In Part 2 of how to land your dream job, Associate Professor Martin Crotty talks about the do’s and don’t’s of job interviews. He explains what interviewers are looking for (and what will turn them off!) and gives some fantastic tips on how to make sure you shine in any interview.
Do prepare yourself thoroughly, thinking about your attributes, qualifications and how they make you a good fit for the position that is being advertised. Research the role, research the unit and organizational environment, and think about what it is about you that makes you a desirable applicant.
Don’t hide your light under a bushel, or assume that your virtues will shine though simply from your CV. You have half an hour or so in which to convince the selection committee that you are worth investing hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars in over the longer term.
Make sure you answer the questions. The same sets of questions are being posed to every interviewee, and the selection panel will be noting how well everyone answers them. Don’t avoid the question, even if it is a challenging one. If you have a weak suit, it’s better to be upfront about it, and to perhaps discuss how you might overcome it or why it is outweighed by areas of strength, than to obfuscate.
Employers are looking for what they have asked for in the selection criteria – but so much more. You have to be able to do the minimum that is requested – you must be able to teach that course that is scheduled to begin in six weeks, for example, and you must be able to deliver a good lecture, mark an essay, upload results, produce publishable research and so on. Employers usually have immediate and short-term needs, and you must be able to satisfy these. But to one degree or another, any candidate who is being interviewed will be able to do this. So you need to think about the desirable criteria for an appointment, whether stated or not, and how you are able to satisfy these. What is your upcoming research programme? What are your publication plans? Are you intending to apply for a major ARC grant in the near future? How do your research interests mesh with current research strengths, or your teaching talents with the future teaching agenda? Are you clearly a warm and collegial sort of person who those interviewing you would like to have as part of the team? What can you offer them if they take you on?
Employers are turned off by the use of notes or obviously pre-prepared answers. Yes, you should prepare, and yes you should think carefully about how you are going to respond to likely questions, whether they are difficult or easy, and whether they concern your strengths or your weaker suits. But if you have to read it off a piece of paper or a screen, it looks terrible.
Try to practice. Job interviews can be stressful, disorienting and altogether unsettling – just when you want to most appear focused, together, comfortable and confident. Run through answers and questions in your mind – visualize and imagine. If possible, gather together some friends and colleagues and get them to put you through a mock interview or two – and tell them to be challenging, and to debrief you afterwards.
Never overcook, exaggerate or (almost inconceivably) fabricate experiences, attributes or qualifications. Apart from the inherent evils of such dishonesty, even if just one exaggeration is exposed, all of your legitimate claims will have doubt thrown on them – and you’re finished.
Think about how you can impress without showing off. It’s a difficult balancing act, but you want to ensure that the selection committee is well aware of your wares but without you appearing a braggart. Where and how, for example, might you be able to make reference to that conference you organised, or that course you re-developed, even if not asked about conference organisation or curriculum development.
Remember that several people are being interviewed in all likelihood, and they are all probably capable of doing the job. So go in with the goal of impressing rather than being defensive or playing it safe. You need to shine and to stand out from the others. But if it goes to someone else – so be it. Review what you might have done better, and treat it as a learning experience.
The problem with a lot of job interviews is that they can often become reiterations of what is in the CV and the letter of application. The selection panel have already read this material. Yes, you’ll need to refer to it, and to provide further evidence and assurance that you meet the selection criteria, but you need to make the selection panel want you. It’s thirty minutes or an hour to sell you and your work to people who are probably mainly strangers. It’s your pitch – and you need to ensure that it doesn’t become bogged down in mundane matters such as the number of lectures you have given, the standing of a particular journal that you have published in, or matters which should already have been categorically addressed in your letter of application and CV. The best job interviews address the essentials, but soon move to a higher plane.