Making the Most of the Semi-Finalist Interview: The Dos

Jim Wickenden, Founder, Wickenden Associates
September 9, 2019

Although we remind search committees that interviews are of limited value in predicting how well someone will perform on the job, interviews are nonetheless critically important for candidates. Interviews are not only a chance for you to get to know important constituents at the school, but also for you to sell yourself. Having facilitated thousands of semifinalist interviews since 1986, here are a few reminders for making a good impression.

DO …

Continue to develop yourself professionally. The more you read, the more responsibilities you take on in your school, and the more you work with a trusted mentor, the better.

Practice, practice, practice. You should prepare for the interview in the same way that you might practice for a musical recital, rehearse for a play, or study for a major exam. For example, arrange a mock interview with friends/colleagues; videotape yourself responding to a few questions; if possible, participate in an interview from the other side of the table.

Your homework. Review all the school materials made available to you, visit the school’s website, talk to people about the school, etc. Read the Opportunity Statement carefully and pay particular attention to the section on challenges.

Develop and memorize a brief opening statement. Some search committees will invite you to make one.

Dress professionally. Most important, ensure that your attire is in-step with the school and its culture. For example, that “power suit” may not be the best choice, depending on the school’s type or location. That being said, err on the side dressing formally. If you are unsure, ask the search consultants for their advice, as they have spent time on campus and with the search committee.

Arrive on time and per your instructions. Search firms typically organize and manage the semi-finalist interviews, so pay attention to what they have told you about the day’s schedule. Remember that everyone you meet at the school is a prospective evaluator, including those who give you a campus tour or escort you from place to place. Treat everyone you encounter at the school as a source of information. Ask questions.

Concentrate on answering the questions openly and honestly. Although considerably more anxiety‐provoking than a typical social gathering, the interview is at its heart a group conversation. However, get to the point quickly.

Respond to questions using examples and anecdotes. As you anticipate questions that are likely to be asked, think about specific situations you can describe to illustrate your points. Search committees remember examples more readily than abstract answers.

Bring a notepad and pen with you. In all likelihood, one or two members of the search committee will take pride in asking complex, multi-part questions. Jotting down the elements of these questions as they are being posed is easier than trying to recall them as you speak.

Above all, remember that the invitation to be interviewed is in and of itself an affirmation of your professional success. Relax and enjoy!