10 Interviewing Strategies Used by Top Candidates

People waiting for job interview

My department has hired 10 new full-time staff members in the past 12 months. I have been involved in many of the searches, and currently am chairing yet another search committee. It’s literally a full time job to review applications, develop interview questions, schedule search committee meetings, contact candidates, organize forums, and run everything through Human Resources. But I can’t complain too much because we’re fortunate to receive funding for these positions, and each new successful hire brings much needed expertise and resources to our student programs and services.

Each interview has been an opportunity to see into the life of another professional, learn more about the interpretation of these positions across the field, and clarify the needs and priorities of our department.

These tips are based on the strategies that strong candidates utilized to rise to the top:

1. Take the interview seriously – Submit a complete application packet, dress professionally, research the department, and look at similar models on other campuses. As a candidate, you are being judged the minute you submit your application. A sloppy presentation of yourself on paper or in person can send the message that you may not be completely interested or even qualified for the position. When you put time and effort into preparing for an interview, it is obvious to the search committee that you are committed to getting the job.

2. Ask questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the big picture and the major concerns in the field. Your questions say a lot about you so choose them carefully. Avoid questions that can be easily answered on a website, such as demographic or historical information about a university. A question about the culture of the department or how the department is approaching challenges in the field (such as social media) will tell you more about the reality of the position, as well as communicate to the search committee that you are well versed in current issues.

3. Stay on topic and answer the questions. Interviews can be stressful, and being nervous or unprepared can sometimes lead candidates to lose track of their thoughts, speak too quickly, or get off topic. Practicing your answers, visualizing your ideal interview, and learning meditative techniques can help you prepare for the interview, calm your nerves, and improve your responses. It is also acceptable to ask, “Did I answer your question?” during the interview if you suspect you have missed the mark in your initial response. If you tend to be chatty, try to tone down your answers and monitor the length of your answers.

4. Communicate your passion and how it relates to the position for which you are applying. Our passions are sometimes more obvious when we interact in social settings, but may be less obvious in an interview. I think it’s inspiring when a candidate has committed him/herself to a field and enjoys the work. As a supervisor, I prefer to hire someone with passion and energy who may have less experience rather than a candidate who has more experience but lacks enthusiasm for the position.

5. Expand on answers and give good examples. You want your answers to be concise, but not too short. You still need to provide the search committee with enough information to evaluate whether you are qualified for the position. Be prepared to give examples of how your previous experiences and education have prepared or qualified you for the job. Opt for a short description of an experience that demonstrates your skills (like when you solved that challenging problem or resolved a sticky conflict) rather than a laundry list of accomplishments.

6. Establish a connection. We all want someone who can get the job done, but we also want someone on our team who is likeable and approachable. Smile, make eye contact, and be aware of your body language to convey confidence and warmth. How you say it can be more important than what you say.

7. Elude to ways you would take the position to the next level – either directly or indirectly, without suggesting that you would change everything. New hires bring fresh energy, creativity, ideas, and perspectives. I enjoy hearing about tools, processes, or approaches that candidates may bring to the team. However, be aware that not everything is broken and some traditions are deeply rooted in the institution. It’s appropriate to share your ideas, with the caveat that whether or not they are adopted depends on many factors.

8. Speak with confidence about your abilities without bragging or using laundry lists of accomplishments. Confidence is one of the top traits employers are looking for in new hires. You may have all the skills, knowledge and abilities, but if you lack confidence it shows in the interview. People with confidence know themselves – their abilities, weaknesses, priorities, values, and goals – and can talk about their successes without having to overcompensate for their faults.

9. Limit your use of common phrases like “I think…,” “That’s a good question…,” and “I guess I would…” These phrases are often used to fill the space when a candidate is thinking about his/her response. The problem with these filler words is they make a candidate look insecure and unprofessional. Instead of filling the space, just be silent. The silence conveys the message that you are giving thought and consideration to the question.

10. Speak articulately about your experiences, previous employment, projects, and successes that qualified you for the position. Focus on specific examples that translate to the position. Describe the skill sets and how you used those skills. Identify the achievements you want to share before the interview and weave them in where appropriate in your answers.

How do you recruit the most qualified candidates to your institution?

6 Strategies for Helping Parents (without violating FERPA)

Locked files

Parents are important partners in supporting student success. They are also part of our university family. I enjoy interacting with parents and encourage them to contact me if they have questions. However, due to FERPA privacy laws I am restricted in how much information I can share with parents.

