your normal life. If a pair of pumps leaves you in pain after an hour, that's going to make the rest of the day torture.

If you can get a look in their catalog, or drive by if they're in your area, scope out what the FEMALE faculty's wearing; at some schools, there's some kind of code that women have to "dress up" and look like lawyers, while men wear jeans and casual shirts. At other schools, there's a different sort of a code.

I'd suggest you wear fairly dressy clothes you're comfortable in; wool slacks/skirt (unless you're in a HOT climate), a comfortable, professional looking top, blazer, and so forth. When you get the job, you'll figure out what's comfortable for you within the campus code (or you can choose to challenge the code).

Don't pretend to be what you're not. But do imagine yourself as a comfortable faculty member.
 
What to wear: You can't go wrong with a fabulous pants suit---something that you're comfortable in, that flatters you, and that makes you feel like a million bucks. The day is going to be stressful; if you feel great, you'll act great.

(Every woman should own at least one such pants suit!)

Great advice, Dean Dad!
 
Here's another suggestion: If you're asked "what would you teach in course X?," don't answer by simply listing the content. An answer such as "Well, first I'd teach A, then B, then C" will go on too long and be dull, even if it technically answers the question. Instead, describe your approach to the course, your overall conception of it that guides your choice of material. For example, "I begin with some short poems in the literature survey so that I can hone my students' close reading skills before we go on to longer prose works."
 
As to the attire issue:

exy Attire Works Against Businesswomen
LiveScience: Attractive people may sometimes have a leg up in climbing corporate ladders. But sexy presentation on its own can work against women who are already well up the ladder.

In a new study, men and women where shown videos of a businesswoman discussing her backgrounds and hobbies. In different tests, she played the part of either a receptionist or a manager. And in one round she wore flat shoes, slacks, and a turtleneck, all considered typical professional attire. In the other, she donned high-heels, a tight skirt, and a low-cut blouse. The test subjects rated the businesswoman on competence and guessed at her college GPA and the quality of her Alma Mater. The sexy outfit didn't affect their assessment of the receptionist. But the sexy manager was viewed as less competent.

"A female manager whose appearance emphasized her sexiness elicited less positive emotions, more negative emotions, and perceptions of less competence on a subjective rating scale and less intelligence on an objective scale," the researchers write in the December issue of Psychology of Women Quarterly. "Although various media directed toward women …encourage women to emphasize their sex appeal, our results suggest that women in high status occupations may have to resist this siren call to obtain the respect of their co-workers."

(From Mahalanobis--http://mahalanobis.twoday.net/ and scroll down.)
 
Clothing: go for something conservative, but with a hint of style. I have three interview suits: (1) A dark navy pantsuit with a coat that's cut long, to the back of the knees, and a mandarin collar. Not flashy, but distinctive. (2) Light gray spring suit, skirt below the knees, short sleeves. Buttons high, spread collar, slightly shaped at the waist. Again, not flashy, but if paired with either very sharp, expensive shoes or a colorful brooch or something, makes an impression. (3) Dark teal blue sheath with matching coat that's the same length as the dress. Again, not flashy, but distinctive.

I recommend shopping at Ann Taylor. Conservative, but not unaware of style.
 
I agree with the other comments... although I shudder to think what you would conclude if you secretly scoped out what the other faculty were wearing. When the Fashion Police come to make a raid, they may likely start at a community college... i.e. in my first year of full-time teaching one of my colleagues came to work in a *bright* aqua sweatsuit (and we're talking the $4 per piece Hanes kind of sweatsuit) but just to dress it up a bit, she wore a *brightly* colored silk scarf tied jauntily around her neck.

Since all my interviews seem to happen in the spring, I tried to find a spring weight suit that is somehow "softer" than something you'd wear to interview for a law firm job or a bank job. I went with softer colors and maybe a patterned skirt or shirt. It says professional but it is also more welcoming than a black suit. Of course, I've never worn that to teach and I was much more dressed up than those who interviewed me, but it's part of the charade, yes?

What do you think, Dean Dad? Are interviewees always more formally dressed than search committee members?
 
"What do you think, Dean Dad? Are interviewees always more formally dressed than search committee members?"

Don't know about faculty, but when I went for a staff job I was warned not to dress up.

Later I observed was that the way you told the students from the staff/faulcty was the students wore shoes...

(This is Australia, which is different, it was summer, and the Uni in question is not sandstone but still in the top 5. And it was computing science which probably explains more than the other points.)
 
