Andrea (Dre) De Leon
March 20, 2017
Two years ago I sat on the candidate side of the table at The Placement Exchange. I spent several days responding to questions about my experiences, my knowledge, and my potential to add value to different departments at different universities. Today, I sit on the other side of the table. I’m now the chair of my department’s Professional Recruitment and Selection process and my eyes have been opened to what it’s like to be in the other chair; What it’s like to ask good questions, assess potential, and make decisions about whether a candidate moves forward in a selection process. It’s a different world on this side of the table, but one that has helped broaden my perspective.
I want to share some words of wisdom from the other side. You’ve likely been coached by a mentor or two and have hopefully been asking questions about how to be successful through this process. This advice might not be new to you, but regardless, I hope it can provide you with some comfort as you begin interviewing. Know that this is one opinion from one person and you might not agree with me. I am not a career services professional; simply someone who once sat in the candidate chair and now sits in the employer chair.
1) Don’t hide your personality.
Your interviewers will be sitting at a table all day for several days listening to candidates provide answers to the same questions. They’re going to meet a lot of candidates who are just like you, who have had similar experiences, and who give similar answers. One of the best ways to stand out is to let your personality shine. Stay true to yourself because pretending to be someone different will hurt everyone in the end. If you want to find a way to talk about Beyonce in your interview – do it! If you want to share that you love froyo or Crossfit, go for it, just be sure to always relate these things back to the position. If you’re excited, smile; If someone makes a joke, it’s okay to laugh. Remember that interviewers need to be able to assess whether you’d be a good fit with the other personalities on their team.
2) Highlight your potential.
I believe that one of the most important qualities to showcase in an interview is that you have potential. Something I am constantly asking myself in my interviewer seat is “Are they trainable?” No employer expects candidates to be perfect and completely ready to start the job on day one. Training is a part of the on-boarding process for a reason. We expect that we will need to teach you some things and help you develop into a strong professional, and we want you to show us that you have the potential to be really successful. I am impressed by a candidate who expresses a desire to learn and turned off by one who thinks they already know everything. Be sure to find balance between highlighting experiences that demonstrate your competence, and admitting that you still have room to grow.
3) Ask difficult questions.
You’ve likely heard that you’ll be interviewing employers just as much as they’ll be interviewing you. I encourage you to ask the tough questions. If you really want to know about institutional culture, ask questions that will shed light on that. If you connect with the values of the university, ask your interviewers how they live those values in their everyday work. If you are concerned about the transition to a new place, ask them about how they find community and got connected inside and outside of work. I am impressed by the candidate who is not afraid to ask a question that challenges me to deeply reflect on my experience in the role. It shows that a candidate can think critically and that they have reflected on what they want and need in order to be successful. Remember to make your last question a “feel good” question (i.e What has been your most fun/favorite experience in the position so far?), as it’s important to leave the employers in a happy state-of-mind at the end of the interview. They’ll remember how you made them feel.
4) Know when to walk away.
It’s important to listen to how you feel before, during, and after an interview. You might finish an interview and know right away that you no longer have interest in the position. If that’s the case, know when to walk away. It is not fair to you, to employers, or to other candidates for you to continue interviewing for a job you know you don’t want. It is not a bad idea to do a second-round interview if you feel a little doubt after a first-round. Sometimes exposure to different individuals from the team, or more time in an interview can completely change your perspective and experience. However, I advise against doing an on-campus interview if you know you don’t want the job. Employers utilize a significant amount of resources in order to bring candidates to their campuses and ensure positive experiences. Don’t waste their time, energy, and/or money if you don’t want to work with them. Save yourself the time, energy, and money too! Instead, focus your efforts and resources on where you could truly see yourself.
5) Be proud of yourself.
This is a challenging and exhausting process for almost all who go through it. You’re probably going to have moments where you feel discouraged. You might not make it to the on-campus interview for every job you apply for. It gets difficult when your peers are landing positions and you’re still in the midst of interviews. Please know that your process is just that; it’s yours. Do what you can to refrain from getting caught up in comparison and focus on paying attention to what you want and being your best self. Most importantly, be proud. You have come a very long way and you should stand tall and confident in what you’ve already accomplished.
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Andrea (Dre) De Leon is a Residence Director at St. John’s University in New York City. She earned her M.Ed. in Higher Education from Loyola University Chicago and her B.S.B.A. in Marketing from The Ohio State University. Dre is passionate about holistic wellness, career coaching, and social justice education. You can follow her on Twitter at @dredeleon21 or check out her blog at www.twenty-thrive.com
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