Tuesday, March 29, 2011

 

Ask the Administrator: Worst Interview Responses

I file this one under “instant classic.” A new correspondent writes:

[I]f you are asked "how has your teaching changed over the years" or "how has your

management of people changed over the years" or "how has your interaction with clients changed over the years" the wrong answer is "it hasn't"

The best professionals are continually evaluating their performance and making tweaks to improve - no improvement = no evaluation of past performance in my book.

I can't believe the number of candidates who tell us, with a straight face, that they teach the same way now that they did 15 years ago.

Ugh.

Then again, maybe I want to KNOW this up front, huh?



That is amazing. (Though I guess it could save money on professional development. If you’re already perfect, what’s to develop? Over the years, the savings could add up!) And it raises the question of worst interview responses.

Several years ago a colleague at another college told me the story of an incumbent lab technician who applied for a faculty position. During the interview, when asked why she wanted to move to faculty, she responded “I’m getting older, and I’d like to slow down. Summers off is really appealing.” She didn’t get the job.

Another fave: during the interview for a full-time staff position, the candidate asked about a reduced-hours schedule, since she, and I am not making this up, didn’t “want to work too hard.” No, we certainly wouldn’t want that...

Job interviews require a delicate balance. You want to show yourself in a positive light, and a certain amount of tooting your own horn is both accepted and expected. But there’s a line between showing your strengths and coming off as over-entitled.

One of my favorite interview questions is “tell us about a time you realized that something you were doing wasn’t working. What kind of adjustment did you make?” I’ve seen candidates trip over this, since in a few cases, it apparently never occurred to them that they had made mistakes. I don’t believe in perfect people; I’m looking for people who are capable of self-correction. That necessarily involves a certain degree of self-awareness. Sadly, self-awareness is not evenly distributed across the population.

Wise and worldly readers, what’s the worst response to an interview question you’ve ever heard?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

Comments:
In response to a question about techniques a candidate would use in the classroom to address the needs of our student population, a candidate, rather than answering the question, talked about how "impoverished" people deserve an education, too, even though, they are, you know, "impoverished."
 
I always hate when candidates start asking about benefits early on in the interview process. I want to say to them, dude, there are no benefits if you don't get the job.
 
@Laura - it may help them to decide whether or not they want the job. i have walked out of interviews before after hearing about bad benefits.

there are 2 questions i hate: "what is your ideal job?", and "what have you done to mitigate conflict?"

rarely will the first question be addressed truthfully (it dives into people's fantasy worlds). and the second question is fluff. there's no way to know if they are telling the truth or not.
 
Had an older, white male candidate, in response to, "Is there anything else you want us to know about you?" say, "Despite what you may have heard, I am not a racist."

He then proceeded to say a bunch of stuff that might have qualified him as "not all that racist, compared to the KKK in 1920." Maybe. It was very "White Man's Burden" and he clearly thought that was what made him not-racist, his desire for educated white people to "take care of" the other races. It was appalling and incredibly awkward; people were looking at the table, the walls, anywhere but the speaker, except one older woman who fixed him with a steely-eyed stare of death through the whole answer.

He did not get the job, and he did not understand why not. Ow.

BTW, before he mentioned it, I had no idea he was racist and had heard nothing about his position on the topic.
 
@jas my problem with it is a) that information is often available on the website and b) it's almost always divulged in detail at some point during the interview. I have asked for salary up front (usually in the phone call/email requesting an interview) because if it's way below what I want, there's no negotiating up to what I need and it'd be a waste of everyone's time. But the finer points of health insurance and days off? Call HR and find out--the interviewers what to know your skills not what kind of health insurance you want.
 
I interviewed a job candidate for a desk job (standard 8 - 5 shift, full-time) last year, and asked "Tell me how you would structure a typical day." The first thing he said was "Let me tell you I am not a morning person."

The rest of the interview wasn't great, either, but that didn't help his cause.
 
Well, humanities faculty were interviewing a Dean who came from the management/econ end of the social sciences. He couldn't tell us, as a future dean of a unit that included the humanities, why he thought the humanities mattered.

We blackballed him.
 
Dean Sloth was one of our worst administrators ever. The department he managed still hasn't recovered from him even though he's been gone for over a decade.

When Dean Sloth was finally forced to retire, faculty members on the hiring committee wanted to replace him with a Dean who would do some work for a change--and get it done on time.

One internal candidate was from an, ahem, "underrepresented group." S/he turned in the paperwork late, and it was not only incomplete but also filled with misspellings and grammatical errors.

The committee wanted to reject him/her but was the district's Hiring Compliance Officer would not allow them to do so. In his/her interview the candidate was asked about how s/he'd run the department. Answer: "I will emulate Dean Sloth." That's a direct quote.

When the candidate didn't get the job, s/he filed a discrimination lawsuit against the district and won. S/he got a promotion to another administrative job where s/he has continued to do even less work for more money.
 
We asked a candidate to tell us how he came to be interested in the job, and he proceded to give a turn-by-turn description of exactly how he drove there (i.e. I took Interstate 3 for 10 miles, then turned on XX Road for 5 miles, etc.)
 
The strengths and weaknesses question is one of my norms (for my entry level positions) but I ask to see if they can think, not necessarily for the answer. You would think that EVERYONE knows this question gets asked. It's listed on every career advice website, so please, please have an answer ready. And "I work too hard" is not an weakness. Give me a real answer. You just might get hired.
 
From an on-campus interview--

Interviewer: Why do you want to do labor law?
Applicant: I don't want to do labor law.
Interviewer: All we do is labor law.
 
From the candidate for a CC job:

What research facilities do you have?
 
A candidate for a science research position was asked how he would go about building a certain kind of experiment. He said "I would call a company and ask for a quote for them to design a system for me."
 
We had a candidate applying to our community college who said, "Well, of course, nobody actually LIKES teaching lower-level classes."
 
I love what Anon 10:43 posted about the "how I drove here" answer. It's a wonder any of you were able to supress your grins and move on to the next question! At that point, I would be wondering if the candidate was pulling a Borat.
 
I always think the wrong answer to the standard "Do you have any questions for us?" is "Nope." But I've heard it a couple times, including from a few people who wondered later why they didn't get the job. They were interested enough to interview, but not curious enough to ask us anything about the college, the department, the teaching interests of their potential colleagues...nothing.
 
In response to a question about job strengths, a candidate took some minutes to describe the innovative way that the candidate found some vital information. Candidate was careful to note that the document with the information was from Switzerland, and was written in an outlandish language that the candidate couldn't understand, because, of course, the candidate couldn't be expected to read Swiss.
 
In response to the "do you have any questions for us?" prompt: "Yes, what do I need to know about departmental politics?"

(Seriously, I'd like to know what you all think is a GOOD answer to that question, though)
 
If you're not smart enough to give the bullshit an interviewer wants, you shouldn't be working in higher education. Telling people bullshit they want to hear is what most of us do all day.
 
Anon 1:56, one really good thing to ask about is service opportunities within the college, as well as service opps that bridge the college and the surrounding community. Just about any tenure-track position will come with an expectation for service (except maybe at a Research I institution); asking about how one could serve is a way to show that you're not adverse to such an expectation, and you're looking for ways to contribute as well as acclimate yourself to the culture of the place.
 
I had just finished describing the position that I was trying to fill as someone who needed to be available to describe complex ideas to lawyers and clients in meetings and over the phone.

When I asked the standard "what's your biggest weakness" question, the response of "talking on the phone" truly surprised me. Was she not paying attention before?

Needless to say, she didn't get the job.
 
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