Interviewing for that Perfect Professional Position.


In this activity, you will need to prepare in two ways. You will need to prepare to be interviewed and you will need to prepare to interview your partner. You are welcome to do the interviews as practice but we will have a group interview with different pairs doing different parts of the interview. Also career services will do mock interviews with you.

Your Future:
  1. Create the job prospectus for your perfect job. This will take some time. Really think about what you would most like to do. Here is a website with job listings to help you think more about the job posting. Here is a template: Job Prospectus and two sample postings, one for a senior designer and another for an administrative position .
  2. Attach your resume (if you don't have one you will need to create one --see Career Services for help. The have a wealth of career-related resources on their website, including a Career Handbook and newsletters that have tips on interviewing.)
  3. Send these to your partner, and to your Cadre Advisor and Kirsten Cunningham, Assistant Director of Career Services a week before your interview is scheduled.
  4. Finally to prepare for the session, complete the behavioral interviewing preparation worksheet and read the advice below. A PDF of the form with live fill-in fields may be downloaded directly:

To Learn to Conduct Interviews:
  1. Prepare your interview questions -- use the notes below and tips and sample questions for interviewing from Career services.
  2. A week before the interview session send your questions to your Cadre Adviser and Kristen Cunningham. (DO NOT SHARE THE QUESTIONS WITH YOUR PARTNER). You will get some feedback on your interview questions.

The day before the session.
Practice on your own with imagined questions and be ready to role play if your pair is selected.


Advice from Margaret Riel (ELT 653 Participatory Action Research Course)


In this assignment you gain practice in interviewing and being interviewed. Your task is to design your perfect position with the type of organization that you would most like to work for. The organization and position can be real or you can design them. For example, my ideal career when I was young was to be a school sociologist. I wanted to help both students and teachers resolve problems in learning and teaching without assuming that if a child was not learning, it was because he or she had a problem.

In designing your dream job, I suggest you pay less attention to the benefits (rate of pay, place of work, and others incentives) and more on what you would be doing. Once you have a job listing from a company or organization that you have described, you will exchange this with your partner and you will each construct an interview for the other person. So you will have experience in being interviewed and interviewing someone else. I provide feedback for both.

Preparing to Interview


Creating the interview

When constructing and interview, take an organized path. Starting with questions about background (past experiences and education) that are easy to answer will make the person feel comfortable. Then move quickly to trying to determine is this person has the baseline competencies for the job. After this, you may want to know how this person works with others either as a peer or leader. Often in an interview, there are one or more problem solving or scenario questions. These questions require the person to think about a situation and plan a course of action, or make some decisions. These questions are tests of applying knowledge to new situations. Can the candidate use their skills to deal with a complex situation? And, you might consider adding a “curve ball” questions that test the candidate’s skill in dealing with difficult questions. This help reveal how the candidate negotiates around questions that tries to get them to tell you why they are not suited for the job. And finally, there are the vision questions. These try to figure out how the company would be different or enhanced if the candidate were to join the team.

To prepare for interviewing someone, think about the job, map out what the person will be doing during the course of a few days. For each action, think of the skills needed and what you might ask to know if the person has these skills. Then think of the most difficult situations that might arise and how an expert would solve this problem. Think of a way to describe the situation without giving too much away about the approach you think the person should take.

The topics of questions below will generally give you an effective understanding of the person and what the candidate brings to the position. Often in doing the interview, the goal is to eliminate the least qualified candidates. To do so, you have to listen carefully as what is not said can be as important as what is said.

Structure of an Interview

  1. The Background Questions: Putting the person at ease.
  2. Match Making: Matching background skills and knowledge to job posting
  3. Working with People: exploring the social and emotional skills for the applicant
  4. Problem Solving Scenarios and curve balls: Challenging the applicant
  5. The vision thing: If hired, how will the applicant change the workplace?
  6. Turning the Table: Giving the applicant a chance to ask questions.


Conducting the Interview


Introduce yourself and, if necessary, let the candidate know who you are and how this interview fits in the larger process. Say something about the job and the type of person you are looking for. Let the person know if you have read their materials so that they will be able to know what you might know or not know about their past.

It is important to help the person feel comfortable but you need to pay close attention to all information that you can. Listen carefully to what the person is saying and how she or he is communicating with you. Does the candidate understand the intent of the question or does he or she just attend to the surface content? How does the candidate handle him or herself in difficult situations? Does the candidate know who you are and do you feel that he or she understands the company and the position? You are trying to imagine the intersection of this new person and the workplace as it now exists. This is your chance to find out what this match between this employee and the organization would produce.

