April 10, 2018
April in Student Affairs can be a very busy month. Many schools are winding down for the year, awards banquets will begin and if you're a younger professional or graduate student you may be looking at the next step in the job search process. Many of you may have attended TPE, or spent countless hours reading job descriptions, holding phone interviews and waiting for those to lead to that highly anticipated on-campus interview. In this post I'll talk about what to expect with an on-campus interview, focusing mostly on the communication between employer and candidate and next steps.
The on-campus interview usually contains a series of panel and one-on-one interviews. Some institutions ask candidates to do a presentation relating to the work they may be responsible for, while others may use case studies to have candidates demonstrate practical application of knowledge. Preparing for all components of the on-campus interview is important, however one aspect easily over looked is communication between the employers and the candidates. If an employer sends a document ahead of an on-campus interview, they are expecting you to read it. More importantly, it may provide a foundation of knowledge for candidates to form questions about the department. These documents could be organizational charts or perhaps brochures highlighting programmatic initiatives in the department. As an employer, I wouldn't expect a candidate to remember all the little details, but I would hope they think about questions relating to the information. One thing candidates may be afraid to do is ask questions about traveling to the on campus and details about the interview in general. Most employers would prefer that you ask all the questions you need to feel comfortable, and while they would rarely admit it to a candidate, sometimes information is inadvertently forgotten. As long as you are respectful and read the information that is sent to you, questions are generally welcomed.
A lot of the search process involves wondering where you stand. This can be because of the pressure to find a job, knowing you aren't the only one applying or being interviewed, or because employers don't or can't share exactly where in the process a candidate stands. One way to alleviate this stress is to read between the lines in communication you do receive. Throughout the process, pay attention to timelines an employer gives you. If they offer an interview or reach out to schedule one when they say they will, you're clearly a candidate they are excited about. However, if they say they are doing on campus interviews during a specific time frame and they've not communicated by then, you might infer that they are not advancing you in the process or that something came up to stall their progress. Another thing to pay attention to is word choice in written communication. Is the language formal or informal? Does it use the words "top" and “excited" or "active" and "hope?" The more formal and fewer adjectives used, while subtle, may give candidates clues on where they stand. I would also caution in both cases not to withdraw or put all your hopes on one institution. Even with the most communicative employer, things happen that will slow down or change the process. Never pull out of a search unless you know you are no longer interested in a position.
Finally, what does communication after the on-campus look like? This can be as varied as the employer you are engaging with. Some employers will go quickly and contact candidates right away. Others, especially if they only have one opening, may tell candidates a date they will make offers based on when they conclude on-campus interviews. Communication may be slow during the offer process. Some institutions may have to go through internal audit or approval processes between a soft or verbal offer and getting a formal offer in writing. It may feel like you weren’t advanced in the process or something is wrong. My best encouragement is to be patient and communicate with your point of contact on a regular basis. It may take several weeks to hear from an employer after the interview. This may mean that you are not getting an offer and should pursue other options or it could mean that something came up to slow their progress. It could also indicate they are keeping you in their pool for vacancies they anticipate. No matter the reason, the key is to be honest and communicative with an employer. It is not inappropriate to ask where you stand in a process. Often, an employer will be honest and may even explain the delay.
The biggest thing a candidate should remember is that communication is key. Remain respectful and pay attention to the responses you get, but don't give up or get discouraged. You will find the perfect position for you in time.
Michael Cherry serves as an Assistant Director of Residential Life at Northeastern University. He is responsible for all professional and graduate student hiring for the department and has been part of recruitment and selection processes at several universities in the southeast and now northeast. He is open to questions and comments and can be reached at [email protected].
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