The on-campus interview. You’ve made it past the Placement experience, phone interview, the Skype interview, and now you’ve been invited on-campus. Congratulations!?! I recently conducted my own job search after being comfortably employed at the same institution for eight years. I work in Academic Advising where jobs are few and far between. My job search was somewhat limited by location and my desire to return to working at a state institution. Through the course of this job search- which lasted about a year and a half- I had four on-campus interviews that illustrated to me that no job search is alike.
Here are the top 10 things I learned from my most recent experiences.
- Always expect the unexpected. Or more so, the “this wasn’t mentioned when I asked the next steps” experience. I, like many others I know, always end my interview with an inquiry about the next steps of the search. In three of the four cases, I was surprised to be asked to come back to campus for a follow-up interview (something that was not mentioned as a part of the process). Usually this was with a different group of people and in one case- my current institution- it was with the search committee again. I actually enjoyed this because it allowed me an opportunity to learn more about my (future) colleagues and to show how genuinely interested I was in the position.
- Always, always, always do your research. I know this is a given these days, but really dig deep. Explore the majors you would advise (if you’re in Academic Advising), learn about the different programs that happen regularly on campus (if you’re in Student Activities), and so on. In one case, I looked into the University’s strategic plan. I had specific questions for the committee about the role I would potentially play in the assessment efforts that were mentioned. This was well-received.
- Understand that you need to have strong examples of your strengths and weaknesses, and any potential challenges you see for the new position. I have always struggled with this. I asked my close colleagues for their advice on my weaknesses and I reviewed my annual performance evaluations for specific examples of my strengths. I wanted to find unique attributes because as I know from being on search committees, everyone says they’re very organized (even when they’re not). Also, have examples of how you have succeeded and how you have failed. One committee asked for an example of a successful event I hosted and one that failed.
- Be patient and don’t be afraid to follow-up. In almost all of the searches, it took several months to hear a decision. I am not a patient person by any means and this was a killer for me. Eventually, in my situation, I made a decision to relocate to the West Coast without a final job offer. I was lucky that I was invited for my second on-campus interview at my current position the week after I arrived in town. In all the cases, I sent follow-up emails to the coordinators of the search, reconfirming my interest in them and to get an update on the search.
- Trust your instinct. In two of the positions, I had a gut feeling that I wouldn’t get the job. One was a disappointment but I had a received a strange feeling from one of the staff members at the interview. It was the “I have a feeling there is an internal candidate I don’t know about” feeling. I don’t know if that was accurate or not, but needless to say, I didn’t get the job.
- Be creative when selling yourself. I was at a point in my career where I needed to advance, but I lacked having “supervised professional staff” under my job duties. A mentor suggested that I explain how I have chaired committees of staff members and that could be considered supervising. It worked.
- Never throw anyone or any institution under the bus. I will never forget watching a presentation of a candidate for an Associate Provost position who mentioned her current institution sarcastically and negatively at least three times. I could not believe it. Even if you have had bad experiences, never say them to a search committee. Higher Education (and Student Affairs specifically) is a very small world. You never know who knows who.
- Be ready for any question or activity. In one case, I was asked to role play with a member of the search committee. Anyone who knows me knows I do not role play well. It makes me very uncomfortable and flustered. I knew I was not impressing anyone and it gave me a negative feeling for the rest of the interview. Another thing that can happen especially when you are interviewing with students is that they will ask you what you will do for them. A student asked me how I would stand up for the students if they were all accusing a faculty member of something. This was difficult for me because I have always been in the middle, serving both faculty and students. I provided my honest answer, although I knew it wasn’t what the student wanted to hear.
- Be resilient. I came in second place on three of the four searches of which I was a finalist. It was hard. It was really, really hard. I doubted myself, my abilities, and my future in higher education. I am glad that I kept pushing because I love my current job. I have a renewed sense of determination and focus.
- Finally, keep your sense of humor. One committee member asked me to define myself in three words. I am not a three words person. So I gave two words and two more words that I combined together, saying that I was thinking of it as a tweet and trying to condense. I got some laughs.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Kevin Kruger on Avoiding Burnout in Student Affairs