Here are six strategies I use to help parents when they have a student in crisis or in need of support:

1. Provide information about campus policies and deadlines. When a student or family is in crisis, knowing their options can relieve the pressure of the situation. I frequently explain course and term withdrawal policies, medical leave of absence deadlines, and options for taking incompletes. Many parents have questions about what will happen to a student’s on-campus housing if the student is no longer enrolled full time or takes time off during the year. Information can empower them to make informed decisions.

2. Give information on campus resources. Again, information can be empowering. There are many resources available for students and parents. With knowledge of these resources, parents can encourage their student to pursue a tutor, talk to a counselor, seek out an academic advisor, apply for disability resources, or visit an instructor during office hours. There are also resources specifically for parents, often called Parent & Family Programs, which help parents get connected with the university.

3. Share in generalities. I may not be able to talk about the specifics of a student, but I can share my approach to handling different situations. For example, if a parent asks whether her student came to see me about a roommate conflict I can explain how I would handle the situation without disclosing whether or not I met with the student. I might says, “Typically I ask the student about the situation and notifying Housing if it is occurring on campus. I may also ask the other student to meet with me. If the issue involves safety, I would notify campus police to check on the situation.”

4. Share tips for communicating with college-aged students. It can be helpful to explain to parents that this is a time when young people naturally seek independence and choose to find their own solutions. Parents might consider having a conversation with their student about how often a student will check-in with a parent to reassure the parent that he is ok. If a parent is paying for the student’s tuition, it might also be reasonable to ask for some assurance that the student is progressing academically.

5. Ask questions! I may not be able to disclose much information, but the sky is the limit on what parents can share with me. I ask parents, “Is this unusual behavior for your child?” “What is he like?” “What has he told you about his experiences here?” This helps me assess whether there has been a change in the student’s behavior and/or how much he is disclosing to his parents. This can also be helpful in determining the relationship between the parent and student.

6. Provide words of encouragement. It makes a difference to parents when they hear that other students have experienced similar situations and been successful. I frequently tell parents, “There are many paths to success.” It makes a difference to parents when they hear that other students have experienced similar situations and been successful. I frequently tell parents, “There are many paths to success.” If a parent has shared about the student, I may focus on the strengths of the student and say “From what you have described, it sounds like your student has tremendous potential” or “I hear that your daughter has great self-awareness.”

I do not share any FERPA protected information with parents, including confirming or denying whether a student is enrolled, a students academic performance, where a student lives, or whether I have contacted a student. There have been exceptions in situations when a student is an imminent threat of harm to self or others. A student does have the option to sign an information release agreement if he/she would like a parent to have more information.

Thoughts on being a "model minority"

Today I was the MC at the Asian Pacific Islander Faculty and Staff Association (APIFSA) Professional Development Luncheon, which is one of my favorite events of the year. The APIFSA was formed by a small group of professionals who at one time or another had all attended a leadership institute for Asians in Higher Education. I attended the leadership institute in 2007. I was skeptical because although my mom is Chinese and she was born and raised in Thailand, I myself am only half Asian and often don’t feel like I fit the API stereotype in terms of appearance. However, at the institute I realized that my mom’s influence had a profound impact on the way I see the world. My values, personality, and daily interactions have been shaped by her strong cultural influences.

Ever heard of a Tiger Mom? Well that was my mom. I played the piano and violin. I was expected to practice every day. In my mom’s book, “A” was for Average. And I wasn’t just expected to receive A’s – I was expected to be number 1 in the class. There was no questioning whether or not I was smart enough or capable of being number 1, if I wasn’t number 1 it was either because I wasn’t putting in the effort or my teacher had made a mistake. In 7th grade when I transitioned to middle school, my mom found out I was placed in regular math instead of pre-algebra and she demanded that I be retested. And my favorite story is when I graduated from my Master’s program my mom gave me a graduation card with the pamphlet to a PhD program inserted inside.

Not all Asian moms are Tiger Moms. That’s because the Tiger Mom is a stereotype, just like the “model minority” is a stereotype. The model minority myth leads mainstream America to believe that as a group we have overcome racism and discrimination and achieved success, and we no longer struggle to access education or financial security. Sure…some APIs have achieved financial stability, and there are many Asians earning advanced degrees. But the model minority stereotype can be misleading and dangerous.

