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Interviewing for a Job in Higher Education

By Higher Education Recruitment Consortium
January 20, 2017
An illustration of a woman being interviewed.

Jobseekers in higher education spend years establishing credentials and building expertise. However, all the training in the world means nothing if you can’t get through an interview.

Like anything else, your interviewing skills can become awkward and stilted if not used regularly.

Reviewing interview techniques can help you focus on your strengths, downplay your weaknesses, and put you at the head of the class when interview time comes. Whether you are a candidate for a staff or faculty position, if your are qualified, the position you seek is essentially yours to lose.


Here are five interview techniques and tips can help you move from candidate to employee:


1. Prepare for the Interview

Being invited to campus clearly has its advantages for both parties. An employer can show off the institutional highlights while assessing the candidate’s people skills. The potential employee can evaluate the functional aspects of the job, meet future colleagues, and get an idea of the institutional goals and values. If you are invited to campus, pay careful attention to who asks the questions and who makes the decisions. Oftentimes these are not the same people. Be sure to do research so that you understand the interview process at the institution before your visit. If your interview will be conducted by video or teleconference, preparation is still key. Click here for information on how to use Skype to your advantage in an interview.


2. Develop Your Pitch

Make the “elevator speech” work for you. Used in business, the elevator speech is a one- to two-minute pitch of a pet project or idea. In academia, that product is you and your work. If you have an advanced degree, be prepared to summarize your research in a minute or two. In doing so, show how your qualifications fit into the institution’s vision for the future. Prime yourself for behavioral questions as well. These often begin with phrases such as, “Describe a time when…” or “Tell me about a situation where…” Employers use these questions to predict the future, so show how you can elegantly make the best of situation to produce results. Use specific examples in your answers, providing details to demonstrate your skills. 


3. Ask Questions

Show your enthusiasm! Even after conducting comprehensive research, asking questions in an interview sends the message that you are interested. Be sure to tailor your questions to your audience. What you ask a department chair or dean will most likely be different than queries you have of an HR representative or peers. Taking the opportunity to ask questions also shows that you understand the responsibilities and expectations of the position. Questions such as, “What types of individuals are successful here? What types are not?” allow you to assess the institution’s goals and values and help you determine if the position is a good fit. 


4. Skip the Salary Talk—For Now

Discuss salary and compensation when a job offer is made, not before. Conduct research so you have an accurate understanding of how people in similar positions at the same institution are paid. Although your offer won’t be the same, you will have an idea of the range of salaries offered. Visit the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources to learn more about average salaries.


5. Say Thank You

Sadly, an increase in technology has created a deficit in the art of the thank you letter. Use this to your advantage and send a thank you note (preferably by mail, although email is becoming more acceptable professionally) following the interview. At a minimum, send thank you notes to the chair of the search committee and the department head. Some job candidates choose to jot down brief remarks about everyone they meet so they can send thank you notes to everyone involved in the hiring process. 


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