Monday, June 11, 2007

 

Ask the Administrator: Interview Etiquette

Weirdly for this time of year, I've been getting a lot of questions about job interview etiquette. Excerpts from two of the better ones:

I have worked as a part-time faculty member at my community college for the
past (several) years. After much talk my department has finally created a new
full-time position and I was encouraged by my department chair to apply ( I
know there was at least one faculty member who was not even told about the
new position). I applied a few months ago and two days ago got a call for
an interview next Friday. The interview is to be with six faculty members,
including my chair, and will include a 15 minute teaching demo on a very
broad topic. I did some online
research to learn more about this type of interview as it is very different
from the one I had to get the part-time position and then contacted the
office staff who set up the interview with more questions. She directed it
to the department chair who answered she could not tell me who else was on
the committee or if other candidates had the same topic as me but that I
could choose to either prepare a general intro to the topic or a more
specific subject within the general one...SO, here is my question: What are
they really looking for? I trust they know I can teach the subject as I
have been teaching there successfully for a number of years...Is this
committee interested in my teaching style? My approach to the problem of a
15 minute demonstration in a totally artificial setting? I plan on
presenting a dynamic introduction to the topic so that I can be creative and
lecture/discuss without notes...it feels more like what I naturally do in
the course that covers this topic but should I be trying to dazzle them with
my deep knowledge (this is a topic actually outside my own field of study
but one I do teach there).

Because I have so little direction and so little information I am unclear
how to proceed. My gut tells me to go with the closest thing to actual
lectures I have given but perhaps I am way off the mark...How do these types
of interviews work and what are they looking for?

And...

I am writing to ask you a question about waiting, after a final job interview. I interviewed via video conference (a new thing for CC's?) for my first, committee interview for a faculty position at a community college here. Three hours post interview, the head of HR called to set up what she called "my final interview" with the President of the college. Twelve days later, I had the interview (late May) which was with the President, Vice President and the Dean of the new campus this college is opening. At the end, I was informed they would be in touch next week, which was a short week due to the Memorial Day Holiday. I am still waiting for news and thankfully have not received the dreaded rejection letter. I am remaining optimistic, that perhaps they got behind, since they are hiring for 60 positions for this new campus.

I don't know who else to ask... how long should one wait before contacting HR or???

Taken together, these don't inspire confidence that our hiring processes are as transparent as they could be.

I'll take the second one first, since it's the easier of the two. Delays could mean anything. They could mean that the committee hasn't had time to meet, or that it met but disagreed internally, or that it's having conflict with someone in the administration, or that the existence of the position is up in the air for financial reasons, or that somebody is just plain swamped and hasn't gotten around to it yet, or that an offer has been made but they don't yet know if the recipient will accept it, or they just aren't very good about communicating.

As with dating, there's always the anxiety about calling too soon, balanced with the anxiety of not-knowing. (The single best portrayal of this dilemma ever filmed is the serial-calling sequence in the movie Swingers, when Jon Favreau keeps leaving messages on a machine, digging himself in ever-deeper. It's actually physically painful to watch.)

(The best example of this that wasn't filmed was when The Wife and I met. We hit it off when we first met, and my instincts told me the next day that she'd be receptive to a call. I got her machine, left a message, and heard nothing back. I did the “should I or shouldn't I” dance for a while, and finally decided that my instincts couldn't be that wrong, so I called again a couple days later. Her machine had eaten the first message, she was psyched to get the call, and ten years later, we're married with two kids. Stuff happens.)

If you were given a “we'll get back to you by...” date, I'd go a week or so beyond that, and then call to check on the status of your application. Don't press; just ask.

The first correspondent raises a serious red flag with “I know there was at least one faculty member who was not even told about the new position.” What's that? Since this is a cc, and therefore a public institution, any job should be posted officially with enough time before the deadline that any interested party could have a reasonable shot at applying. If what the writer means is that she was given a tap on the shoulder to look for the posting, and others were left to their own devices to find it, that's one thing. (Honestly, even that strikes me as shaky, but there's no law against showing someone an ad in the paper.) If it means that the position was 'posted' only by informal grapevine, I'd have some very serious questions about the integrity of the management there.

