As a para-professional, working in my graduate assistantship and completing my Masters in Higher Education, I had been flooded with welcomed tips on how to ace the on-campus interview. “Don’t try to be something you’re not.” “Wear something you are comfortable and confident in.” “Think about what kind of office environment you are looking for.” “Ask yourself, ‘do I want to work for these people?’.” “Go with your gut.” “Don’t be afraid to say no.” Despite the plethora of advice I received from colleagues, professors, and the occasional family member, I quickly learned that there was no way to fully prepare for the on-campus interview, especially those first few moments when the interview begins, and your gut feels like that dance scene from Flubber.
I had two very different on-campus interview experiences. The first was very non-traditional. It was in the private sector of a public university and was arranged approximately three weeks after I submitted my application. There was going to be no phone interview, and the on-campus would only last about four hours. Fast-forward a week later when I received a phone call asking to set-up a phone interview for a (different) position I’d applied for three months prior. The day after the phone interview, I got a call about coming the following week for an on-campus interview which would last from 5 pm on a Tuesday to 7 pm the following Wednesday. Like I said, two very different experiences.
That being said, here is my first tip to anyone preparing for an on-campus: Don’t be afraid to talk it through with a mentor, or someone you know at the institution where you are interviewing. I was lucky enough to speak to the person who currently occupied the job I was interviewing for first, which I arranged by reaching out to a mentor who knew the office well. A piece of me is convinced that the main reason that interview went well was because of that conversation. It put me at ease about the office environment and gave me a strong point of reference. Here is my second tip: relax. This tip doesn’t come from me, but actually from the person I spoke to before my first interview. She told me, “Just relax and have fun. It is a great office to work in, and they are just as eager to meet you as you are to meet them.” I kept that piece of advice in the back of my head the entire time, and it was, by far, the best interview I’ve ever had.
The first interview was broken down into four parts: interview with my potential supervisors; interview with my potential co-workers; interview with other potential colleagues; and a meeting with HR, where she told me they wouldn’t be making their decision for another two weeks or so. In total, it took just under three hours, and was more like a casual conversation about my advising style, what they were looking for in a student programs coordinator, and an occasional pop culture reference thrown in. At no point did the interview ever feel unprofessional, it just felt comfortable. I didn’t have to remind myself to be myself, I just was. That’s the third best tip I can give anyone in the student affairs job search: find the job interview where you don’t have to force yourself to act natural, you just do.
The second interview was much less casual. It was structured down to the last minute and may have been the most draining two days of my life. Here is my fourth tip for the on-campus: bring a bottle of water, Band-Aids, a few granola bars, a pad folio, a couple of pens, and prepared questions with you. Don’t assume they will have anything except an interest in getting to know you better, a schedule, and perhaps lunch and a place for you to sleep. Here is the fifth tip I will give: your interview starts the moment you leave for the interview. You never know who is sitting next to you on the plane, or standing near you while you check into the hotel. I’m not saying you need to wear a full blown suit on the flight, but it never hurts to be polite and understanding when they ask you to move seats or tell you your room isn’t quite ready yet.
I’d love to say I remember every detail of my second interview, but it is nothing but a blur of questions, quick bathroom breaks, my presentation, and my follow-up interview, where they told me they were bringing in four more candidates, and would make their decision at the end of the following week.
As I left to go back to my hotel, I remembered a piece of advice my graduate assistantship supervisor told me: go with your gut. It was simple, but true. At no point during my second interview had anyone been rude to me, or made me feel unwelcome. In fact, they were nothing but nice and warm towards me, but my gut continued to gnaw at me, telling me something didn’t feel right.
I left the next morning and immediately landed in my bed when I arrived home that afternoon. I tried to review my notes from my two past interviews, and attempted to mentally prepare myself for another I had the following week, but I was too fried. That’s the sixth tip I’ll give you all: let yourself rest afterward. You are going to be mentally and physically drained, and you will probably second guess almost everything you said, but just relax. Binge watch something on Netflix or go for a run, and know that you gave it your best shot.
I got incredibly lucky. As I sat there in bed, trying to drown out my thoughts about the interview the day before, and whether or not I would accept the job, my phone rang. It was the first interview (the non-traditional interview one), calling to offer me the position. My house had no reception, so I accepted the offer while standing in the middle of my front lawn in my professional black skirt and an old t-shirt I’d been changing into.
Here is my seventh and final tip: relish in every moment of the interview and the offer. By making it on-campus, you’ve already beaten the odds. You are there because they want you to be there, and they offered you the job because they want you to join their team. Words can’t describe the feeling of getting that offer, but I promise you, the long road of the search is completely worth it when you hear those seven little words: “We’d like to offer you the job…”