The interview ends with giving the candidate a sense of what happens next. They should leave understanding how the process will precede and when they can expect to hear back from someone in the organization.

Preparing to be interviewed


Before the interview


Since most interviews have a set of fairly predictable questions, you should have well written and well prepared replies for the expected questions. These include matching your background to the position, describing your past educational experiences and how these prepare you for the position, detailing your skills and how these prepare you for the position. Note that you might not be asked to link your background, education or abilities to the position, but don’t be fooled. This interview is not about you…it is about the position. The person is looking to find the best person for the position. Your job is have that person have your name. Identify a few stories that illustrate your skills from your present job. But remember in story telling not to get so wrapped up in yourself that you forget that the goal is to link something about your story, your past to their position and their future.

During the interview
Listen carefully to the questions to identify the intent of the question. Ask yourself:
• Is this a background question?
• Does this question ask me to match my skills with the job requirements?
• Does this question explore how I work with others?
• Is this a problem solving question where I need to get as much information as possible before I start.
• Is this a trap or trick question to get me say why I am not suited for this job?
• Does this question provide an opening for me to share my visions?

1) Think about the format of the question. If it calls for a story or example, hopefully you can match it to one of your already prepared stories or examples. If not, and your mind goes blank, there are number of strategies for stalling for time. Ask the person for more details, or ask about some part of the question. The more you get the person to talk about the questions, them more clues he or she will give you to help you understand the expectations.

2) Try to keep your responses organized and short. If the answer requires more then two minutes, check in to make sure what you are saying it relevant. For example, “I could provide more details about my action research, but I want to make sure it is relevant to your question.” Or “Do you want me to tell you more about this project, or is this enough to answer your question?” Try to be sensitive to what is being asked. Remember that the person has a short time with you and you want every minute to be used to convince the interviewer that you are best candidate for this position.

3) Summarize main points. If your answer involved more than one story or was somewhat detailed, end the response with something that points back to the question. “So in short, my early experiences at the aquarium, my deep passion for sea creatures, and my intellectual journey studying tide pools are the reasons I think I am a strong candidate for this position. “

4) Connect with the person doing the interview. If you make a point of addressing the person at least once during the interview, by the name they used in the introduction, it can show that you took the time to listen and remember whom you are speaking with. This can signal good interpersonal skills. However, if there is a large status difference, or you are unsure of how to address the person, you might be better off not using the name.

5) By mindful of repetitive statements. It is fine to say “good question” after a question that causes you to think about it. It will buy you a bit of time to organize your thoughts. But don’t say “good question” for one of the highly predictable questions. And saying it more than once starts to sound like you are stalling or trying to compliment the person too much. Similarly beware of overusing phases like, “I am glad you asked me that”, or “Certainly” or other ways for starting your response. If you need time to think, pause, think and answer the question. If nothing comes to mind, ask questions back. Look for clarification or get more details about the nature of the question.

6) Avoid the trap. The “game” of the interview, for the candidate, is to get through it without saying anything negative about him or herself. The game for the person doing the interview is to get the person to throw up a red flag that will make it possible to eliminate him or her from the running. So be careful. Remember that you don’t have to share anything you don’t want to. It is a choice and you can transform any question you don’t want to answer into one that you can answer. You just need to know some tricks so you are not left with your tongue tied in knots. The more you prepare, the more confident you will be that you handle any question in a skillful, yet honest way.

7) Lead with what you have done. Don't lie, but be ready to use the truth in interesting ways. Never start out negative. I don't have the experience but... Instead start out with the experience you have that is the closest match. Search your past for the best connection and go with it. For example, if you are asked if you have taught online. Don't say no, instead say I have taught my peers in an activity when we were to develop a online module..... or I have moderated an online discussion...or I have worked with teachers through an online teacher board, while not formally a course, it had many of the same characteristics... I hope you get the idea.

Question Types to Ask and How Best to Answer Them

1) The Background Questions

These questions appear to be about you, but the wise interviewee knows how to focus on skill and ability that are linked to the position.
Examples:
(All example questions are drawn from the interviews that students in the past have created in this assignment)
• Tell me a little bit about your background
• Tell me about yourself and your current job.
• This position highlights the learning of both students and teachers. Please describe your learning/teaching philosophy.
• Can you share with me what interested you in this particular position?
• You mentioned participating in the Education Technology program at Pepperdine, how do you see your experience there tie into this position?
• Please describe your current job and how your current job has prepared you for the job you are applying for as a Technology Integration Specialist.
• What is your basic teaching philosophy?
• I see you have done an action research project at Pepperdine. Tell me how your research has influenced your teaching. In what ways will you be able to bring the insights of your research to your courses at the undergraduate level?
• What is you greatest accomplishment?
• Tell me about the responsibility you have at your current job?
• What makes you the best candidate for this position?
• What is your philosophy on learning/teaching?

