Interviewing With Administrators

If you've done well with the search committee, your next stop on a campus visit may be the dean's office. Melissa Dennihy prepares you.

February 2, 2015
 

In previous essays, I discussed how to interview and how to give a teaching demo. If you’ve made it past those steps, you may find that your final stop on the way to landing a job is an interview with an administrator such as the campus president or a dean. In most cases, administrator interviews are quite different from search committee interviews, making it a bit more difficult to know what to expect and how to prepare. Here is a brief outline of what happens during an interview with an administrator and how to be sure you are ready for it. 

What to Expect:

  • A one-on-one interview. You may have gotten used to group interviews after meeting with search committees, but interviews with administrators are usually one-on-one conversations, or, at most, a meeting with two administrators. Try to mentally prepare for this -- it’s a much more intimate form of interaction than the group interview format, and it usually means you will have to spend a lot more time doing the talking.
  • A discussion that is not discipline specific. In most cases, administrators will have limited familiarity with your field, so keep in mind that the interview answers you have prepared and practiced for conversations with search committees will likely be far less relevant when interviewing with administrators.
  • A series of questions from the administrator, followed by a detailed explanation of the job logistics: workload, tenure and promotion expectations, salary and benefits, etc. This is not the time for negotiations; you should only negotiate after you have received an offer.

How to Prepare:

  • Know how and why you fit with the institution. Unless you are fortunate enough to find that the administrator hails from the same discipline you do, far less time will be devoted to questions about your research, or even your approach to teaching your subject, and much more time will be spent assessing how you will fit in at the institution. Knowing as much information about the institution as possible is vital to demonstrating why you’re a good fit. Though you probably already know a great deal about the department you are seeking a position in, having already interviewed with the search committee, remember that an administrator interview requires knowledge of the institution on a broader scale: research the campus’s history, study its mission statement, learn about its current initiatives and ongoing efforts, and know the nitty-gritty of its general educational requirements, degree offerings and curricular approaches.
  • Learn the academic background of the administrator. Although most of the questions asked will likely be more general ones, your research is going to come up at some point, and knowing the administrator’s background will pay off if you can find ways to link your work to his or her discipline. You may be a philosophy candidate being interviewed by a chemist, but finding ways to connect or compare what you do to the field the administrator hails from will demonstrate the broad and interdisciplinary applicability of your work, while appealing to the administrator’s own interests.
  • Prepare answers to a range of questions. The questions administrators ask tend to be less predictable than search committee questions. They can even be a bit quirky, sometimes reminiscent of the questions you might find in a magazine quiz or personality assessment. While questions about how well you will fit with the institution are most common (“Why do you want a position at this university?”; “What is something new or innovative you can bring to our campus?”), administrators also tend to ask questions geared toward finding out who you are as a person and a colleague. Such questions can be particularly tough to answer on the spot without sounding corny or clichéd. Think about how you might respond to questions such as “Give three words a supervisor would use to describe you”; “What’s your favorite nonacademic book?” and “If you overheard colleagues talking about you at the department holiday party, what would they be saying?” Other questions commonly asked by administrators include those intended to gauge your views on higher education issues (“What’s the biggest challenge facing higher education today?”; “What do you think of online instruction?”; “How should instructors conduct assessment?”; “Why do you think interdisciplinary work is important to a university?”) and questions focused on drawbacks or challenges: “What are your weaknesses?”; “What is something you would not look forward to about this job?”; “How do you handle a student who presents a disciplinary problem?” You can also expect some questions about your long-term goals and the broader relevance of your work -- for example, “Where do you see your career 20 years from now?”; “How will your research matter in a decade?” or “In what ways is your research significant to fields other than your own?”
  • Look alive. If your interview with an administrator is part of a campus visit, it might be your last stop after a very long day of interviewing, dining and job talking. Remember that this person most likely makes the final decision on whether you are hired or not, and do your absolute best to be engaging, interesting, passionate and sharp -- no matter how exhausted or drained you may be. During one of my most jam-packed campus visits, a single-day whirlwind that involved a search committee interview, job talk, lunch with the department, interview with the department chair, interview with an administrator and dinner with the search committee (phew!), the faculty member who escorted me throughout the day stuffed a handful of espresso beans into my palm at the day’s start, encouraging me to keep eating them as needed. I was immensely grateful to have those espresso beans when midday exhaustion kicked in just before my interview with the campus president. Have a similar survival plan in place for your big day.

Bio

Melissa Dennihy is assistant professor of English at Queensborough Community College of the City University of New York.

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