Friday, April 22, 2011


Ask the Administrator: Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

A perplexed correspondent writes:

Right now I am a Community College Adjunct who is applying for some full time positions for Biology Faculty. I just had a phone interview which I think I tanked on badly but I want to use it as a learning experience so that I perform better next time. (It didn't help that they called me without any warning for the phone interview but at least now I am becoming someone who is in an ever ready state of phone interview preparedness!).
One of the questions that I think I did not do well on is "where do you see yourself in 5 years?". What is a realistic progression for a new faculty member like me over the course of 5 years?

My first thought is that a ‘surprise’ phone interview is staggeringly unprofessional. Phone interviews are fine in and of themselves, but they’re scheduled in advance. A ‘pop’ interview suggests either cluelessness or a fundamental lack of seriousness. Don’t beat yourself up over your performance; you shouldn’t have been put in that position in the first place.

That said, the “five years” question can lead in any of several directions.

For a tenure-track faculty position, the absolutely wrong answer is “I hope to have published my way out of here by then.” Whatever else your answer involves, it should involve still being at the place you’re interviewing.

The better answers to that question suggest a desire to grow within the job. “I hope to have developed a new curricular option in...” or “I hope to have a student club in x-and-such up and running” or “I hope to be a key player in improving student success in biology...” would all be good answers.

From a hiring perspective, it can be hard to distinguish the folks who will just do the job from the folks who will see the bigger picture and make themselves useful in other ways. The second group is far more valuable, so any indication you can give that you’re in that camp should help.

Just be careful not to overshoot. Depending on local culture and circumstance, an answer like “I hope to be chairing the department” could be either very good or very, very bad. But something like “I hope to take a key role in growing the program, such as by...” will almost always be good.

For administrative roles, questions like that are more ambiguous. I once interviewed for a vp position (at an undisclosed location) in which I answered the “five years” question in the usual way, only to discover that they answer they wanted was “President of the college.” They wound up hiring someone about twenty years older than I am, who could step into the Presidency at a moment’s notice. In that case, they saw the position as a sort of on-deck circle. That’s not uncommon for certain kinds of administrative roles, but it’s rare for junior faculty.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers, is there a more elegant and/or effective way to answer this question?

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

I think a good answer is something like, "I anticipate that in the first couple of years in this position I'll be busy developing effective courses and learning about your student body. By 5 years from now, I'd like to be deeply involved in some aspects of faculty leadership, perhaps in assessment or leading a campus initiative."... pretty much, the answer should be something like "I'd like to be doing some significant service either to the department or the college as a whole." --- If you have a talent or background in something they don't offer, (I was a debate coach when I was hired) you have an easy answer... I could say, "I see you don't have a debate program, I'd like to get one started"... or, "I see you don't have a common book program, I'd like to start one"... The key to that answer is making a substantial addition to the campus.
I love the characteristic of being on deck. I suppose I've been technically on deck for as long as I've been a director, but I was unofficially the next batter for a year, and officially for the last four months. I'm up to the plate this summer. The odd part about it is I have to keep doing the director job too.
DD, you were still thinking like a professor, where five years from the start you will (A) know what is going on and (B) have altered what is going on by becoming part of the organization.

Administrators (particularly those at colleges above the CC level) are often looking for their next job after 5 years because that is around the median time for Presidential turnover.
That is a remarkably shallow question to ask of a faculty candidate. Kind of what you'd expect from a department that failed to pre-arrange a phone interview. The kind of questions you should be prepared to answer include, In addition to what was listed in the advertisement, what other courses do you feel qualified to teach? ; and What kind of resources will you need to pursue your research goals? Showing that you've thought about those questions, and can offer answers that demonstrate a realistic understanding of the scope of the position, should serve you well.
I got the "five years" question once at a convention interview. I agree with others that you should emphasize staying at the particular institution. That being said, I think Ken makes a good point. It's not the best question to ask.
I had a lot of interview experience at CC, but never had to respond to an unannounced phone interview. Don't feel bad if you don't get the job -- they may be running interviews just to be in compliance. You don't want to be on-site just as a part of the puppet show. Next time you get one of these calls, ask them to call back at a different time.

There are variations of this question, such as "what are the challenges for you to move to this position?", or "how do you define success as an instructor in XXX". The best response is probably an outline of your plan for professional development, with references to your past experience and the resources/opportunities at the institution. Do you homework, and make sure you have plenty to say.

This is a tough market. Good luck.
Avoid surprises — interviews need preparation. Some questions come up time and time again — usually about you, your experience and the job itself. We've gathered together the most common questions so you can get your preparation off to a flying start.

You also find all interview questions at link at the end of this post.

Source: Top 10 interview questions and answers

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