After months of introspection (should I stay or should I go), talking with confidants, focusing on the type or role/institution I wanted, applying, networking, and going through the exploratory interview phase, I finally reached the FINAL ROUND. I was off to campuses to meet with a variety of people who would determine if I was the right candidate all the while I was determining if the school was the right fit.
Time to Step It Up: My wife and I joke about whenever an athlete gets interviewed after a big win and is asked for a reason the team performed so well, inevitably the answer is, “We just all had to step it up. It was a big game and we knew we had to step it up in order to win. All the guys just stepped it up.” Well, in the final rounds I knew I needed to step it up.
I have equated interviewing with the Scripps National Spelling Bee, there are multiple rounds where the candidate pool is whittled, resulting in tougher competition in the subsequent round. Additionally, your performance in the previous round has no bearing on your standing in the next round (i.e. finishing first in your regional gives you no advantage at the state level when compared to the contestant who finished third in the regional), in short you must prove yourself in each round of the interview. The catch is the competition is better in each round.
Know Your Audience: In my final round interviews, I met with a variety of people: students, staff, faculty, and senior executives. Depending upon who/which group is conducting the interview, I adjusted my approach to the session. With students, I spoke about matters that would relate to them (hours of operation, ease of scheduling appointments, programmatic ideas). When I spoke with senior executives, I focused on big picture items that demonstrated vision. Additionally, it was in these sessions that I asked about overall strategic planning, budget, staff, history of the department, etc. I tailored my examples and questions depending upon the audience.
Know Your Audience II: After going through the process, I gained a new appreciation as to with whom I interviewed. I now work at Carnegie Mellon University and their interview day/s had me meet with the highest ranking non-academic official on campus. Additionally, I met with over 50 people during the course of the day. While some thought I would be overwhelmed by all the interviews, I saw the numbers as proof that CMU took this search seriously and there were many people on campus who were invested in the success of the search.
The opposite experience also occurred. At another interview, the person who would be my supervisor blew off all the interviews except one (the person was scheduled to be at three sessions) and only had one question during our debriefing session. Additionally, multiple interviewers were late to their interview sessions. This caused me to question how interested individuals were about the role and about my candidacy.
Authenticity: I tend to like to smile and laugh during my day. In one interview when I was younger, an interviewer told me, “I can see you have a zest for life but I don’t think you understand how serious the scope of this job is.” In this case, my demeanor did not resonate with the interviewer – and I was okay with that as I was just being myself. If I was not my true self in the interview, than the company would have hired me expecting the person in the interview to show up to work – not the true me. I prefer to be myself (professional persona of course) during the interview. If this causes people to question if I am the right person for the job, that is okay because they probably would have questioned me once I began working with them. I tried to be my best self during the interview days because I felt if they hired me, they would know the person they hired and not be surprised once I started work.
Energy: One challenge of a full day of interviews is answering the same question for the 10th time. Even though you have answered the question nine times already, the individual who asked the question has never heard your response. You have to answer the question with the same energy and detail as you did at 9:00am. Avoid glossing over details or delivering the answer in a rehearsed manner. Often, some of the most important meetings (i.e. debriefing meetings) happen at the end of the day.
Ask Questions and Interview The Employer: The final round interview is an opportunity for you to determine if you would enjoy and be successful with a particular employer. By asking questions and taking the opportunity to evaluate your surroundings and the people with whom you are meeting, you can leave the final round interview with information whether you would accept the role if offered. I remember one interview day many years ago that was disorganized (they forgot to schedule lunch and transportation to/from the airport and the final interviewer was double-booked and thus 40 mins late to the interview). The experience made me question how organized the work environment would be.
The final round is an exciting time where the finish line is in sight. This is not the time to relax, push forward and then you move onto the Offer Stage.