Tips for a Successful Virtual Interview

You must control what you can control in a job interview, writes Bertin M. Louis Jr., and he offers three recommendations for how to do that successfully.

April 10, 2020
 
 

In an essay last week, I offered four tips to help prepare you for a virtual interview in light of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on academe. This week, I will provide suggestions about what you should do during the actual interview.

Numerous factors can influence the selection of a candidate for an academic position, and they are often out of the control of the applicant. Those uncontrollable factors can include, but are not limited to, a departmental or search committee’s preference for an internal candidate, the appeal of the theoretical orientation and/or regional specialization of a candidate to a search committee, and a preference for where a candidate received their degree. But while such unknown determinants may work in your favor or against you, always remember that the interview is still an opportunity for you to get a job.

Plus, you never know what could happen in a job search that will influence whether you’re offered the position or not. I have participated in searches where the search committee identified preferred candidates yet ended up selecting someone else due to candidates pulling out of the process for various reasons. In those cases, the search committee revisited the list of applicants and invited folks to campus who weren't among the first choices. Those people turned out to be great candidates.

Most important, even though some factors will be out of your control, you must control what you can control in a job interview. Here are three recommendations for what to do during a virtual interview.

Dress the part. I cannot overemphasize the importance of dressing your best for a Skype or Zoom interview. It is important to make a good impression on whoever is interviewing you. The way you present yourself to the search committee is crucial because you want to project professionalism, as well as demonstrate that you want this position and are a potential colleague who is taking the interview seriously. Dressing appropriately will be even more vital in the event that the COVID-19 pandemic forces academe to move as much of the academic job search process online. Just because your interview will be online does not mean that you should that as a license to dress to informally or slovenly. Again, control what you can control.

Convey enthusiasm. You can express that in different ways, depending on your personality. Whether you are an extrovert, an introvert or some complex combination of those personalities and more, you can communicate with enthusiasm and link that enthusiasm to concrete evidence and suggestions about how you can contribute to, complement and expand the department you’re applying to.

For example, one recent interviewee mentioned to my search committee their willingness to start a study abroad program that would attract students from different disciplinary backgrounds. The candidate then discussed their previous experience and networks in a foreign country that prepared them to implement a program of this nature, linking that experience to our university’s efforts to internationalize our College of Arts and Sciences. The candidate’s knowledge of our institution, coupled with their enthusiasm and previous experience, all connected in their response to the search committee’s question about what contributions they could make if they were selected to work with us. And that response, along with other factors from the interview, left a very strong impression on the search committee. The person was invited for an on-campus interview.

Anticipate questions and prepare accordingly. In the interviews that I’ve participated in as a search committee chair, committee member and job candidate, I’ve found that several common questions are usually asked. You should anticipate those questions.

For instance, you should be prepared to answer the question “Why do you want to work at this college/university?” You should base your response on the research that you’ve done on the institution and the specific department or program you plan to join if you are selected. I was asked this question last year when I interviewed for a position in anthropology and African American and Africana Studies (AAAS) at the University of Kentucky. My response was tailored to specifics about the institution: I conveyed that I was impressed with the university’s commitment to diversity and its efforts to grow the AAAS program. I also described how my past experiences at my previous position could help with those efforts and contribute to the expansion of diversity efforts, the AAAS program and the anthropology department.

Another question you should be prepared to answer is “What contributions does your research make to your field?” Your response should not only be grounded in your scholarship but also address how your work fits within or complements the department where you are applying. You should also be prepared to discuss how your work could interface with other departments and academic programs across the campus.

In addition, you should be ready to respond to the standard “What questions do you have for us?” question. If you haven’t already raised these questions, or they’ve not been answered through the course of your interview, you can ask the following:

  • What is the timeline for the search?
  • How do other departments on the campus perceive your potential department?
  • Does your department have a good relationship with the dean’s office?
  • Is your department a collegial one?
  • How do search committee members like living in the city where the institution is based?

Once the interview is over, be sure to send the search committee chair a follow-up email thanking them for the opportunity to interview for the position, reiterating your desire to be a part of their college or university and noting how (if true) the interview reinforced your initial desire to apply.

Some of these tidbits of advice may seem like common sense to certain readers, but many of you would be surprised and shocked at how many candidates fail to prepare for interviews and are unable to answer basic questions they should have anticipated. In any event, I hope these tips help. If you plan to be on the job market, be sure to bookmark this essay for future use this fall when the interview season is upon us.

In the meantime, continue to practice social distancing, wear a mask when out in public, wash your hands regularly and frequently, and take breaks from the constant news about COVID-19 so you can stay physically and mentally healthy while doing your part in flattening the curve.

Bio

Bertin M. Louis Jr. is an associate professor of anthropology and African American and Africana studies and the inaugural director of undergraduate studies for AAAS at the University of Kentucky. His research and teaching interests include religion, race and racism. He also studies human rights and statelessness among Haitians in the Bahamas and antiracist social movements in the U.S. South. In addition to My Soul Is in Haiti: Protestantism in the Haitian Diaspora of the Bahamas and other academic publications, he has written for Inside Higher Ed, The Conversation, The North Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Social Science Research Council’s “The Immanent Frame” blog. He also served as a guest on the third season of Blackademics TV. You can follow him on Twitter @MySoulIsInHaiti.

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