How to Prepare for Your First Higher Ed Interview

‘Tis the season for all you soon-to-be M.Ed. grads to begin applying for jobs. And as someone who had to go through the arduous process of job applications and phone interviews not too long ago, I know how anxiety inducing the process can be. Since starting my current position, I’ve had the privilege of sitting on the other side of the table as a member of several search committees and the chair of another. As the interviewer, I’ve been a part of many a good interviews and some really terrible ones. So, as a former grad student and frequent interviewer, let me share some important tidbits with you to help you prepare for your first job interview. Read until the end to set up a mock phone interview with me to practice the skills described in this post.

Examples, examples, examples

One big piece of advice to remember, if you don’t remember anything else from this post, is to always have specific examples at the ready. Even if the question is not directly asking you for one, trust me when I say that it will be in their evaluating rubric whether or not you provided one. “How do you handle multiple deadlines at once?” – give an example. “Can you describe for us a time when you have been required to demonstrate a strong attention to detail?” – give an example. “Why should we hire you?” – give an example. I am always surprised when individuals, especially those who have been in the field for years, just give a one word answer or speak only in generalities. Especially if you are applying for a job in career services, you really need to know the basics of interviewing! At the least, you should have examples for the following scenarios:

  • A time when you’ve had to juggle multiple deadlines
  • A time when you have had to overcome a challenging situation
  • A time when you’ve had to have a difficult conversation with a student, peer or colleague and how you handled it

Ask questions

No matter what university you apply to, you will always be given the opportunity to ask questions at the end of an interview. You absolutely need to have questions prepared to ask. Not having any questions makes you appear uninterested in the job and/or unprepared for the interview. In addition, the interview really is a two-way street. It is not just an opportunity for the hiring committee to get to know you better but also an opportunity for you to find out whether or not the job, and the culture of the office, would be a good fit for you! Some good questions to ask include:

  • What is the office culture like?
  • What are some of the biggest challenges you have encountered in this position?
  • What does your ideal candidate for this position look like?
  • What do you hope the person hired for this job will accomplish in the first 90 days?
  • What do you like most about working in this office?

Learn the art of the humblebrag

Typically, in addition to being asked what questions you have for the hiring committee, you’ll also be given time to tell the committee anything you have not yet been asked about. Again, you should always have something ready because chances are, the 10 questions you were asked probably did not touch on all you have to offer. This is a great time to brag a little bit about yourself and to let your personality shine. Some things to think about for this would be:

  • Research interests
  • Special projects you’ve worked on
  • New initiatives you’ve done or are interested in starting
  • Committees you’ve served on
  • Organizations you’re apart of
  • A fun (but appropriate) fact about yourself

You’re allowed to take notes

This, funnily enough, is something I did not know prior to being on a search committee. I was so nervous for my interviews that I didn’t even think to bring a notepad. I thought it would make me look weak if I took notes during the interview. So don’t be like me and bring a notepad. You can write down questions as they’re being asked because, let’s face it, nerves are a bitch and can make you forget the question before they’ve even finished asking it. And contrary to what I believed, it actually makes you look more prepared. Then, when you ask them questions, you can also take notes on their responses to review later.

Be yourself

It is totally fine to get the jitters but above all else, remember to just be yourself. Higher education especially is all about having the ability to talk to people, to be personable and to be able to connect with others. The hiring committee can get a great feel for how you potentially work with students based on your body language, facial expressions and how you articulate yourself. So it’s okay to make a little joke, to smile, to laugh, to talk with your hands if that is who you are. Don’t hide the essential components of yourself but use them to your advantage instead.

Practice makes perfect

The best way to put your new skills to the test is by doing mock interviews. Phone interviews, in particular, can be the most awkward and stressful part of the application process. There are no social cues, body language or facial expressions to read. Then there’s the awkward talking-over-each other-because-we-don’t-have-the-aforementioned-cues thing happening. Don’t let the phone interview be your downfall! Practice your phone interviewing skills by doing a mock phone interview with me. We’ll set up a time for me to call you and act as the interviewer. There will be 30 minutes for the questions and then an additional 30 minutes to get feedback. The interview and the questions are informed by the many search committees I have served on and the numerous interviews I have conducted. Contact me today to set it up!


Have any additional tips and advice to share? Leave them in the comments!

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