Preparing for Interviews: Standing Out While Fitting In

by Letizia Guglielmo, Associate Professor of English and Gender and Women’s Studies
Kennesaw State University

Over the last few months, my colleagues Erin Costello Wecker and Lydia McDermott have shared advice on the job search that grew out of our 4c16 CFSHRC mentoring table.

Now that your application materials are prepped and submitted, the next stage of the process likely will include various rounds of interviews via phone or Skype and face-to-face with search committees.

Although the specific context and duration for each of these interviews will vary (phone and Skype interviews may be no longer than thirty minutes whereas on-campus interviews may take place over multiple days), in each case a little extra research can go a long way in helping you to feel comfortable and better prepared and to imagine yourself in a particular professional space while helping interviewers to do the same.

Chances are, you’ve received great advice about preparing for interviews from mentors and peers—be ready to talk about your next scholarly project, prepare questions for the search committee when asked, etc.—and you’ve already done quite a bit of research to prepare job materials and to make it to this stage of the process. What I’ll suggest here, then, are a few tips that involve getting to know the institution and being able to talk about your work within that specific context. Working to stand out while also fitting in. In keeping with what Erin and Lydia address in their earlier job search posts, considering who you are, what you want, and what you bring to the position are important preliminary steps in preparing for this stage of the larger job search process.

How Will You Be You in This Place?

It goes without saying that you should be able to describe yourself (briefly) as a teacher without having to read from your teaching philosophy, and if you’ve applied for positions that include administrative work, you should be able to do the same with an administrative philosophy. Describing your teaching may also include sharing an assignment that you might use in a class appropriate for the position, one that you may not have included in a course previously. Give yourself time to think through this assignment within the context of actual courses offered in the department or program for which you are interviewing and the student population you will be working with. What do program and department websites tell you about courses, syllabi, and students? How can you connect your experience and vision with program or department values articulated in mission statements, outcomes statements, policies and procedures, curriculum overviews, and assessment materials? Help your interviewers and potential colleagues see what you can bring to their programs in language that sounds familiar and fits the institution’s current context.

Take time to search for program initiatives, institutional changes, or other recent developments that might influence your work, including strategic plans or Quality Enhancement Plans (QEPs). Consider how your expertise may align with these initiatives and, in turn, how they allow you to speak to the specific responsibilities of the position. For example, an institution’s stated commitment to community engagement may allow you to talk about your experience with community writing projects in the classroom and to articulate the specific ways you see those activities serving students, community members, and the institution in the position you are interviewing for.

Considering the variety of positions for which you may interview (tenure- and non-tenure-track) within a variety of institutional contexts, you also might consider, among other issues, how you would manage a heavy teaching load and/or how you will find support or make time for scholarly activities when teaching and service are the primary expectations for the position. Having taught a five-course load each semester for a number of years, I realized after some trial and error that my approach to teaching writing needed some modification if I was going to retain much of the one-on-one work I knew served my students well while also responding to over 120 essays each time students submitted a major assignment. Furthermore, working primarily with first- and second-year students during those years, I tried to take advantage of opportunities to make my teaching my scholarship and to pursue institutional funding and professional development that allowed me to combine the two whenever possible. Institutional centers for teaching excellence or excellence in teaching can be great resources for supporting faculty work and can provide a snapshot of the kinds of projects current faculty have been engaged in.

Finally, don’t overwhelm yourself with research. As Lydia wisely explained regarding the preparation of job materials, you eventually have to conclude the research process and be present for and engaged in the interview. As you prepare for the conversations, presentations, and campus visits, remember that your potential colleagues are not as interested in whether you can quote the mission statement or strategic plan as they are in seeing how you fit in while also bringing something unique to the table.

Relax, trust your instincts, and enjoy the process.