Musings From The Other Side of the Table

Last year, I, along with many of you first-year professionals, did a lot of interviewing, whether it was interviewing for an internship/ assistantship, trying to practice my skills at a mock placement exchange before the big day, and actually sitting through MANY (and I do mean many) interviews during TPE. And, boy (or girl), I felt so prepared knowing exactly what the interview would include and how to best present my knowledge and experiences.

I feel professionals like us in Student Affairs do a great job of preparing others to be interviewees. We learn (and then teach) what to wear, or more importantly what not to wear; how to craft eloquent cover letters and resumes; where to find the best material used to reflect on one’s wants and needs, prepare for interviews as to not be caught off guard; transform weakness into areas of improvement or room for growth; and a countless array of other tips aimed at making job applicants shine during interviews, leaving employers wanting to know more.

By no means does this happen over night. If your graduate program or internships/assistantship were anything like mine, you either took a course that made you take a complete inventory of your values and what you were hoping to do with the rest of your life, sat through presentations on the do’s and don’ts of interviewing, had a mentor who was willing to, “give it to you straight” or did what graduate students do best which is a whole lot of research on every topic where the word “interviewing” was mentioned- whether it be phone interviews, in-person interviews at conferences, on-campus interviews, mock interviews, exit interviews, etc.

Now, as I sit on the other side of the sometimes awkwardly long table set up in a conference room, to interview others for positions in Residence Life, I see that our field is really great at making sure the interviewee is as prepared as possible but we might be forgetting that interviewers are also part of the process and pretty, if not equally, important.

I say this based on my experience. Of course we as interviewers go over the main points with each candidate, and ask the same core questions to everyone to be consistent and mentioning confidentiality at least once every 6 minutes or so, but I don’t think we did much else. And, during some of the interviews, it showed.

Some things to consider as a new professional when you are sitting on “the other side of the table:”
  1. Do give clear expectations to all involved in the interview process. You can’t expect your collaborators to use what you don’t teach. Great interviewers get the most important information out of candidates, which saves everyone time (which also means money). This leads to having an easier time choosing a candidate and getting the best person to join your team. So invest some time in interviewers now, to save time in the long run (when you could use that time, such as Opening and Closing weeks). 
  2. Do include graduate and undergraduate students- both in conversations about how to be a great interviewer as well as in on interviews. And no, this isn’t just for the students’ benefit. While students will learn valuable skills such as how to interview others and takeaways they can use when they are in the hot seat, it is also a benefit to the whole staff. Students have a different perspective and sometimes that perspective is hard to remember when you are no longer a student, which makes it EVEN more valuable. Also, students are most likely one of the populations professionals in Student Affairs will be working with; it would be beneficial for the job search committee to see how interviewees interact with students in a safe setting.
  3. 3. Do discuss the mission, values and goals of institution and department. While we all should be living the mission and values of our organization and department every day, sometimes it is great to actually articulate it to everyone involved in the process before an interview starts. That way everyone is on the same page when it comes to what we should be looking for in a candidate. If you don’t have a clear goal of what you are looking for (or what areas need to be covered), each interviewer might decide on a different candidate based on what they believe the department needs, without knowing the needs of others in the department.
  4. Don’t do the annoying things we don’t like in an interviewee- chewing gum; clicking pens; not being on time (i.e., arrive a few minutes early); asking “illegal” questions about age, religion or politics; etc. Not only do these things make the interviewer and the institution not look the most professional, but some could throw interviewees and other interviewers off which doesn’t help anyone when it comes to finding the right person for the position.
  5. Don’t keep using the same old questions year after year. While candidates are spending months coming up with answers to the questions they think we are going to ask, we should be spending some time ensuring that the questions we are asking are actually hitting on the points we are hoping to know about the candidate by the end of an interview. While the questions might have worked for the last ten years, that doesn’t mean they can’t be improved upon each year. Same goes with figuring out the best flow for the questions. If you don’t devote time to order the questions, you might end up asking someone to speak about similar experiences within multiple questions. It could hurt the flow and waste time in the interview. You have a limited amount of time to conduct an interview, so use that time wisely.
  6. Don’t use “good,” “bad” or other words that are basically meaningless. When writing notes during an interview, don’t just say good or bad. Later, when you are asked to explain your notes or to go over your thoughts about a candidate, good and bad won’t really help you recall what made an interviewee’s comments either of those things. Instead use key words from their comments- for instance, I once used “Winnie the Pooh” to help me remember someone who, when speaking about working with different students, stated that everyone has a different personality but that doesn’t mean they can’t get along if they found a common idea to get around, kind of like Winnie the Pooh. Good or bad might not have made me remember that story or the underlying point made.
  7. Don’t forget your theory. Again, while interviewees are preparing, making sure they are brushing up on their student development theory and keeping current with student affairs and higher education news and trends, we as interviewers (and student affairs professionals) should be doing the same. Period.
  8. Don’t forget your manners either. Yes, each interviewee will be trying to put his/her best foot forward and send thank you notes, and we, as professionals, should always be doing the same. Get back to interviewees in a reasonable amount of time and do thank interviewees for their time. Even if they aren’t right for the position you are hoping to fill, you want them to leave having had a great experience at your institution, for the field is small and you might see them at a conference, hire them for a different position or be sitting across from them someday with the roles reversed.
Did I miss any? Do you have a great example of one of these things in action? Do you disagree? I want to know! The first-year being a professional has definitely been a learning process and I welcome all the help I can get!
Christina Colasanto

Student Affairs - the First Years

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