The most common mistakes higher ed leaders make in first-round interviews


Based on his experience writing a higher ed career advice column for the Chronicle of Higher Education, David Perlmutter identifies some of the most common mistakes he sees in first-round interviews and suggests what you should do instead.

Mistake: You don't look the part

If you're interviewing to be a dean you need to, "talk, look, and sound like a dean," Perlmutter writes. This means dressing for the role—but not overdressing. Perlmutter recalls one candidate for deanship who was criticized for wearing "a $4,000 suit with diamond cufflinks."   

But this goes beyond just clothing. Show energy by getting a good night's sleep the night before. And keep your hair neat, or at least don't let it be a distraction to your interviewers, writes Perlmutter.

First impressions are everything. If your interview is in-person, be sure to shake the hand of everyone in the room and address them by their names (this requires knowing beforehand who will be present). Also, you should look confident while sitting, which means using good posture and elevating your chair to its maximum height, Perlmutter recommends.

Interview questions, translated: What your interviewer really wants to know from you

Mistake: Neglecting the extra prep required for a virtual interview

Ironically, Skype interviewees have a lot more to think about in terms of appearance, Perlmutter warns. Be sure to omit any distractions in the background, including "uncovered windows with light blazing in" or a pile of laundry, writes Perlmutter. But, he notes, it's okay to show a curated selection of personal items, such as a bookcase, framed degrees or awards, or family photos.

Of course, the technical aspects of a Skype interview matter as well. Be sure to troubleshoot problems with camera position and sound quality before the interview begins.

Mistake: Thinking you don't need to practice

By this point in your career, you've probably been through a few interviews. But an interview to be a college president, for example, might be a little more intensive than those you've encountered before. To that end, Perlmutter cautions candidates to avoid making silly mistakes, such as:

  • Constantly using filler words, such as "um" or "ah";
  • Seeming disorganized by forgetting the question or not answering the right one; and
  • Overusing interview tricks from a "top 10 slam-dunk ways to ace an interview" list or similar one.

Rehearsing in a video or with friends who will give you candid advice are good ways to prepare, Perlmutter writes.  

Resumes, cover letters, interviews... What really matters in a job application?

He also recommends keeping track of the time when answering questions. "Too many candidates—for all sorts of positions, from postdoc to chancellor—seem unaware of timing and time limits," Perlmutter writes. For Skype interviews, Perlmutter suggests keeping track of the time by identifying a clock nearby your computer, or for in-person interviews, he recommends looking for a clock in the room before the interview begins.

Mistake: Showing up without questions

The interview won't consist of you doing all the talking. You should always have questions prepared before an interview. But make sure they are neither too broad and cliché, nor too detailed and technical, Perlmutter warns.

"Your questions should fit the institution—its goals and its current situation," he writes. Doing so demonstrates your knowledge of the institution. He also suggests asking questions that defy any preconceived notions about people who are typically in the role. For example, talk about how policies might affect students, instead of just talking about the high-level statistics and data.

In general, Perlmutter writes, your questions should highlight all of the strengths that you said you had while answering questions. But don't forget to show interest in the answers by listening closely to your interviewers' responses. Try to read their reactions to your answers to their questions as well—if they look disengaged, then maybe go in a different direction (Perlmutter, Chronicle of Higher Education, 6/13).

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