I conducted a national search for student affairs positions in career services. Interviewing as a career counselor is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I know how to get ready for interviews; it’s literally part of my job. On the other hand, because of my experience preparing students for interview questions, I held my own performance to a ridiculously high standard. Truth time: Before my first interview, I spent hours agonizing about which questions the committee might ask and crafting perfect answers that I attempted to memorize. The result of all this stress was that I burst into tears after my first Skype interview because I assumed that I bombed it. When I was offered the on-campus interview a few weeks later, I concluded that I might have been a little hard on myself. I also concluded that I needed to follow the advice that I give to my students: You should prepare for interview questions, but it’s just as important to leave room for spontaneity, humor, and your own personality to shine through.
As I can now attest, most people over-prepare for interviews because they’re afraid of being asked off-the-wall questions that will leave them stumped or tongue-tied. Fortunately, that scenario never happened to me. With the exception of one slightly strange Skype interview — where the interviewer ate an over-sized cookie and asked me exactly zero questions about my experience as a counselor — I was lucky to be asked only professional, relevant questions during my interviews with 12 large public universities, small private colleges, and community colleges across the country.
Here’s a sampling of some of my favorite interview questions, organized into my own categories, and how I prepared for them:
- Knowledge Questions: How would you define the difference between coaching, counseling, and advising? Which theories do you use in career counseling? What technology-based resources have been most helpful in your work with students? These questions asked me to draw on my knowledge about the field of career counseling. Because I was finishing graduate school and interning at a university career center throughout the interview process, my knowledge about current trends in career services was fresh; however, preparing for these questions could require some research if you had spent a few years away from the field.
- Research Questions: What do you know about this university? Why did you apply for this position? What do you expect will be the greatest challenges and rewards of this job? Research questions asked me to draw on my knowledge about the positions, departments, and universities where I applied. As the name suggests, I prepared for these questions by doing extensive research, which included researching university websites, reading news articles written about the universities, and reaching out to contacts who worked there. Just as important, I used the information that I gleaned from this research to highlight my qualifications for the positions.
- Experience Questions: What experience do you have delivering presentations or workshops? Tell us about your experiences working with diverse students. What would you do if you had worked with a student for a few sessions, but he or she never completed the out-of-session homework that you assigned? What techniques have you used to conduct labor market research? What are the first steps you take when advising students on their career path? Experience-based questions asked me to consider how my previous experience related to the current position, and they formed the bulk of my interview questions. Just like I teach my students, I prepared for these questions by creating STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) stories about every task on the job description. To be clear, I did not write out my example stories word-for-word — at least not after that first interview — but I did write bullet points so that I wouldn’t forget the key details.
- Reflective Questions: What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses? In what type of working environment do you thrive? What do you like to do for fun outside work? What makes you laugh? These questions asked me to demonstrate my capacity for self-reflection and offered the opportunity to showcase how I “fit” within the department’s culture. Reflective Questions are similar to Experience Questions in that they can best be answered with an engaging story, so I prepared for them similarly: by creating STAR stories and doing research.
- Innovation Questions: What ideas do you have for reaching out to first-year students? How would you engage faculty with the work that we do in Career Services? How might you streamline the appointment-scheduling process in our office? These “what-if” questions asked me to imagine what kind of innovation I might bring to the position. They were the most difficult for me because they forced me to put my ideas out on a limb with only limited knowledge of what the department and position was like. I found that research was my most important ally in imagining how I would contribute to a position I didn’t yet have. I scoured university and department websites for every piece of information I could find about their work and values. That gave me the information I needed to articulate how I could contribute.
- Hands-On Questions: Prepare a 5-10 minute presentation that you would deliver to a group of first-year students. Role-play how you would conduct a resume review during an appointment. Bring something to show the committee evidence of your greatest professional strength. Only one university asked me these hands-on questions, but they were the most fun to answer because they allowed me to truly demonstrate my strengths and skills, rather than just talking about them. For these hands-on questions, I drew heavily from the knowledge and experience that I had gained in my career services internship, and I even brainstormed with my internship supervisors about how I could best showcase my strengths.
I’m curious: How did you prepare for your on-campus interviews? What were the best (or worst!) questions that committees asked you?
> BONUS <
Podcast With Danny Malave on New Professional Retrospective on the Job Search