Preparation:
Spend some time thinking about how your past experience relate to this position. Write out three stories of things that have happened in the past what will help you prepare for this position. Identify three things you learned from your education that will help make you the perfect person for this position. Describe your theories of learning, teaching or leading as they apply to the job.

2) Match Making: What have you done that prepares you for this job?

Examples:

  • Technology equipment will be provided to bring into the classroom for both your students and teachers. Sometimes technology does not function properly. What would you do if during a workshop your equipment did not work?
  • Please describe some education technologies you have used in formal settings with both students (kids) and teachers.
  • As part of this position, the candidate should be able to use website technology for updating and to make it more accessible for our aquarium's visitors and departments. What is your familiarity with website creation?
  • As you know, this position requires travel—what are your feelings about this aspect of the job?
  • Please describe a cooking course that you would like to see our institute add to our course offerings. What technologies would you use to implement this course?
  • Why have you decided to enter the teaching field at this stage of your life?
  • What role do you see yourself playing within the university?
  • What do you consider your teaching strengths/weaknesses?
  • How would you evaluate student learning?
  • How would you use technology in the classroom?
  • What can you do for us that someone cannot?
  • Give some examples of how this school district will benefit from your consulting services?
  • How will you utilize distance learning?
  • How would you measure success? With students? Teachers? School community?
  • The job you are interviewing for is a humanitarian position and people are depending on you to go beyond the call of duty. Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty to get a job done.
Preparation:
Often in the interview, the person wants to find out more about past experiences again related to the position... so they might probe for
  • Job related knowledge-
  • Job Practices-
  • Leadership Skills
  • Communication Skills

So you need to prepare the following:
a) A story of something that you did that fits each of these
b) Three points that you take from past experiences that are related to each of these experiences

Advice:

Avoid the temptation to tell stories about your past. This person is not your best friend. They don't care about your first job or details that are important to you. Take the perspective of the other. Is that you are saying helping them determine your fit to the job. If not, then gloss over or skip it.

Don't say negative things about people you work for. Be very professional. If you didn't get a long with a person, skirt around the issue. if you are asked directly, be as discreet as possible. "I don't always see eye to eye with the director, but I respect that he is has a difficult job dealing with resource requests that are often in conflict with one another."

You know that you will be asked how your experience matches the job. My best advice here is never doubt your ability to do the job. Avoid saying that you have no experience in an area. Think creatively about how your experience does prepare you for this job. Lead strong. If you have not taught online and you are being asking about your ability to teach online, you might start like this.

I have just completed one of the most forward looking programs in the country on blended online learning. I have hundred of hours of experience with many different online instructors demonstrating a wide range of skills and talents. In many of these experiences I designed learning contexts for students employing principals of backward design and thinking through the importance of embedded assessment.

Note that no where in this answer, has the candidate said they have no experience as an instructor of an online program.

3) Working with People


The mix of questions that you might be asked in this section are about your current thinking.

  • Teamwork/community - How will you create a collaborative working context
  • Responsibility
  • Accountability
  • Assessment
  • Qualities or Values

Examples:
(from the interviews that students in the past have created in this assignment)
• Who has been you most influential teacher/mentor? Why? How does this influence your own teaching?
• Many of our teachers are on a continuum from those who are very excited to embrace technology and those who are extremely opposed/afraid to embrace technology. How would you work with these different teachers in one setting.

• Being a large aquarium, we here at Schedd really value those who can take initiative and work as a team. Please give an example of a time where you showed that you were able to adapt to multiple teams and connect ideas.
• Tell me about a time you were able to successfully deal with another person even when that individual may not have personally liked you (or vice versa).
• Tell me about a time when you delegated a project effectively.
• What motivates you and how do you motivate others?
• How would you describe your leadership style?
• Tell me about a time when you had to work with a person that did things differently from you. How did you get the job done?
• Describe a situation where you needed to get an understanding of another’s viewpoint before you could get the job done? What problems did you encounter and how did you handle them?
• The Director of Communication may at times act as media spokesperson for the organization. Hence we need an effective communicator. Give me an example of a time when you were able to successfully communicate with another person even when that individual may not have personally liked you (or vice versa).
• This position involves both a consultative and mentoring role to technology coaches. Can you share a little bit about your style of mentoring?

