Interviewing During COVID

For those of us who interviewed and accepted new positions during the shelter in place phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was likely a varying degree of information we had available to make a final decision. During the interview process, I was not able to see campus but I was fortunate to drive through campus and meet with the president with my three daughters in tow before officially accepting the offer. Before saying yes, I did not have a sense of the dynamic among the senior team and how I might fit within that dynamic. I had no sense of my divisional team and their needs, desires, or perceptions. I had no sense of faculty and their perceptions of the role Student Affairs played in the life of the campus. Lastly, I had no sense of the student culture and the expectations students had for the vice president position. When I have done campus interviews in the past, the face-to-face interaction in an interview allowed me to gather some sense of these types of dynamics along with other important aspects that go into my own evaluation process.

I can share with you the two anchors I used to make the decision to accept an offer without the “senses” that I had previously thought to be critical in making a job decision. The first anchor was a professional and personal checklist of what I wanted in my next position and next move. Everyone wants a great boss, great colleagues, a great team, with engaged and supportive students and faculty. Not being face-to-face forced me to ask different questions than I did in the past. What were the major professional opportunities in this next position that excited me? What skills and competencies do I have that I know will be well-utilized in this next position? What are some responsibilities I could let go and thus do more of the work that I am truly invested in? What kind of lifestyle do I want in my personal life? These are examples of questions I asked myself when I had to think more deeply about accepting an offer and these questions turned out to be more substantive and useful than the initial impressions I relied on from face-to-face interviews.

The second anchor was unexpected but just as valuable. My three daughters and I traveled to the area to check out the campus, see what the area was like, and to meet with the president. I thought that I would be meeting with the president alone but we ended up having a conversation with my daughters in the room. My daughters were able to hear the president’s vision for the university and how she thought I could help achieve her vision. I am sure their eyes glazed over a bit when we were talking about more specific higher education issues but the most meaningful aspect for them was to be with me as I gathered information to help make this important decision. Ultimately, this allowed for them to be part of the decision-making process with a true context of what the move would mean for me professionally.

Interviewing and accepting an offer during the pandemic was obviously very different than the traditional manner of interviewing. The differences forced me to search for the opportunities in the interview experience to answer the questions that were truly critical in my own decision-making process. In the end while challenging, interviewing through a screen resulted in a more in-depth discernment process and it turned out to be a great choice.

Leonard Brown, Jr.

Vice-President for Student Affairs, Norfolk State University

Dr. Leonard Brown Jr. currently serves as the Vice-President for Student Affairs at Norfolk State University. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Dr. Brown earned a B.A. from Dickinson College majoring in psychology. He received a M.S. in higher education administration from Western Illinois University and a M.A in theology from St. Mary’s Seminary and University Ecumenical Institute of Theology. He holds a Doctor of Management Degree from the University of Maryland Global Campus. Dr. Brown has worked for more than 25 years on College and University campuses to develop strong mentoring relationships with a variety of students. He particularly enjoys cross institutional partnerships that produce robust campus wide systems supporting student development. These include strategic planning and institutional visioning, data-driven approaches for retention and student success, risk management protocols, and Diversity and Inclusion. Dr. Brown lives in Virginia Beach, Va and has three wonderful daughters.