It’s not the same old interview anymore

by | September 2, 2009

Interviews for faculty positions and other jobs for which a doctorate is required or preferred often differ from interviews for less specialized jobs. Understanding what an interview for a position related to your doctoral degree may entail is critical to your success as a job candidate.

Interviews for positions appropriate for doctoral-degree holders are likely to be lengthier and more intense than other job interviews. If you are interviewing for a faculty position, you may be invited on campus for an entire day, during which you will likely meet with multiple people, including the department chair, other faculty members, the dean or president, and students. You may also be asked to give a guest lecture or teach a class, and you may be taken to dinner, or a social hour may be held in your honor. Similarly, if you are interviewing for an executive position with a company, you may be invited to the company for a day’s worth of interviews, or your interview process may involve multiple rounds of interviews on different days and with different people. If you are interviewing for an online teaching position, you may be asked to either take or facilitate an online class, during which your ability to communicate and connect with students in a virtual environment will be assessed.

Know what you’re getting into
When you receive the invitation to interview, inquire about the interview schedule and ask for a list of the people (get names and titles, if possible) with whom you will be interviewing. Knowing this information will allow you to visualize the day and prepare to present yourself, your work, and your skills appropriately in different settings and to different audiences. Further, having the names of the interviewers enables you to study up on them ahead of time.

Research is critical
Doing your research is absolutely imperative to your success during the interview. When it comes to how much you know about the job and the organization, you will be held to a higher standard when interviewing for a position related to your advanced degree than you likely have been in other interviews. Do your homework on the people with whom you are going to meet. What do they teach? What are their research topics? What areas of the business do they oversee, or what strategic initiatives do they manage? Be prepared to intelligently discuss these topics. Additionally, return to the research you did to prepare your application materials and dig more deeply into your information about the department, the school, the student population, and even the community in which the institution is situated. The more information you gather and reflect on, the better prepared you will be to answer and ask questions at the interview.

Practice, practice, practice
Regardless of the specific job for which you are applying, or the format your interview process takes, you should expect more complicated or intensive questions than you may have gotten in past interviews. Further, the expectations surrounding the complexity or insightfulness of your replies will be more rigorous than the standards to which you may have been held for more junior positions. Similarly, you’ll be expected to ask more discerning questions of your own. Make sure you know your work, your discipline, your teaching philosophy (if you are interviewing for a teaching position), and the institution inside and out before you go into the interview.

If interviewing causes a great deal of anxiety for you, remember that practicing can go a long way towards alleviating apprehension and boosting your confidence level. The Career Center’s free webinar Interviewing for Success can help you develop strategies for answering some commonly asked (and tricky!) interview questions. Additionally, our interview practice tool, InterviewStream, provides an opportunity for you to practice responding to interview questions.

Don’t just prepare for common interview questions, however. Remember that you’ll get more questions, often of greater specificity, in an interview related to your advanced degree than you may have encountered in previous interview situations. Prepare to discuss your work and your skills at length, and to field intense queries about how exactly you will do the job and what makes you a distinguished applicant for the position.

Polish up
How your present yourself is as critical as what you say during the interview. Polish, poise, and confidence are all critical factors that will contribute to making a positive impression on your interviewers. Make sure to wear attire that is appropriate for the interview situation. In most cases this means a suit, but again, do your homework so you know what the best option is. You also will want to select an interview outfit (or outfits, if your interview will last more than one day) that makes you feel confident and empowered. Your attire should also be comfortable, since you may be wearing it for eight to 12 hours, depending on the interview agenda.

Etiquette and tact are essential
The interview will also likely entail some socializing – dinner, an hors d’oeuvres reception, breakfast, coffee, or something similar. It’s important to remember that you are “on” the entire time you are in the presence of anyone representing your potential employer, including all meals, while being escorted across campus, and even when you are waiting in the hall for your next meeting. Be sure to always comport yourself with the utmost professionalism and follow standard rules of etiquette. Develop a system for remembering the names of the people to whom you are introduced during the day, so you can call them by name and so you can send thank-you notes after the interview. If small talk isn’t your strong suit, prepare to discuss some common topics that are appropriate and safe for small talk when discussion veers off from questions about your candidacy. The weather, local sports teams, and the layout and design of the building where you are interviewing are all reliably noncontroversial topics. If necessary, brush up on table manners, practice a firm handshake, and by all means, turn off your cell phone during the interview!

A candidate who nails both content and presentation is going to win over interviewers. Use these strategies to ensure you’re that person! For more information and advice about effective interviewing techniques, please visit Capella’s Career Center.

2 Responses to "It’s not the same old interview anymore"

  1. Thomas Dahlen says:

    Ms. Williams,
    Your article clearly indicates the challenges one faces when interviewing for a position which requires a Ph.D. Research and preparation become even more essential.
    Tom Dahlen

  2. Jen Williams says:

    Hi Thomas,
    Thank you for your comment. You’re absolutely correct — preparation is essential to any successful interview, but even more so for positions requiring an advanced degree. Hopefully my post offers some clarity about what might be involved in such an interview process, as well as some tips about how to effectively prepare.
    Best wishes,