turning the tables: how to be a good interviewer

Ann Marie’s recent post about hiring and the recruitment process in higher education got me thinking.  Many of us, regardless of position, conduct interviews – whether they are for student leadership positions, entry-level professional staff or senior administrators.

I didn’t realize that interview skills (of those on the interviewer side of the table) were not an innate quality, until I sat on a hiring panel with a former colleague.  His lack of interview skills made me wonder: “How do we learn to be good interviewers?”

I never received training on how to conduct interviews, so instead relied on all of my previous experiences with interview processes.  I thought about the things that various hiring panels did to make me feel comfortable (or uncomfortable) as a candidate, and let that help me to determine what was good, what was bad and what was downright ugly (I share a couple of those examples below).   As I moved into the profession, I also paid attention to how colleagues approached interviews, and picked up skills via osmosis (figuratively, of course).

Being a good interviewer requires a different skill set than an interviewee.  I’d like to share some tips for interviewers:

1. If you supervise staff who will be conducting interviews, tell them what you expect.   Provide examples or even do an interview run-through.  Ensure that all staff are aware of ethical hiring practices (what questions they can and cannot ask).

2. Greet the candidate with a smile and a firm handshake, then invite them to sit down.

3. Provide the candidate with water.

4. Have an “interview spiel” prepared and share it with each candidate.  I use this as a guideline:
– thank the candidate for joining you in the interview;
– introduce all members of the hiring panel (names and position titles);
– inform the candidate of how many questions they will be asked and the process for asking them (hiring panel will take turns asking, hiring manager will ask all of the questions, etc.);
– invite them to take a moment to think about their answers before responding if they need to;
– remind them to ask if they need a question clarified;
– let them know that you will be taking notes, so not to worry if you are not making a lot of eye contact;
– remind them of the length of the interview;
– let them know that they will have an opportunity to ask any questions they may have at the end of the interview;
– ask if they have any questions before you get started.

5. Be cognizant of your facial expressions and body language.  If a candidate says something that you disagree with, does your body language display your disparity?

6. Manage your time appropriately.  If you have back-to-back interviews, do your best to stay on track.  It is poor form to keep a candidate waiting for long period of time.  (I once waited over an hour for an interview because the previous candidate ran long).  It’s never a bad idea to build in some buffer time. 

7. Ensure that you have enough time reserved for the candidate to ask any questions they may have.

8. At the conclusion of the interview, inform the candidate of the next steps in the process and your intended time line.  Tell them how you will follow-up with them (email, telephone, etc.).

9. Thank the candidate for interviewing with you and ensure they know how to get back to their car/bus stop/etc.

10. Wait until the candidate has left the room and out of earshot before discussing their interview.  Also make sure that your next candidate is not right outside of the door so they can hear your discussion (I’ve been there – nothing more demoralizing than going into an interview having just heard how much the committee adored the previous candidate and intended on offering them the position).

What other tips do you have for interviewers? What do you do to ensure that each candidate feels valued and respected?


the job search – part three

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!

The Follow-Up
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!

For further reading on these topics, check out these resources:
Perform Well During the Interview
Tips for Interviewing
Evaluating & Negotiating Job Offers

What advice do you have for those conducting a student affairs job search?

the job search – part two

In part one of the job search series, I talked about websites to use to search for open positions, and provided some tips for crafting your cover letter and resume.  Now, let’s discuss staying organized during your search and preparing for the interview process.

Get Organized
When I began the search for my first student housing position, I applied to every entry-level position across Canada.  I literally applied for jobs from coast-to-coast and everything in between.  As you can imagine, this was a lot of information to keep track of.  I had a “job search” white board that I kept on my desk, and wrote down the name of each position I applied to (along with the institution and hiring manager).  This gave me a quick visual of positions I had applied for and could easily cross them off the list as necessary.  This is one way to keep track of your search, but there are so many more options as well!

Keep a Binder
I like to print out job descriptions, highlight the key areas and responsibilities and write right on the page what experiences I have in each of those areas.  If you’re applying for multiple positions, keeping track of all of those print outs can be difficult.  Streamline it, and put each job description/posting in a section of a binder.  Use tabs/dividers to separate each posting and include any relevant material to each job.  Keep this binder in an easily accessible space.

Use a Spreadsheet
If you prefer to keep things online, consider creating a spreadsheet to keep track of your job search. Some suggestions for headings/categories are: Name of the position you’re applying for, the institution, the application deadline, the date you applied, interview date and time, and a notes or miscellaneous section.  Customize your spreadsheet to best suit your needs!

Here’s a sample of a job search spreadsheet:

Like most things in life, being organized means less stress and the information you need will be at your fingertips.  Use a system that works for you.  If you’re not overly tech savvy, stick with what you know.

Interview Preparation
You’ve taken the time to write a flawless cover letter and resume, and you have landed an interview.  First and foremost, congratulations! Today’s postings typically see hundreds of applicants, so to be narrowed down for an interview is an accomplishment in itself.  It’s like what the celebrities say during Oscar season: “It’s an honour just to be nominated!”  Landing an interview is like being nominated for an Oscar.  While you might not get a shiny statue at the end of the process, you may just land your dream job!

So, where to start? Each individual will prep for interviews in their own way, but there are some standard practices that you should include in your preparation:

Get to know your future employer
Jump on to the institution’s website and take a good look around.  Many departmental websites share information about important projects and initiatives so make note of these.  How do these impact the role you are interviewing for?  What is the mission of the department and the institution?  Is there a strategic plan in place?  What recent news releases have been publicized? While some of these documents can be quite lengthy, reading them gives you a good sense of the institutional core values and goals, and will show the hiring committee that you’ve done your homework.

Read through the job description once again.  Consider the key areas and responsibilities and anticipate what types of questions the hiring committee will ask.  Reflect on what experience you will bring and consider the approach you will take in your new role.  Student affairs interviews are notorious for behaviour based questions (“tell me about a time when…”) so take the time to think about your past experiences, what you contributed to the task, what you learned and if faced with the same situation again, what would you change.

I know it sounds silly, but practising what you will say during an interview can help to calm your nerves and give you more confidence on the day of.  I sometimes have a tendency to give too much information, so taking the time to talk it out before the big day helps to channel my thoughts and focus on what it is I really want to get across.  It’s also not a bad idea to do a mock interview with a friend or colleague.   Once you get past the giggles, you’ll find that this can help you to understand how the interview panel will perceive you and make adjustments as necessary.

Dress for success
An interview is a professional affair, so you should take the time to consider what you will wear and how you will present yourself.  If you’re professional attire is more Kesha than Michelle Obama, take that as a sign.  If you have the financial means, invest in a solid interview outfit.  If you’re on a tight budget, check out the thrift shops or talk to friends/relatives who are willing to lend you clothes for the big day.  The most important thing is to feel amazing in what you’re wearing.  If you don’t, this will come out in the interview.  Interview attire can vary from institution to institution, but I try to err on the side of being a little over dressed.  My go-to interview outfit? A skirt suit, collared shirt, light jewellery (simple white gold earrings and necklace) and sensible heels (you never know how far you’re going to need to walk).

Being prepared for an interview will increase your confidence level, help you to focus and instil a sense of readiness.  After all, Alexander Graham Bell did say: “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

For further reading on these topics, check out these resources:
Sample behaviour based interview questions
List of potential Student Affairs specific interview questions (scroll to the bottom of the page, click on “potential interview questions” under the Interview Questions heading)
Dressing for Success at Your Job Interview

In part three of the job search series, I’ll talk about the interview, the follow-up and negotiation.

What tips do you have for staying organized during the job search, and preparing for an interview?