Preparation
The interviewer will ask you to describe your current ideas drawn from your experience to deal with issues that will be common in the position that you are applying to. These might be problem solving scenarios. They will describe a problem and you will need to come up with the solution. To prepare for these questions, create your own scenarios. For each of these, create a workplace problem and then create a solution that you would likely to put in place. Be creative as you think of the problems. Think about your solutions. Do they place your skills in the best light, do they emphasize your skills? Do they show how you will work with others? Does the collection of your solutions say something about yourself?

Advice:
How you get along with others in learning, teaching and leading relationships is increasingly important in the workplace. Here you need to reflect on what you learned in the program about working with people from diverse backgrounds and different job sectors. You might have a story from one of your experiences in the program. You might reflect on the importance of not only listening to others but hearing (and remembering) what they say. Understanding things from the perspectives of others and not make quick judgments about what others might mean or think is important to keep at the front of your thinking.

4) Problem Solving Scenarios and Curve Balls

Problem-solving scenarios tend to be longer and sometimes are actually events. Questions in the previous and next section may also be in this format.

Remember that in a scenario, it is important to really understand the complexity. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you are being asked to solve the problem. Think about all the talk we have had about who owns a problem and how invested people are when they are included in the problem solving process. Think about the process of solving the problem, as well as the outcome you might hope for.
The Curve Ball: What is wrong with you which eliminates you from the pile of applicants?
These can be the most difficult questions to answer -- the interviewer it trying to find out why you are not the right person for the job. They will use every trick they can think of to get you to help them. They want you to tell them why you are NOT the person for this job. As the applicant your job is not to give them any cause to dismiss you.
You might be asked to
• share a fault
• tell about mistakes you made
• share what negative things others say you in the lunch room
• (add to this list)

Examples
• If you were to have difficulty working with a particular member of a pod, how might you approach the situation to streamline communication while creating minimal disruptions?
• If people in the lunchroom were complaining about you, what would they say?
• If you wanted to change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
• What are your strengths? Weaknesses? How are you working on your weaknesses?
• How have you constructively dealt with disappointment and turned it into a learning experience?
• Describe a situation when the team fell apart. What was your role in the outcome?
• What do you think the most difficult aspect of this position would be?
• What do you wish you had accomplished in your last job position?

Advice:
Generally every interview has at least one curve ball. Good responses require some thinking on your feet but you can prepare for the most common ones. Here are some ideas for how to handle these tricky questions.

Deny the Premise: Consider the question, “If people in the lunch room were complaining about you.” A response to this might be … “I keep an open door to my office and invite people to talk to me directly about anything that is not working for them, so I doubt that anyone would be complaining about me in the lunchroom. It would not be productive and in our work culture we solve problems, not complain about them.”
Shift the question: Consider the first question, “If you wanted to change one thing about yourself, what would it be? This is trying to get you admit to a fault. Don’t fall for it. Instead talking about person change. “I believe in a process of continually reinvention of myself. If I am not changing, then I am losing the connection with my community. I listen, learn and experiment with new ways of working so that I am continually upgrading my interpersonal and work skills.” So this response takes the premise of change and makes it positive rather and negative.
Transform a fault into a strength: You need to have a weakness ready that you can use that will answer the question but not leave any worries in the mind of the interviewer. For example:

“I would say my weakness is that I am not good at saying no. I believe that I can accomplish way more than is physically possible given the time and I like to be helpful so I agree to do more than I can. I am working at by measuring how long different activities take and trying to be more realistic about the finite amount of time each of us has.”

This communicates a highly engaged person who wants to do more than is humanly possible and is learning to be reasonable about limitations. The question is answered and no fault is revealed.

Here is another example:

“I sometimes challenge or dismiss an idea too quickly. The reason is that it is easy for me to play out ideas and see the set of possible consequences and associated problems which need to be resolved before I seriously entertain the idea. I am learning to listen more completely as the person might have worked out the details in a different way. Or even if it will not work, it is sometimes better to wait the few minutes for the person come to that conclusion themselves. “

This says the person has vision and is quickminded…almost too quick minded. And the candidate expresses an understanding that time in not the only factor to consider.

Telling Stories that End Well: If you are asked to give an example, you can have all of your life situation to examine for a story. If the best match is a story in which you did not perform well, find another match. You get to pick, so pick something that both addresses the question and provides an end to the story that shares a strength or skill you have. Describe a mistake you made as a novice and how it helped you to develop your current level of expertise. If your best story is outside of work, then transform the question to fit your story. “What comes to mind quickly is something that happened when I was volunteering at an orphanage in Mexico last summer.” If you are not sure that this will work, ask the person. “Can I tell you about that?”

Move away from the Personal: If the question is: What do you think the most difficult aspect of this position would be? You can try responding from a general point of view.

