The Search Committee In-Person Interview: Part 1: How to Prepare

Category: Search Process

A great resume (or CV) and cover letter will get you through the door, but the final step in the process – the in-person interview – is what ultimately secures you the job position. Whether it should or not, the interview is what leaves the biggest (and final) impression on the search committee, and is your best opportunity to cement your candidacy.

In Spelman Johnson’s Four Part Blog Series on the Search Committee In-Person Interview we talk about how to effectively prepare for your interview, how to handle interview curveballs, what to ask and what to avoid, along with other tips and tricks to keep in your interview arsenal. Have comments, additions, or suggestions? Please leave them in our comments section!

How to Prepare for Your In-Person Search Committee Interview

Know What to Expect

The first step in preparing effectively for an in-person interview is to know what to expect. If it’s your first time interviewing with a search committee, take some time to learn about the general interview process and perspectives that committee members as stakeholders bring to the search. Understand that most search committee interviews will follow a formula, are time-limited, and will generally cover the same territory for each candidate.

Questions will range from softballs and personable questions, to more challenging questions that include hypotheticals and curveballs. At all interviews, appropriate attire and demeanor will be expected. If you are already familiar with the search committee interview process, you’ll have that much more time to spend on the golden rules of interview preparation: research and rehearsal.

Do Your Research

One of the best ways to impress a search committee is by demonstrating your knowledge and understanding of how the position serves, or will serve, the institution’s current and future needs. Do your research thoroughly, and be aware of the institution in context to current and future trends in higher education. For instance, if you are interviewing for an administrative position in enrollment, you should be aware of the institution’s enrollment practices and metrics, along with how they apply to, and mesh with, current best practices and enrollment trends. What current enrollment challenges does the institution face that your position would likely address? What makes your candidacy equipped to tackle those challenges, or what experiences have you had that would allow you to lead and execute solutions for your department? You should be able to thoroughly illustrate for the committee the connection between your professional experience and the needs of the position.

Think through the perspectives that individual search committee members will bring to their role in the recruitment process. How would you expect to interface with each member if hired? What do you expect would be their critical concerns? Be prepared to respond to questions reflecting these themes and/or identify in advance some questions of your own that will clarify your understanding (and not be redundant of information you could have easily researched prior to the interview).

Practice Makes Perfect

Finally, no matter how seasoned an interviewee you are, it’s always a good idea to rehearse. Practice interviewing with a friend, and solicit their feedback on both your verbal and nonverbal communication. Consider taping and reviewing these mock interviews, in order to identify mistakes and correct them, such as sounding too clipped or angry, interrupting the other person, a nervous laugh, or frequent “um’s” “uh’s,” and other dead air fillers. Keep practicing until you can significantly eliminate those from your speech. If you don’t have someone to practice with, consider practicing in front of a mirror.

Some Final Quick Tips:
-Develop a signature statement. This is your career proclamation, a one or two-sentence summary of who you are and what you bring to the position.

-If applicable, be prepared to talk about how you will handle the relocation process. Have you discussed it with your partner/spouse or family? Demonstrating that you have thought out the logistical realities of employment shows the committee that you are serious about the position.

-Allow the interviewer to guide the conversation and be mindful of your own contributions. Try to match your rate of speech to the interviewer’s.

-Avoid one or two-word answers, and use specific examples from your experience to substantiate a point.

-Remember the nonverbal cues you’re sending. Smile when appropriate and be mindful of your posture and body language.

Read Part 2 of our “Search Committee In-Person Interview” series on What to Ask at the interview.

For regular higher ed #career tips, follow us on Twitter @spelmanjohnson!

Mark Hall

Vice President - Spelman Johnson

Mark Hall earned his BA from Wake Forest University, his MEd from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and his MBA from the University of Central Florida. Most recently, Mark served as president of Campus Entertainment, LLC, a subsidiary company of the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA). During a career that spans over 20 years in higher education, Mark has served as assistant executive director at NACA, vice president for finance and administration at Columbia College, and director of the university centers at both Wake Forest University and the University of Central Florida. He served two terms as vice-chair of the NACA board of directors and was president of the Southern Region of the National Association of College Auxiliary Services.