Preparing for a Dozen Types of Interviews

by Christopher D. Lee, Ph.D., SPHR

Article content is provided by HigherEdJobs.
The all-important interview is spoken about as if it was a single, hour-long event and the sole deter-mining factor upon which jobs are offered. In reality, it is usually a series of interactions that occur over some period of time. In contrast to our private sector colleagues who might be hired by a single department head or hiring official, higher education tends to have multiple stakeholders participating in a series of screening events. Many professions also have the tradition of panel interviews-like search committees-but how and to what degree they use such panels varies significantly. Nonetheless, the all-important interview is usually plural instead of singular.

Interviews are consequential events for organizations since selection is tantamount to making an investment. Rightfully, institutions tend to hedge their bets on making good decisions, and multiple interviews or multiple interactions with candidates are a way to do just that. I advise, in Search Committees: A Comprehensive Guide for Faculty and Staff Searches, that organizations add multiple screening methods to increase the rigor of the selection process and as a method of reducing the potential margin of error. This task can be accomplished by using at least two of the more than a dozen types of interviews. The archetypical search committee, the one-on-one interview with the hiring official, telephone/video interviews, open fora, presentations, and airport interviews are but a few of the types of interviews cited. These do not include screening calls, second interviews, and other interactions with individuals from a future employer.

The first piece of advice for candidates is to assume that every interaction with anyone from an employer is a form of interview. In one of my first blog posts, I noted that everything that you say and do in the entire process will be used against you. If a candidate is rude to the human resources representative who calls to verify the information on their vitae; if they divulge that the college's location is not ideal over dinner; or if one expresses frustration with the university's investment in athletics in contrast to that in humanities — while completely true — still might insult some diehard fans, and all of these will hurt their chance of being offered a position. Second, since multiple screening events should be expected, one should attempt to learn as much about their number and type in advance. Third, one must prepare for all of the interviews and prepare for them appropriately — and differently. 

One cannot assume that 'the' interview with the search committee is the only one that matters because it is the group that will make a recommendation. Any meeting with the hiring official matters; his or her opinion, when in conflict with a committee, will almost always rule the day. For administrative positions, candidates often meet with their future direct reports. While this group may not vote, they are often given veto power. If the appointing authority and the search committee likes a candidate but the entire department indicates that they could not work for a candidate because of things said during a meeting with them, it is unlikely the candidate will be hired. Lecture demonstrations and presentations are obvious interview events that one must prepare for fittingly. Town hall meetings or 'Q&A' sessions with an entire department are quasi-presentations that carry weight. Coffee time with the department might appear to be an informal collegial chat, but it is a test. Study, prepare, and cram as necessary.

Telephone and video interviews present their own unique challenges. The stakes are very high as they are hurdles to surmount on the way to a campus invite. Their format and shorter length favors the institution more than the candidate, so effort must be made to make a good impression-all things considered. Prepare, dress formally, utilize a good camera, pay attention to lighting, learn to use the technology in advance, and rehearse the interview with a friend are all guidelines for making a positive impression via Skype® or similar technology. To accommodate the context, speaking clearly, being concise, and making an extra effort to build rapport with the committee — despite the distance — is good advice.

The type of interview should give one some insight into how to prepare. Telephone interviews are big screening devices and questions are most often competency based-designed to determine if one can be successful in the job. Group meetings and open fora are probably occasions to see how one presents and engages with others. A meeting with a leader is probably used to tease out one's philosophy and style of working. That is, does the candidate like to play the game the way the leader likes to play the game? A mismatch is not good for either party. When thinking about how to prepare for any type of interview, lean on Aristotle's wisdom-"Know thy audience." A meeting with faculty senate leaders or future colleagues is different in the most subtle, but important, ways.

Getting 'the' job requires being prepared for multiple interviews, not just preparing to ace 'the' interview. Knowing the number and type of interactions that one will have with campus constituents is a prerequisite to success. Giving due credence to each interaction is a key word of caution as one is truly on stage and being watched carefully in every instance. Preparing for each by appreciating the audience and different modality is critically important.