Sunday, February 08, 2015

Hints on Job Interviews

(with thanks to Nancy Scott Hanway, in an article “A Foot in the Door at a Small Liberal-Arts College” at p. A23, in the Dec. 19 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. I found many of her suggestions, tailored to applicants for faculty positions, to be applicable to general interviewees, and am picking up from her comments here. Folks looking for academic positions should read her article, which is excellent!)

[You should already have applied carefully, tailoring each application to the job posting. Send EXACTLY what the job posting requests, and tailor your cover letter and possibly even the CV/resume for the position. This works much better than blasting a gazillion job through type lists. Your CV is much more likely to be selected from the HUGE PILE of applications if it is focused for the position and gives the HR department/committee exactly what they request. At many places, there is a pre-cull by the HR department who just filter by a sort of algorithm, then hand the pile to the committee. The committee then decide which applicants to interview from that pile based on the cover letters, CVs and any other attachments. Also, be sure you have a "clean" online persona -- Google yourself and look at what a hiring committee will see!]

Prepare yourself for the first-round job interview, knowing that this is a second cull. If you are asked to interview, either at a professional conference or by Skype or such, congratulations! Your CV has gotten you through a first-round of sifting. But you already know that you are one among MANY being interviewed in this first-round. So, in the immortal words of the evil lion Scar from the Lion King, BE PREPARED!

Carefully read the job announcement.
* The ad tells you what sorts of questions they might ask at the interview. For instance, if the ad mentions that the position will be expected to teach X or do a particular task, EXPECT a question about how to do this thing!
* Be prepared to discuss your experience with any other requirements or abilities preferred in the job ad.
* The job announcement also tells you what they will expect of you if you are hired – and what you can expect of them:
* Will you be able to fulfill the job?
* Will you enjoy the job?
* It tells you what sort of pay and status the job carries – this can be key because only you know whether you really want another internship or not! Is the primary reimbursement for your time the pleasure of watching seabirds while you camp for six months with no utilities?
* Consider if this is the position you want!

Look carefully at the organization's website.

* Look at the “about us” tab to read about how they characterize their mission and culture. Mission statements are important!
* If they have a vision statement, read that as well. These will tell you what the organization thinks is important!
* Look at the activities the website highlights – be sure you understand what the organization does!

Use Google, and if your institution has job search software, use those, to help you learn more about the institution you are applying to.
* If you can speak intelligently about some recent accomplishment or publication from the organization, you will sound like you did some homework and are more interested and invested in the organization.
* You will also have a better idea about the activities and culture of the organization.

Choose your interview clothes to be unobtrusive, yet correct; you want the interviewers to remember YOU, not your clothes.

Give concrete examples of ways you have improved an organization, or achieved a goal, whatever the task in the job description might be.

If the interviewers ask for examples of what did NOT go well, have some examples ready, BUT
* Tell why, and
* What you learned from it

You are helping the interview team get an idea of your abilities and how you might be as a colleague. Try to project professionalism and enthusiastic confidence.

Think about the interview from the point of view of the hiring folks. They want somebody who will fit into their organization, and make their lives easier, do the work well and (they hope) without too much training.

And yet, you really should not misrepresent yourself in an interview. That is a firing offense. Be honest about your experience and training. But also show willing to learn new things.

Do mock interviews!
* See if the Placement Office at your school offers this great service.
* If it's not available to you for whatever reason, find a friend to help.
* Here is why it is really worthwhile, because you may be tempted to skip this step (I know I would be – it's nerve-wracking, and sort of embarrassing.):

* A mock interview, especially with somebody who is experienced, can give you experience with the sorts of questions you may be asked in your real interview. This gives you a chance to practice your answers and get feedback on them.
* Mock interviews can help you shape your description of your previous work, research, experience.
* The mock interviewer can tell you to stop chewing on that strand of hair or twiddling, fidgeting, etc.
* The mock interview will help you practice answering dull, clichéd questions, which have to be asked – the interviewers KNOW they are dull and clichéd, but still must ask them. (This will prepare you to answer questions like “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” and “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”
* The best way to answer a question like “Describe your greatest weakness,” is NOT:
** to raise a red flag (“I have trouble finishing anything.”)
** to seem defensive (“I'm a perfectionist.”)
** BUT RATHER, be specific to you, and PUT A POSITIVE SPIN on the matter. (“I want to grow as a teacher, particularly, learning more about the best ways to give students meaningful feedback yet keep them motivated.”).

** Rather than implying that this is something you LACK, you have just focused on future growth!
* Be prepared for the inevitable question, “Why are you interested in X organization?”
** You need to tell them more than that you need a job!
** What specifically about THIS organization speaks to your soul?
** Be ready to give a short and pithy answer!

* Use the mock interviews to develop 4 or 5 questions YOU want to ask the interviewers.
** Feedback from knowledgeable assistants can help you here.
** But these questions can help you clinch a great interview. Some examples:
** “How would you describe your [customers/clients/patrons/students/target audience] in general?”
** Look for one or two questions at least that let the interviewers see you projecting yourself into the job (“I notice that there is a student IP organization. What sort of activities do they engage in?” “Is there release time or support for research and writing?”)

* Work your Network: If you happen to have network friends, former colleagues, etc., who know a hiring decision-maker, do not hesitate to ask them to contact the hirer to sing your praises (assuming you know that they will say great things!). Sometimes, hiring committees do not contact the references you list, so be pre-emptive and be sure they hear from some people you WANT them to hear from, and if it's somebody they KNOW, all the better.