Aargh -- this reminds me that I *must* get a new interview outfit -- my lovely black suit is too big. That said, I have been interviewing i lovely black suit (basic, classic, Jones New York) or tailored blazer and flowy skirt for a while now. I'm generally more dressed than the committee, but I've made it a point to choose things that are more classic than trendy. This is mostly because I don't want the junior faculty members on the committee to feel threatened -- I've heard stories of interviewee outfits making committee members think of their paychecks and feel resentment ...

The few times I've had compliments (I have), I've generally ended up in a conversation about the wonders of Ross, Marshall's, etc.

I have no idea if this is a good thing.
 
1. Drill down to the core on the web site, you will be surprised what you find there. Especially read the strategic plan.

2. Google all the faculty and look them up on the various rate your prof. sites. One bad rating means nothing, but 200 is an indicator

3. Google the university and look at on line student newspapers if they exist.

4. Carry all your everything on a thumb drive so if anyone wants something they can have it without your having to carry a mess of papers.

For on site interviews

5. If you are going to do a computer presentation bring your own computer. You would be surprised how stupid minor formatting differences between computers can make you look.

6. If 5 carry your talk on a thumb drive AND a CD. Crashes DO happen and for an interview the built in worst time for X detector is activated.

7. Remember, by the time they get to the point where they pay for you to visit, any of the invitees are overqualified, so it is a crap shoot, not you.
 
Thanks for the advice; I have a much better sense of how to handle the interview now. The clothing suggestions are much appreciated. Dr. B., you read my mind vis a vis Ann Taylor.
 
Everyone does interviewing a little differently.

If you're interviewing at a convention, does that mean they'll be expecting a teaching demonstration, or not?

If so, and you have an idea of what the topic will be, prepare carefully for it. Run through it before you interview with someone timing you and make sure you can hit your talking points in the time you expect to get.

This is an obvious thing, but you would be surprised at how many candidates choke on this. You'd also be surprised at how much a 15-minute teaching demonstration can reveal: lack of preparation, for one thing. Too, a teaching demonstration can often reveal damaging inconsistencies between what a candidate says and what a candidate does. For example, I've interviewed people who claim, more or less, in their answers to interview questions that they like to teach as "the guide by the side" (as opposed to the "sage on the stage"), but then when they do their teaching demo, it's a straight, talk-to-the-board lecture with zero interaction.

The advice that dean dad gives-- turn the tables, interview them-- is only useable if the interview format permits it.

Most of the time when I'm serving on an interview panel, we're seeing nine or ten candidates in a nine-hour day, and we're sometimes running behind schedule. Unless a candidate is really good, the last thing we want is some chatty cathy bogging us down with a bunch of "hey, let me impress you with my 'turn-the-tables' on you type questions." We want them to concisely answer *our* interview questions, hopefully in a way which makes their answers easy to categorize. For example, if we ask "tell us about your grading system for such-and-such a class," a good answer might involve a quick (but complete) summary on the chalk board, with the percentage weight of each component provided. A poor answer would leave the committee unclear on key elements of the candidates' system and make it hard to tell if the person has reasonable standards or not, or would reveal that they like to do something inappropriate, like make the exams only 20% of the grade, or have a class party during the final exam time-slot, etc.

We do generally ask them at the end of the interview if they have questions for us, and it *is* possible to respond wrongly to this. That question is more of a nicety than anything, and is not actually scored with the other interview questions. So if a candidate has a one-hour window of time for their interview, and it's one minute from the end of that window, and we're running late, the last thing we want is to be asked a barrage of some silly "let me turn the tables on ya" questions, like the ones Dean Dad posted. By that time the interview is basically a done deal, and there really isn't some magic question the candidate can ask that will take them from zero to hero.

What we really look for in a candidate is the following:
1) Someone who is willing to serve the department/college by working outside the classroom, doing whatever is needed, in addition to their normal load: serving on this committee, or attending that weekly meeting, writing that grant application, or whatever. The last thing I want to hire is budding deadwood.
2) Someone who knows their subject and how to teach it well, has rigorous standards, and who won't give grades away in order to be popular.
3) Someone who is a good fit with the core employees in the department. That is, there are some faculty who consistently and collectively do 75%+ of the "extra" work that comes down the pike. Those of us who do the extra work have certain views on a variety of work-related issues, and we tend to look for people whom we believe are similar to us in the important ways. For example, in my subject, computer literacy is generally a plus. So a candidate who reveals that they are computer-illiterate in whatever fashion is not going to do as well as someone who is obviously computer literate (e.g., "I have powerpoint slides for all my lectures in this class posted as PDF files on my Web site for my students to download.")
 
Hi

I read this post two times.

I like it so much, please try to keep posting.

Let me introduce other material that may be good for our community.

Source: Academic interview questions

Best regards
Henry
 
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