By Jillian Ives
Interviewing season is upon us, although it might look a bit different this year. I’ve had a fair amount of virtual and in-person interviews over the years, both as an interviewee and interviewer. There is a wealth of information out there, so I do not plan to summarize it all here. However, I would like to offer my fellow HESAs a different perspective on interviewing as they prepare to search for summer internships or full-time positions. When facing the daunting job search, taking the time for reflection is essential. Interviewing is just like any other learning experience—it is a developmental process for the mind, body, and soul, not an obstacle to overcome for a final result. I like to reframe interviewing, to see it as an opportunity to check in with myself and further refine my values, my goals, and my experiences.
When facing the daunting job search, taking the time for reflection is essential. Interviewing is just like any other learning experience—it is a developmental process for the mind, body, and soul, not an obstacle to overcome for a final result. I like to reframe interviewing, to see it as an opportunity to check in with myself and further refine my values, my goals, and my experiences.
First, reflect on how your mind functions under the stress. When you are nervous, do you talk fast, slow, or stumble over your words? Do you get easily distracted? Try to think through these things and be proactive where you can. For example, if you are virtually interviewing and know you get easily thrown off by distractions, close out of your email, silence your phone, and try to find a quiet and minimally decorated space. I know that I tend to not talk much when I’m nervous, so I purposefully post bullet lists of key experiences I want to highlight near my computer screen so that I can remind myself to expand on my answer by adding an example. For the things you can’t control, just be honest about them. If you get nervous and you forget what you were saying or can’t get the right word out, just reset by saying something like, “I’m sorry, I’m so excited to be interviewing for this position that I think my brain was moving faster than my mouth!” Reframing your nerves as excitement can make them less intimidating. Admitting your nerves can also go a long way with a search committee. We are all human after all, and they are probably nervous and stressed too!
Also know how your body functions under stress. Reflect on your nervous habits in an interview—do you tap your foot or pen? If you aren’t sure, run a mock interview with a friend or at the Center for Career Development and have them look for those habits. I know I tend to play with my jewelry when nervous, so I make sure to wear smaller earrings and no necklace when I interview to mitigate that habit. Although sometimes these small habits help us relieve stress, so if you are interviewing virtually you can take advantage of the format by squeezing a stress ball under the table. Also know how your body reacts to prolonged stress if you have an all-day interview on campus or are doing multiple virtual interviews in a row, like at The Placement Exchange. Pace yourself, and do what re-energizes you during breaks. Listen to a song, meditate, eat a snack, or whatever helps de-stress you.
Lastly, reflect on your soul. By this, I mean whatever soul means to you—whether that is spiritual, religious, or just what centers and nourishes you. One of the best ways to feed your soul is to not compare yourself to your peers during job season. Everyone will get jobs at different times, and it is not a reflection of your worth. Plan ahead of time what you are willing to accept and not accept in a job offer so that you do not question whether you are settling or not when you start to feel peer pressure. You do not need to find the perfect job because this will be the first among many. However, you do want to find a position that you can be happy in for at least a few years. Your soul impacts your mental and physical wellbeing—they are all connected. This is proven in research on how racially minoritized people end up facing physical and mental health conditions when working in a racist workplace—it is damaging to the soul, body, and mind. During the interview, pay attention to the diversity of the office space and gauge whether they value and prioritize equity. Ask questions about whether they have the resources that will feed your soul, whether that be affinity groups for faculty and staff, churches nearby of your religion, or beauty salons or barber shops that cater to your hair type. Make sure to reflect on what you personally need to be happy, healthy, and positive. For me, family nourishes my soul. I made finding a position near family a priority, so I didn’t feel pressured by the normative idea of conducting a national search.
A Few Other Tips and Tricks
Staying organized is perhaps the best advice I have for tending to your mind, body, and soul during interview preparation. Start by creating a spreadsheet to track every position you are planning to apply to. List the positions in rows, and the different information about the job and application in columns. For example, in the columns note the application materials required to apply, due dates, basic information about the institution, office, and position. Color code or mark off each as you submit the application. This will help you stay on top of due dates, but it will also help you remember what you’ve applied to and where, as your mind starts to muddle the applications over time. Then create a folder for each position, and save the final versions of the application materials you submitted and any research notes you collected about the position. If you get an interview, this will be very helpful for you to refer back to. Not only will it help you not duplicate your research efforts, but it will also help you remember what experiences you mentioned in your materials.
There are many resources out there on how to research a position and prepare for interview questions, so I won’t expand on that much here. However, one tip I have to save you some time—and thus save you effort in mind, body, and soul—is to have an interview question cheat sheet that can apply to all positions. Write out the most common interview questions in higher education (you can find many online), and the ones that are common to your functional area (experience advising, supervising, organizing programs, etc.). Write out your general philosophy for each question—what is your advising or supervision style for example. However, the key here is to think about all your experiences over time and map them onto these questions. You can actually create a table with the questions in rows and the experience examples in columns. This is important because a good interview answer moves from the hypothetical or theoretical, to include a specific example to illustrate your answer. This is often called the STAR method—the example should briefly explain the Situation, Task at hand, Action you took, and Result. So the table will help you think through the different experiences you have, what questions they might apply to, and if you have any gaps to consider. This really helped me in my interviewing experiences. When they asked a question about advising a student who was facing personal challenges, I knew I had 2-3 stories in my pocket to use. Maybe I had already used one that overlapped with another question they asked about advising students with minoritized identities, so I had 1-2 back up stories planned.
There are so many resources out there about interviewing. I’ve listed a few below as a start.
UConn Center for Career Development has many great interviewing resources, from videos on how to answer common questions, mock interviews, negotiating job offers, and more. They also have resources specifically for graduate students, and the common materials required for job applications.
The Student Affairs Collective has many blog posts written by student affairs professionals going through the job search process, and their tips and tricks. For example, see this post on the TPE experience.
Also, don’t forget that your network is a resource. Lean on HESA and UConn alumni. Check LinkedIn or HESA alumni groups to see if you know anyone working at the institution you are applying to. Email or call them to see if they can give you some insight into the institutional culture—what do they like or dislike about working there, what are the students like, etc. This will help in your preparation, but also give you better insight into whether you would want to work there.
Jillian Ives is a 2014 graduate of the HESA Program and a current PhD candidate in the Neag School of Education’s Learning, Leadership, and Education Policy program. Jillian also represents the Department of Educational Leadership as a representative on the Center for Career Development’s Graduate Student Career Council.