Sunday, April 24, 2011

Additional Thoughts on the On-campus Interview

As I continue my death-march through the prep-school interview season, I have been amazed by a number of things. First, how badly I have botched my first few interviews. (For ugly details see this post.) Second, how generous the people who have interviewed me have been in offering advice.

I recently found out I am 0-for-3 in on-campus interviews (bad), but got some additional feedback on my interview (good), which I'll share here.

The good news is that I appear to have avoided the rookie mistakes of my first interview. Nobody at the third school came away thinking that I was so desperate to leave my current Uni that I would take any job offered. The bad news is that I did not do a particularly good job articulating why I wanted to teach at that particular school. When the school's head asked me "What kind of school are you looking for?" my answer was about Independent Schools as a whole, not about PP. (In part this is becaurse I felt profoundly ambivalent about PP. I had to swallow my initial answer, which had to do with teaching in a progressive school, which PP ain't.)

In any event, to the advice I received. In a nutshell, Do your research. When I had campus interviews for nationally-known colleges and universities, search committees never wondered why you wanted that particular job. In their thinking, who in their right mind wouldn't want to teach at University of Chicago.

Prep schools are not so full of themselves as this. They wonder why you would want to make this move, not just to independent school teaching but to their school in particular. To do this, be as specific as possible. What is it about the mission statement that speaks to you? Why do you love their approach to education? Why do you want to be a part of that specific community? As one person put it, "They want to hear about themselves."

There are two good ways to make the case for a particular school. Most obviously is in your answers to their questions. When they ask you why you want to get into independent school teaching, don't answer! Tell them why you want to teach at that particular school.

You can also do this by asking school-specific questions. Don't ask generic questions about the curriculum, ask about specific aspects of the department's curriculum. When you meet with senior administrators, refer to the mission statement or strategic plan. They want to know that you know them and that you are taking them seriously.

So as this season winds down, I feel pretty stupid in making so many basic mistakes. I hope I'll do better next time, and I hope that you will too.

Good luck us.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for another great post. After some three hundred applications, two hiring conferences, thirty-some telephone interviews and five campus interviews, I am still waiting for an offer. Hopefully there will be some happy endings for those of us persevering through the hunt. Best of luck to you.

Anonymous said...

Ben - this seems like great advice not only for those of us applying to independent schools but also for job applications in general! I've been enjoying your posts here a lot & wish you the best of luck.

Anonymous said...

I would hate for you--or any PhD looking into private school teaching--to feel stupid for not knowing all the expected ways of negotiating an interview for this brand new career. Please be kind to yourselves! One particular difference between the average prep school and a college is that because the institutions are so much smaller, your involvement with the school beyond your department is far more regular. Schools' mottos, mission statements, core values and charters are typically the work of thousands of committee hours, and most faculty will match their departmental approach and philosophy to these central aims. If those statements give you the willies, chances are the school will too. If anyone out there is interested, there is a book called "Job Searching in the Private Schools" by Lawrence Bogess. It's almost 20 years old now, but the information and ideas are still good. I found it again on Amazon, having lost the copy I used when starting my career 15 years ago.
My new school just hired someone yesterday, so best wishes to all who are still searching for school careers.

-Uta Hagen