Even after being acknowledged as the “model minority,” Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been accused of being enemies, aliens, spies, and terrorists, and subjected to special reporting requirements, incarceration, and deportation. While there are varied and historical reasons for lumping APIs into one category, the individuals who comprise this group represent the full socio-economic spectrum, from the poor and underprivileged to the affluent and highly skilled.

API is a broad term that is typically applied to any person having origins in the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent, or Hawaii or other Pacific Islands – which includes over 40 different ethnic groups, such as Hmong, Laotian, Vietnamese, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Japanese, and peoples of Hawaii, Guam, and Samoa.
As an aggregate group, APIs are well represented in higher education. Asian American and Pacific Islander students make up 16 percent of the CSU student populations. In 2010, the CSU conferred more than 11,000 degrees to Asian students and 3,400 to Filipino and Pacific Islander students. These CSU graduates are helping to drive California’s aerospace, healthcare, entertainment, information technology, biomedical, international trade, education, and multimedia industries.

This should be a source of pride for our community, yet there is a myth that APIs are “taking over” higher education. The data shows that the increase in APIs in higher education has mirrored the increases found among other underrepresented populations during the same time period. This perception is created because APIs tend to be more concentrated in a small number of schools. There are over 4000 universities in the United States, yet 2/3 of all APIs are concentrated in just 200 institutions with nearly half of all APIs attending college in either California, New York, or Texas.

APIs are the fastest growing minority population in the United States. According to the 2010 Census, the Asian American population in the United States grew 46 percent between 2000 and 2010, faster than any other major race group in the country, including Hispanics. The Census Bureau’s latest population projections estimate APIs to reach 41 million by 2050. APIs represent about 6% of the US population and 6.9% of management and professional occupations.
However, while the API population is growing and becoming more educated…we still face challenges, and continue to consistently be underrepresented in leadership positions. While there are many API students doing well at the top of the academic curve, there are just as many struggling at the bottom of the curve who are being overlooked. There are significant differences in degree attainment between these 40+ sub-groups.

There are significant numbers of API students who struggle with poverty, who are English-language learners increasingly likely to leave school with rudimentary language skills, who are at risk of dropping out, who are subject to violence and discrimination on account of race, class, gender, ethnicity, or language. Yet the “model minority” myth continues and often shrouds the real needs of APIs.

Research also shows that APIs aspire to leadership at lower rates than other race groups. APIs continue to be under represented on the Board of Directors of Fortune 500 companies. In 2012, APIs held only 144 out of over 5,500 total board seats, which is only 2.6% of the total Fortune 500 board seats. In the nonprofit sector, only 47 of the top 100 nonprofits have any API representation on their boards. And APIs hold less than 3% of the total board seats in the top 100 nonprofits.

Why is this important? Let me go back to my Tiger mom. My mom may be highly critical and have high expectations, but she also came to this country as a teenager with little to her name other than her student scholarship. My mom was a first generation college student, and she built a successful business while taking care of our family and our extended family. My mom would haggle over the price of a pair of socks, but she is also the most generous woman I know. She came to the US alone to attend high school, and she worked hard and sacrificed to be where she is now.

Whether you had a tiger mom or not, I guarantee that you are where you are today because someone (a teacher, an aunt or uncle, a friend, or maybe someone you’ve never met) has stepped up and maybe even sacrificed for you. This is why today is one of my favorite days of the year. Each year an accomplished leader in higher education comes to our campus to offer mentorship, share inspirational words, and remind us of our responsibility. We have a responsibility to be that person to someone else. Be a leader, a mentor, a role model. Find opportunities to take risks and practice your leadership skills. Volunteer in your community. Whether you’re passionate about advocating for APIs or another cause, I urge you to put your education and position of influence to use to improve the lives of others.

Hello World!

Launching a new blog is always exciting and a little daunting. The first post is like the first brushstroke on a blank canvas. It holds all the potential of becoming a brilliant masterpiece and risks becoming cast aside with the half-knit sweaters and unfinished scrapbooks.

I have been a hobby blogger for almost six years. Writing has always been my creative outlet and stress reliever. So it made sense for me to create an outlet for the ideas, thoughts, and musing I have about work.

I decided to start this blog to share my own experiences and also to create a conversation and build a community. I have worked in student affairs for more than ten years, and I feel privileged to work with some of the brightest students in the country. I know that I am not alone. My days are filled with touching, hilarious, and hair-pulling moments…and I hope to share them all here!