That said, the actual question was about what to do in a 15-minute demo to faculty. What I absolutely would not do is go 'meta,' and address your “approach to the problem of a 15 minute demonstration in a totally artificial setting.” Nooooo. Don't be 'authentic”; be professional. (There's a yawning chasm between the two.) Give them the best 15 minutes you can – lively, rather than deep – on a topic as close to your wheelhouse as possible. Think of it as an excerpt from one of your best classes. You still have the 'deep' knowledge in your back pocket, and you can use it to address questions or to explain where you'd go next.

From a hiring perspective, I wouldn't use a 15 minute demo to assess scholarly depth. I'd use it to assess the candidate's ability to frame a question, explain something relevant, and engage a group. If they want to know about scholarly depth, they can go to your dissertation or thesis, or they can pepper you with questions afterward.

The common denominator to the questions, other than that they're both about hiring, is that they both show the degree to which candidates are often at sea regarding even the most basic expectations and rules of the game. That's not a criticism of the candidates – how would they know? Different colleges have different expectations, but most assume that their own are revealed truths and that ignorance of them is somehow revealing of limited intellect or flawed character. It's called 'provincialism,' and it's rampant. I suspect that the tremendous lack of turnover is the culprit – with very few people around who can bring any kind of comparative perspective to bear, local myths go uncontested. When new people show up and question those myths, the oldsters trot out “declining standards” to explain why Kids Today Just Don't Get It. No, thanks.

At my cc, I've pressed (and pressed, and pressed) to get hiring committees to be more thoughtful and transparent in their procedures, both for ethical and legal (liability) reasons. It's harder than I anticipated, since I underestimated the degree to which local myths were revered. But we're making progress, even if more slowly than I would have liked, and someday I hope that candidates here will at least know what's expected of them and where they stand at any given moment.

Wise and worldly readers – what weird hiring practices have you seen?

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


Comments:
I recommend the article

http://chronicle.com/jobs/2004/01/2004011501c.htm

mentioned in an earlier comment. The teaching demonstration is addressed in several paragraphs about halfway down.

In my limited experience (on both sides of the table), the author is giving excellent advice. Good class sessions consist of several 15 to 20 min treatments of a specific topic, woven together into a coherent presentation. Acceptable ones might lack coherence on a larger scale, but the pieces teach what is to be taught. We want to see one of those pieces. If you start with a one minute (no more!) statement of what came before, and end with a one minute statement of what comes next, so much the better.

If you have to use ppt or a textbook DVD because you need to read the material from the screen to know what to say next, we will not be impressed if the other candidates can work without notes at a blackboard. [One search this year banned technology to see just what the *teacher* could do. If it looks like you spent 5 hours on a 15 min class, how will you teach an entire semester?]

Some members of the committee will not know what you are teaching, so they will want to see if you provide the outline and facts needed to pass the test next week.
 
As a candidate who recently found a tt job (not at a CC, though), I highly recommend the CHE's forums. The following two will be especially useful to anyone on the market:

Job-Seeking Experiences
The Interview Process

Search through the archives before you post (many common questions have been asked and answered over the past few years), and make sure that you don't include identifying information in your post.

Regarding question #1, I'd be slightly wary of a straight lecture . Of course, the artificial format of the teaching demo (if it is addressed to SC committee members rather than students) precludes, or makes more dangerous, discussion-oriented demos. What you might try to do is to quickly acknowledge that you don't just lecture in your classes, but that you're going to do a mini-lecture in the demo so that the committee can see how you explain a given topic.

You might think about closing your demo with discussion questions or the intro to a more interactive activity. That way, your demo can lead naturally into conversation about the issues you've just discussed, and you can show that you know how to make transitions between topics and activities.
 
The advice to be professional rather than authentic is excellent. I had three interviews for different full-time faculty positions--I was authentic in the first two and professional in the third. I got the third position.
 
