Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Interview Tips, Part 3

This is the final post in my series of interview tips. This one focuses on the interview itself along with some general final advice.

Interview tips

--I have been surprised at the way some candidates interrupt interviewers and start answering questions before they’ve completely heard the questions. Sometimes that leads to interviewees offering different information than was asked for. It’s also downright rude to interrupt.

--Take notes while people are asking questions. Sometimes you get double or even triple questions disguised as one and it’s easy to lose track. A candidate might start answering one question and then forget what the others were. Write brief notes to yourself about what you are being asked and also about what you might like to say in response. That’s much preferred to having the candidate say, “I’m sorry, but I forgot what your other question was.”

--Prepare answers to typical questions. Don’t look shocked when you’re asked questions such as “Why have you applied to this job?” or “Where do you see yourself in 5 (or 10 or 20) years?” or “What classes or programs do we teach that you might like to be part of?” or “How does your writing/translation work fit into our department?” You should expect questions along those lines and be prepared to answer them fairly smoothly, without sounding unsure of yourself. Look at books on interview techniques and ready yourself to answer the most common interview questions.

--Look at each panel member as you talk, making eye contact with each one in turn. Do not focus on one or two members and ignore the rest. Although that can happen when someone’s nervous, it can be disconcerting to be stared at by the speaker.

--Pay attention to the subtle signals the panel members are giving you when interviewing you. They may be nodding to show you’ve said enough and that they’re ready to move on, or they may look bored or distracted. Don’t keep rambling on if you suspect that they’ve heard enough; finish your statement and silence yourself, awaiting the next question. I’ve been in a number of interviews where the candidates talk on and on, repeating themselves, giving more or different information than requested, and boring the panel, even though a panel member might have tried to signal to the candidate that we were ready to go to the next topic. Displaying a lack of attention to people’s body language says something about how you might behave in the classroom.

--Don’t talk about things other than what you were asked. Candidates understandably try to get a lot of details into their answers and to subtly show off, but try not to do too much of it or to go too off track. Especially don’t discuss personal details such as your recent holiday, your partner/spouse and/or children, your maternity/paternity leave, your health, how much money you spent to come to the interview, your political views, or other such things; those topics are usually irrelevant to the question at hand. Again, panel members might worry about your conduct in the classroom if you appear to be an “over-sharer”.

--Don’t sound frustrated if you are asked something in more than one way or if you have to repeat information you included in your covering letter or CV or presentation. Not everyone has read or seen everything you’ve provided and also some questions are standards and must be asked of every candidate regardless of whether the candidate also gave the information elsewhere. Don’t say, “Well, as I already told you...” or “As you will have seen from my CV...” Simply give the information requested.

--Show you’ve done research about the place. Mention what you’ve learned from perusing the website or other publications. Name people you’ve had contact with. Show that you haven’t just applied to any old job at any old employer – you want this job with these people at this place. Prove it. Some of the best candidates have said things such as, “I noticed that you offer a course on X. That’s something that I’d really like to be part of because...” or “I first learned about your university when I met Dr. X at a conference. She told me...” or “You don’t yet offer an MA-level course in X, but I thought I could develop that because...” This shows initiative.

--On the other hand, don’t show off any negative research you’ve done. I was interviewing possible interns for our translation center and I was shocked by how many of the interns criticized us, sometimes by mentioning a typo in one of our publications (typos happen to the best of us, I’m afraid), or by saying they would do something better than they thought we did at the moment, or by quoting someone they knew who didn’t like an event we ran. None of this is appropriate. It’s great to offer suggestions for activities you might like to be involved in and for contributions you’d plan to make, but don’t make your potential employer look or feel stupid. It’s just common sense.

--Have some questions for us in turn. Prepare a few questions about the university as a whole, the specific department, the students, and/or the research/writing/translation work done there. Don’t ask for information that is available on the website, such as how many students there are or what classes we teach. Also, don’t ask about when you might receive a sabbatical or tenure, because that makes you seem as though you feel entitled to the job and to various perquisites already. Show an interest, but don’t overdo it.

--When you are thanked and dismissed, thank the panel in return for their time, and immediately leave. I’ve seen candidates stay on, awkwardly making small talk or asking more questions. The panel most likely has a very strict schedule that they need to keep to and once your interview is over, they don’t have more time to chat.

Final notes

Many of these tips might seem very obvious, but over and over again I’ve seen candidates do the complete opposite of what would actually serve them best. After their interviews, the panel has exchanged looks that meant, “That was awful. Let’s hope the next one is better.” That’s not the impression you want to leave the interview panel with.

The tips offered here can be boiled down to: be clean and neat, polite, well-organized, and well-prepared. That won’t guarantee that you get the job, but it will help you stay in the running. And since many of us who write and translate want or need another job as well, anything you can do to make yourself more appealing as a candidate can help.

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