Friday, June 27, 2008

 

Interview Tips: A Bleg

This week a correspondent sent some good interview tips for faculty candidates, asking that I gather more from my wise and worldly readers and compile them.

So, wise and worldly readers, if you have any specific and useful tips, please either comment here or email me, and I'll put together a 'best of' tips post.

Thanks!

Comments:
Don't tell your interviewers how lousy their school is and how you can help them out of their dire situation.
 
Remember that they want to know why you want THIS job, as opposed to any job that you can get
 
The best advice I heard about any job (and specifically, what should be on the objective of any resume) is tell them what you can do for THEM, not what you hope to get out of the job for yourself.
 
No matter how lowly the CC -- remember that you are asking to work there, and that the people doing the interview won't be impressed if you talk down to them.

Be mindful of your time limits. If you are told the interview will last an hour and you are given a list of 15 questions we'll ask, don't spend 20 minutes on question #2.

Don't ask us questions you can easily figure out from the school's website. A candidate who is actually interested in the school will have absorbed that information after being scheduled for an interview.
 
My opinion is that the most important thing to remember is that whether or not you get the job has more to do with them than it does you. That helps me relax and remain down-to-earth.

I mean, sure, you can screw it up. But, they've seen your CV and now you have to succeed in an alchemical equation otherwise known as a "committee".

Of course, you're going to do your research and find out what kind of things people in the dept. publish (or don't). That shows respect if nothing else.

You'll try to assess their needs. But, in my field of art, for example, the prerequisite qualifications, skills, focus, etc. for a title so narrow as "Painter" can vary wildly from dept. to dept. (some want people who don't even use paint, others think a candidate is tainted if s/he's dabbled in any other media). Their ideal candidate depends on more factors than you can shake a stick at and might not be set in stone anyway.

Seems to me that if you can be confident and clear about who you are and what you're really good at (that doesn't mean being inflexible), then you will be regarded highly, respected, and seem interesting as a colleague. If you do get that job, you're more likely to be happy within it knowing you won't feel pressure to work with emphasis on your weak areas. And, if you don't, you'll still be remembered as a colleague and an equal somewhere out there in the field - which may very well come back in your favor some day.

Then, when you do try to demonstrate how your strengths fill their needs, even with all your research about them, just ASK what they think their needs are. I can't tell you how many committees I've sat in front of couldn't answer that question. If they answer clearly, you can apply yourself clearly. If they don't, you can appear collegial and understanding in the face of their very obvious shortcoming - then see if you can take control of the issue with a little Socratic method to maybe get them to think what they need is you.
 
First, the answer is quite different for a faculty position at a CC (research?), an R1, or a 4-year college or university. Those differences were the focus of part 3 of my "jobs" series. If you got a PhD, you were probably at one of a handful of universities that are wildly different from where most jobs are found - and nothing like a CC.

There is a lot of excellent advice in the Chronicle's mentoring area, particularly for the 2-year track, a point I should make on the IHE version of this blog! A CC is going to expect a different CV (perhaps even a teaching portfolio) and will ask different questions (dealing with diverse learning styles, for example) than you will get at an R1. I also don't recall any questions about teaching at an MS uni whose job offer I turned down, just as the CC never asked about my dozens of published papers.

Like an early responder said, we want to know why you want to join and contribute to our institution over the next 20 years. Oh, and research is OK as long as you don't come across as a cyber stalker.

Finally, I'll include an invitation to contribute to a collection of pseudonymous college budgets of people who contribute in this forum. You can link to your own blog or post in the comments.
 
I think people have already probably mentioned this before but:
Know the school
Know the department
Know the community
When I was interviewing I added "know the geology" Just because I didn't think it would be good to be applying for a job as a geologist and not know the geology/paleontology of their area. So maybe we can generalize that to
Know your field in their geographic area.
 
Know the answer to the question, "If you could design your own upper-level course in our department, what would it look like?"
 
Read through arcane documents like the Strategic Plan to find out where the college is looking to go in the near and semi-near future, then place yourself inside that plan and SHOW them how you can help them get there.

Do mock interviews with people who have navigated the process successfully, and don't let them go easy on you, because the hiring committee certainly won't.
 
Sometimes it's little things. One candidate really impressed a hiring committee I was on when she used our names when she answered the interview questions.

Sometimes it's the big things. If you're applying for a CC position, remember that the only thing the hiring committee is looking for a good teacher. Your resume/CV and your cover letter should focus on your classroom experience. Anything and everything else is far less important.
 
A while ago I read a document called "you are what you ask." This goes along with earlier posters' comments about doing research and not asking questions that can obviously be answered by the website. But to continually have questions throughout the day and to have your questions build on what you've learned about the school during your visit is very impressive. (Sorry if this leans toward the administrative. This is more true of administrative jobs, I think, but still true of TT faculty).
 
I've served on about five hiring committees throughout my college and university. I agree with most of what's been said here, especially comments about knowing the college's mission and following up with questions appropriate to the mission, such as how particular professors attempt to fulfill that mission.

