In parts one and two of my job search series, I wrote about how to search for postings, tips on crafting cover letters and resumes, staying organized, and preparing for the interview process. Now it’s time to talk about the interview, the follow-up and negotiating an offer.
The Big Day
The night before the big day, be sure to double check all of the information (location, time, directions, cost of parking, etc.), iron and hang up your outfit, set your alarm clock, and get a good night’s sleep. When the day of the interview rolls around, give yourself plenty of time to get ready, eat a healthy, filling meal (you don’t want to get the tummy rumbles midway through the interview) and read through your notes one last time. If the interview is located in an unfamiliar place, give yourself enough time to potentially get lost (yes, even in the age of GPS devices). Even if you know the location like the back of your hand, make sure you have time to find, and pay for, parking, and to locate the building. If you’re taking public transit, err on the side of caution. Go with the earlier option to avoid any delays.
I like to arrive and check in for an interview about 15 minutes before it is scheduled to begin. This gives me the chance to freshen up, take in my surroundings, and give myself a pep talk. Some like to arrive 20 minutes before, others 10 minutes before. Decide for yourself what works best, but remember, do not arrive late (or too early for that matter).
Your Moment to Shine
This is it. Someone from the interview panel comes out to greet you and walk you to the room. Stand up, smile and shake their hand. They will most likely make small talk with you on the walk, so engage in the conversation. Once in the room, put your things down and greet everyone on the panel. The hiring manager (or lead interviewer) will introduce you to everyone. Shake their hands while making eye contact. Take a seat when invited to do so. Take a moment to set up (take out your note pad and pen) and listen carefully to what the lead interviewer says. Take a deep breath, and away you go.
When answering questions, take your time. Remember the STAR method for answering interview questions (situation, task, action, result) and apply it to your answers. Balance your answers with your previous experience and how you will apply it to the role you are interviewing for. For example, if you are interviewing for a position that manages professional staff, and you have only ever managed student staff, talk about your supervisory style, your knowledge of the differences of managing full time professionals, and what strategies you will employ to ensure your success. Remember to make eye contact with each person on the panel.
At the end of the interview, you will be asked if you have any questions. ALWAYS have meaningful, well thought-out questions prepared for the panel. Your questions need to elicit thought on their end, so steer clear of the “when will I know if I’m successful” and “how much are you going to pay me” questions. Write down their answers, after all, they wrote down all of yours!
The lead interviewer will do a wrap-up and inform you of their timeline (if s/he doesn’t, ask). Thank them for the opportunity and shake their hands. As you leave the room, take a breath. You did it!
After the interview, you may find yourself thinking “gee, I could have said this, that or the other.” Try not to drive yourself mad playing the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” game. While reflecting on the interview is a good idea (and great prep for future interviews), don’t dwell on it. Instead, seize the opportunity. Take the time to draft a letter or email to the hiring manager to reiterate why you want the job, why you are the right person for the job, and highlight a couple of qualities to back up your claims. If you forgot to mention something during the interview, that you think is crucial to the job, then include it in your note. Weave it into your response, as not to draw attention to the fact that you forgot to tell them during the interview.
You may choose to send an email or a hand-written note or professional looking thank-you card (leave the cute thank-you cards with puppy dogs and teddy bears on them for personal use). If you know the note will get to the hiring manager in a couple of days or less, go with that option. Otherwise, send a well-crafted email. If sending an email, I do so within 24 hours of the interview.
In terms of following up about the position, this depends on the timeline the hiring manager gave you. If you haven’t heard anything a week after the date you were told you would hear by, follow up (by phone or email). Keep in mind that things happen, and sometimes the hiring timeline gets delayed or derailed.
If after the interview, you feel that the position (or institution) is not a good fit for you, let them know. If you would not accept an offer, politely withdraw from the process. You should also do this if you are interviewing for multiple positions at the same time, and you receive and accept an offer. Let the other schools know that you appreciate their time and consideration, but are withdrawing from the process as you have accepted another job. It’s just common courtesy and can save them a lot of time and aggravation. You do not want to burn any bridges, as you never know what might happen in the future.
After the interview, take some time to think about the position, and weigh it against your non-negotiables. Are there any gaps? If so, make some notes on what concessions you might ask for if you receive an offer.
If you get the “we want to hire you” call, fight the (innate) feeling to jump up and down screaming “yes, I accept!” Listen carefully to the offer (salary, start date, benefits, etc.), stay calm, and thank them for the offer. Ask for a day or two to review the offer. If you haven’t already done so, do your homework. Know the going rate for this type of position in your geographic location. Consider the benefits and pension package. What about professional development funding or moving expenses (if you will be relocating)? You can negotiate much more than just your base salary. If you would like to counter the offer, be sure to put it in writing. Be realistic (chances are you will not make $80,000 as an entry-level professional in student affairs) and be firm. Negotiating a job offer is similar to negotiating a real estate transaction. Know what your bottom line is, and be willing to walk away. Also, always think big picture. While the salary may be really attractive, what is the institutional culture like? Will you be happy and supported in your role? Consider the “priceless” aspects of the job as well as the monetary value when negotiating.
Overall, the job search can be a long and tiring experience. Lean on your supports when you need to, and keep at it. I always tell others, if you want something bad enough, it will happen. It doesn’t always happen on your preferred timeline, so patience truly is a virtue. Stick with it, and know that you are not alone. I wish you all the best!
What advice do you have for those conducting a student affairs job search?