Monday, July 15, 2013

Interviewing Tips From The College Dean

Here's one for everyone who wants a clean-language version of my previous interviewing tips, written as a college dean instead of an evil overlord.

(Yes, these are the same tips, just recounted in a manner that you can read anywhere, to anyone.)

Avoid personal information
As an interviewer I often start off with a general "tell me about yourself" question.  It's designed for two purposes: one, to give you an opening to point out what you believe are your most important, best, most salient qualities; and two, to do a basic check to see whether you can separate your personal life from your professional one.  You should not start your response to this question by giving any information, such as your age, your marital status, your birth day/month, the number of children you have, your racial or ethnic background, or anything similar, that would be considered illegal to use in a hiring decision.

Then again, you should not end your response to the question with any of the categories of information I listed above, either.  As a matter of fact, your response to the question shouldn't contain that bit anywhere.  The interviewer doesn't need to know it, probably doesn't want to know it, and very likely will be disappointed if you force him or her to know it.

Instead, focus on what makes you a great choice for the position: your education, your experience, and your character.  That's what the interviewer is looking for. 

Be prepared
There are certain sets of information that every interviewer is going to try to drag out of you.  The sets are different depending on the purpose of the interview, but they're not hard to figure out for the most part.  Admissions interviews want to know why you're a good candidate who is likely to prosper in and complete the academic program/college you're applying for.  Employment interviewers, meanwhile, want to know why you'll be a good fit for the job requirements.  Most of the time those job requirements are publicized, and so there's really no reason to be very surprised.

The most important thing is to know something about the company/program for which you're interviewing.  You don't have to have the annual report memorized, certainly, but you should at least know the basic business needs.  A basic web search followed by a quick read over the company's web page might be sufficient, though for higher level jobs you'll want to dig deeper into your area of expertise.

Look professional
Make sure you enter the company area looking like someone the hiring manager would want to hire.  Granted, that's quite a bit different, sometimes, from how someone might look that you'd want to hire.  Pay attention, pre-interview, to the company's culture as well as that of the industry it serves.

General guidelines include:
  • Avoid excessive jewelry.  It's distracting at best, and can go against company culture at worst. 
  • Avoid fragrances of any type.  You might love the cologne you bought last month, but Murphy's Law says that the person you'll need to impress the most will be allergic to it. 
  • Take out your piercings and cover visible tattoos.  Granted, some industries appreciate body art, but if you're applying for a job in one of those I'll bet you know to ignore this line.  Otherwise, don't risk it.  You might get a hiring manager who loves the look of a purple stud in your nose, but there's at least equal odds that you will not.  
  • Avoid revealing attire.  Dress as professionally unremarkable as possible.  You don't want the interviewer remembering you for your clothing.

Be on time
Odds are good that somebody will be watching for when you arrive, because your interest in being punctual to an interview is believed to be a direct indicator for how seriously you'll take your commitments on the job.  That may be valid, or it may not, but it is what you'll be judged by.

Answer the questions
Make sure to pay attention to the question that is actually being asked, and answer it fully.  If the question is about your knowledge of basic classroom management techniques, for example, then discuss basic classroom management techniques.  If, on the other hand, the question asks you to give an example of using basic classroom management techniques, then give an example rather than a theoretical discussion.

The example questions are often what throw people off the greatest, in my experience.  We're not used to categorizing our experiences and then describing them.  Thus, it's a good idea to prepare yourself with some examples that show you doing your job previously, in both good and bad ways, so that you'll have some ready answers when you walk in.

Make sure your examples are specific.  Examples should always be able to be prefaced with a day and time they occurred.  If you cannot start an example answer with the words "Last Tuesday I" then it's not an example.

Watch for verbal and nonverbal clues
Hard as this may be to believe sometimes, the interviewer wants you to succeed at the interview.  Oh, you might not be selected ultimately for the hire, but there's nothing more satisfying for an interviewer than to go through talking with half a dozen candidates to find that they're all excellent choices.  Look, then, to what the interviewer says and does for clues as to how you're doing, and let them help you have a great interview.

Hope this helps!

(Dr. King)

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