However, I'll also second the person who said that much is out of your control. I can't tell you how many applicants I and my committee have rejected simply because they said or did something completely innocuous that was then blown all out of proportion during our discussions. In other words, with applications in the humanities running into the hundreds, we are looking for reasons to say no, to get just the right person. Sometimes we fail.

Smile during the interview. Show some personality. Ask questions. Keep a firm handshake.

In your teaching demo, be lively. Walk around the room. Follow-up with students who talk. Call on a few students who don't. Point out to the committee where you think you could have done better during the demo before it gets a chance to pick you apart. Make sure that the teaching demo had a *point,* and that the point was clear.

Good luck.
 
Send exactly what they ask for and only what they ask for. Be sure to completely personalize each packet for each institution. Incomplete files go in the trash and so do extraneous materials though they will likely tick someone off in the process.

Additionally, when applying to a CC, be ready to explain why you want to work with that particular group of students. If we think you are slumming because you can't get anything else, you are done.
 
Be able to talk with energy and specific details about your teaching. Practice a few teaching anecdotes that illustrate your teaching strengths and respect for students. There's nothing more telling than a candidate that keeps telling the committee what a great teacher s/he is but never actually talks about specific classroom moments or students (or talks about them disdainfully).
 
At the end of the interview, when they ask you if you have any questions, ask them: "Do you have any reservations about hiring me that I can address?" This always seems to take them by surprise, but if they bring something up and you can address it, then it shows you've done your homework.
 
One important detail: be sure you know who is making the decision but don't ignore anyone that you talk to during your visit.

Someone mentioned a "hiring committee", but the committee rarely makes the decision. I even know of one case where the committee's view was simply ignored. (That was an admin hire.)

Our college uses a screening process. The committee puts forward an UNranked list of N people (N > 1) we would be happy to have. The decision is made by the President, but the Dean's advice is crucial -- as is the committee's report to the Dean.

Some committees submit a ranked list to the faculty, who send their single choice to the Dean, who might send it back.

And the members of the committee will hear from faculty who were impressed or unimpressed or horrified by the candidate, either in the teaching presentation or just in social conversation or at dinner or during a ride from the airport.

You are never off stage.
 
For a CC position:

Be yourself. Your best self, but yourself. You don't know exactly what the committee is looking for, so don't try to be that, whatever you think "that" is.

Please don't tell us how much you want this job for various personal reasons that have nothing to do with our school or this particular position.

When you have the opportunity to ask questions in the first interview, don't ask about pay, teaching load, schedule, etc. We know those things matter to you--but at that stage, we want to hear thoughtful questions about our school, our programs, etc., not about whether you'll have to be on campus on Fridays. (Bonus tip: ask a question that lets us tell you about some aspect of our school we're proud of. We love that.)

If there's something in your employment history that might raise eyebrows, address it at some point. Depending on the hiring process, the committee may not be able to ask you about things we'd really like to. For example, in my process we have to ask exactly the same questions of all candidates and can't follow up unless it's about directly related to something you've already said. Believe me, we are dying to know why you want to leave your tenured position at another CC but we can't directly ask you. (This is not true of all hiring processes, but it is of some.)

If you are interviewed, make sure your references are expecting calls and will be around to respond promptly. If a reference is unavailable for some reason, provide an alternate. This is beyond basic, but ask your references if you may use their names. I've been called to provide a reference for instructors I barely know--and for instructors about whom I didn't have positive things to say. In those cases I'm forced to say that I wasn't asked to provide a reference and so can only provide dates of employment. Believe me, the person calling was able to read between the lines.

I could go on and on, but those are the highlights.
 
Two words: Be positive. If you're negative when you're auditioning and on your best behavior, how bad are you going to be should you get the job?
 
Don't be surprised if the search is run in some kind of screwy way. I had easily the weirdest interview of my career -- for a senior position, no one had read anything I'd written, for instance, and no one really talked to me about what/how I'd teach -- but got a job. Local cultures become local cultures. . . with all that goes with that!
 
A friend gave me this advice, and it has worked very well for several panel interviews (I got all the jobs): Lead with your energy, don't absorb theirs. The committee members may be tired, bored, whatever. At the school where I teach, committee members are specifically instructed not to smile. Pay no attention, and don't let it knock you off your game.
 
Remember: you're interviewing them just as much as they're interviewing you. That means that even if (especially if!) they present you with a standard (boring!) list of (often irrelevant and already-answered) questions, your questions should show that you've done your homework, absorbed what information there is about the school & department, and honestly want to know more.

Good luck!
 
I'd just like to know how to get an interview in the first place.
I used to get them, years ago. But that was when I was in my
30s. I may be wrong about this, but it seems to me that the people being hired at my local CCs recently are all under 40--and I no longer am.
Just wondering.
 
Thank you for the info. It sounds pretty user friendly. I guess I’ll pick one up for fun. thank u
 
This is helpful. Thank you
 
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