It's important to understand that the whole interview/teaching demo/follow-up interview with the VP or college President is a crap shoot. At my SoCal cc, whenever there's a job open in the English department, we get literally hundreds of well-qualified, experienced applicants. Unless you can walk on water, there's no way you can stand head and shoulders above everyone else in a deep pool of candidates. A good teaching demonstration strategy, therefore, might be to keep from shooting yourself in the foot.

In my department, the emphasis (one I agree with, btw) is on collaborative learning; straight lecturing is less desirable. A candidate who talks for 15 minutes on comma splices has lost not just a foot, but an entire limb.

My advice to interviewees is simple: Don't lecture. Give the committee a classroom-like task to do. Get them involved. Make them participate in your teaching. If you can teach THEM something, you've hit the jackpot. Don't try do do an hour's worth of work in 15 minutes.

Everyone knows that this situation is artificial; everyone knows that committee members aren't real students and a candidate isn't teaching a real class. What a hiring committee--at least a good one--wants is a taste of your teaching style, a glimpse of how you think on your feet, some insight into how you act in the classroom.

--Philip
 
I've seen a few CC teaching demos. Every committee assessed them in a slightly different way, but the main question was how would the students respond to this person? There you have an inside track, as you know your students.

The thing is, the committee mostly assumes you do an adequate job teaching, because students seem to know stuff when they are done with your class and they don't complain much, but the question is whether or not you can engage them, which is much more difficult.

It is also important to demonstrate your time management skills. Pick something you can do the beginning, middle and end of in 15 minutes. Spend a little of your introduction time putting it in class context and then teach like it is the first week of school -- you know, when it is mostly you and you are trying to make a good impression...

DD is right when he says that the teaching demo isn't where you demonstrate your academic abilities, rather it is where we get to hear you work for a short time and try to figure out how our students will respond.
 
Complete ditto. The teaching demo isn't about knowledge of subject matter (though lord knows you better get that right-it's pretty painful to watch someone teach erroneous information) but rather a sample of your style. Get the committee involved--aside from the pedagogy, think of the committee members watching 15 demos in two days. Lecture? Not so interesting. Participatory? Memorable and even fun!
 
Whatever you do, don't make the panel do "group work." Actually I think giving the panel any kind of "classroom task" is very risky, because they may feel very uncomfortable at "playing student." I vote for a lively, engaging, *interactive* lecture -- not talking at them or reading PowerPoint slides, but making a difficult topic accessible and interesting.
 
I agree with anonymous @ 2:59am: another danger one faces when asking the committee to "play student" is that a member of the committee will try to play "the difficult student." Interactive lecture -- stopping often for questions and comments -- is probably the way to go.

Make sure that you practice your demo a few times on a significant other or friend. Print your notes in 14-point type. Aim for 15 minutes, but prepare additional material in case the committee asks you questions or you wind up moving through your demo too quickly.

Personally, I'd avoid Powerpoint, but that may vary by field.

And by the way: I hope I didn't offend Dean Dad by linking to the CHE boards -- it's obvious that the community here is just as helpful!
 
Thank you everyone and Dean Dad for helping me prepare for the demo/interview. I am going with a "interactive" lecture and will have handouts for a more in-depth class activity I have done on the topic in the past so they can see where I would go beyond my 15 minutes.

And, to clarify: the position was posted on the school's HR website but I (and I am not sure if others were) was told personally by the chair (by phone and email) and encouraged to apply. On the one hand I was complimented but it also put me in a sticky situation when a co-worker told me she didn't even know about the position and felt all us part-timers should've been given a heads-up.

Again, all this advice is great...I really appreciate the support.
 
good luck with the teaching demo. At my small state school we had several searches this year. The interviewees had to give a 50 minute research seminar. Several of the candidates were dinged by the faculty for not addressing their teaching philosophy during their research seminars. The members of one search committee had mentioned this to the interviewees but the other had not. I thought it was bunk but everyone seemed to think it reasonable. Would it occur to anyone else to address teaching in your research seminar?
 
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