“University professors have told me that the challenge they find is the balance between research interests and teaching excellence. I can see how the passion to be a great teacher and the concentration to write about one’s research can be difficult to balance. But I am confident that my strong interest in both areas will help me manage.”

5) The vision thing: If we hire you, how will our workplace change?

This is the vision question, the person wants to know what you will bring to the organization in the future. Leadership straddles this topic and the last one. The difference here is the focus is not on how (leadership) but where (vision for the future).
Examples

• What are ways you look to increase your learning? How do you adjust your teaching based on new discoveries?
• Can you tell me, or give some examples of how technology can benefit a high school student's education?
• What do you think captivates high school students?
• What are your connections to education technology and how will you keep the departments of our facility up-to-date with the latest trends in education technology?
• Since you have been in your current school community for many years and know the community well, if you were give carte blanche in this new position, what you be your first project? And why?

Preparation:
Your vision might be asked for in any of these areas...
• Development of learning Opportunities or Outcomes
• Fostering Organizational Change
• Development of community/ or collective ability to respond to change
• Move towards great success as an organization
Here is where preparation really shows. Most interviews will ask rather open question that invites you to share your plans for how to do more than just meet the requirements of the job. What will you do for the company or organization? This is your chance to make a pitch for why you are perfect for this job (and not why this job is perfect for you). Remember to think from their perspective. What will you bring to the position that others might not? Again, this answer takes preparation, writing, talking and researching. If you really want this job, your effort in developing the answer to these questions will communicate that.

6) Turning the Table: What do you want to know about us?

The interviewer generally lets the person have a chance to ask questions. The response to this question is never “no.” This is your last chance to convince the person you are the perfect candidate. You can do a great deal with this opening, and saying “no” means you are walking away losing this opportunity. Here are some of the things you might do with such an opening.

1) Demonstrate your high interest: In framing you question you can impress on the person how much work you have done to understand the position and the company. For example, you might begin “In reading about your company on the web, and in your promotional materials, I noticed that…. And then you follow with a question. This tells the interviewer that you have been learning as much as you can about the position.
2) Imagine yourself in the job: If you were to offer the job to me, I would like to know what team/group/grade level I would be working with and if you know anything about the people I would be working with? This says that working with others is important to you and you want a position where there will be a good strong team. But think through your question from the perspective of the other. This is probable not the best time to ask about vacations or other things that suggest your interest not clearly focused on the job. While in some situations it would be fine to ask about opportunities for professional development, this should only be asked if you are clearly qualified for the position. If it is a bit of a reach, you might be signaling this asking about professional development. You can deal with this by preceding the question with your intent. For example, “Good teaching requires continual learning and I want to continue to develop my skills, are there opportunities for teachers to attend conferences or give presentations?
3) Add information that might have been missed: You can take this opportunity to share something that might not have come out in the interview or if there was something that might make you are stronger candidate. You can say, I don’t have any questions, but I wanted to let you know that in my past position, I was responsible for …” And then you can use the time to share something that was missed in the interview that you think make you prefect for this job. Or if you think that you are not being considered because you are lack some qualification. For example, you might have been asked if you were bilingual and at the time just said no. You might want to add something like “While I am not bilingual now, if I found that I was working with parents who could not understand me, I would do everything I could –including learning their language—to show how important I think the teacher-parent relationship is.”

Setting up your final pitch...
Your last question should set you up. If you haven't already given it in a final question, you will need to get it in now. This is your chance in 100 words or less to say why you are the perfect fit for the job (their perspective) and why the job is perfect for you (your perspective). This should be passionate without saying it is. You need to tell the person in a clear and well rehearsed way why you are the best candidate for this position.

"Thanks for answering my questions, I want you to know how thrilled I am to be interviewing for this job. Ever since....(some critical life changing experience)... I have wanted to be a .....(name of position)... I know I could (what you can do for the organization) and I know this would be the perfect next challenge for me because (why it is perfect). So I will look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for the interview"

“I know you are likely to be interviewing a number of candidates for this position but I wanted to let you know that working at ___ would be good for me because…. and I believe I would be good for (name of company) because I bring a passion for… (This is your chance for a strong summary of why interviewer should move you to the top of the list of candidates. )

Finally you should end the interview by thanking the person for taking time to speak with you and to letting them know that you look forward to hearing back from them. It is good to make clear eye contact and shake hands. Be clear on what the next steps are and when you will expect to hear from someone about the outcomes of the search.

Good Luck… a good interview builds confidence even if you don’t get the first job. Keep working on it and you will get that dream job. And remember that Pepperdine’s Career Service are always available to you.



Margaret Riel
mriel@pepperdine.edu