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.