Job Interview Tips You Haven’t Heard

Group interview

The final hurdle to receiving a job offer obviously is the interview. I have been on many job interviews for every level of position in student affairs. I have debriefed many more job interview experiences with scores of grad students and new professionals. I have conducted innumerable job and grad school interviews. And, I have had many conversations with many employers. There is great information out there on preparing for an interview. The purpose of this post is to share five tips that you won’t necessarily find in other job interview resources.

Get to the Site of the Interview the Day Before They Expect You
Dr. Lee Brossoit (@DrLeeB) is Assistant Dean and Program Coordinator at Salem State University in Massachusetts. But in 1984 he was a young professional and an applicant for a Quad Director position at SUNY Stony Brook, and I was chairing the search. He was a great candidate, but he really blew the staff away with how much he knew about student life and Residence Life at Stony Brook. Remember, this was in the time before the Internet and the Web. We had no idea how he could know so much. He was the top candidate and was offered the job, but, unfortunately, he turned us down. However, in the phone call where he turned down the job he told me that the reason he knew so much about Stony Brook was that he had gotten to campus the day before and spent the entire day playing pool in the student union talking to students, asking about their experiences. It was so simple. It was so brilliant.

Since then for virtually every interview I have had, I got to the campus the day before they expected me, including when I had to pay for my travel and an extra day in a hotel. There were times I chose to drive instead of flying in order to make sure I had that extra day. It was worth the investment. It gave me an incredible advantage.

When I walked around talking to people, I didn’t hide the fact that I was there to interview for a job. I wore business clothes and explained to students, faculty, and staff that I was interviewing for a job and would like to ask them a few questions about their experience and the institution. 99% of the people said yes and were happy to go into depth about their experiences and knowledge of the institution and the unit I was applying to. I learned things that I would rarely be able to find online even in today’s world of Twitter and other instant social media.

So, if you follow only one of these five interview tips, follow this one!

Have a Hard Copy Portfolio of Your Work
Sharon O’Neill (@thesharoness) is the Associate Director of Residence Life at Binghamton University. In 1995, she interviewed for the grad program at Kent State University where I was coordinator of the program. The interview was going fine when she mentioned that she had a portfolio of her work because she had majored in Education and she was required to develop such a portfolio. I asked to see it and I was really impressed. More than that, I immediately saw the future of graduate student job search processes in student affairs. Within a few years I was sure that throughout the U.S., all master’s students would have such documents. It was self-evident because such a document put a candidate at a distinct advantage.

Okay, so my vision of the future didn’t pan out, but it isn’t because it shouldn’t have. I still believe a hard copy portfolio of one’s work puts a candidate at distinct psychological advantage in an interview process. Other than my most recent job interview experience, I have had a portfolio with me at ever interview—faculty positions and professional staff positions, including Associate Vice President. And no matter what anyone says, I know that it has affected people in very positive ways regarding my candidacy.

I think having an online portfolio is great, but there is nothing like sitting in an interview and being able to hand an interviewer a 2-pound binder of your work—it is like an enhanced, steroid-fueled version of your resume. It shows you are a SERIOUS professional. I won’t go into detail here about what should and shouldn’t go into such a portfolio (That will be another blog post), but I will say that it needs to be highly visual (not just text-based documents).

So, why hasn’t this idea spread? I think the main reason is that it is a lot of work to create such a portfolio. You need to be always considering how your work can be represented in a portfolio. You need to save printed and published documents. You need to take pictures of your work—events, products, people, etc. You can’t sit down after two years and put it together if you haven’t already collected the artifacts.

So, if you don’t have a portfolio, start one today and see what you can dig up from the past semester and past couple of years.

Three Other Tips
Finally, I have three other basic interview tips that I don’t often see in other interview resources:

  • Practice interviewing with people who will GRILL you. If you do this, no interview will be as challenging as your practice interviews. Too often it appears that candidates’ practice interviews consist of people merely asking them questions. That is only half of the preparation.
  • We know from research, that untrained interviewers (that is, most interviewers in student affairs!) make their decision regarding the candidate in the first few minutes. The rest of the interview is spent subconsciously looking for confirming evidence. Implication? A firm handshake, warm smile, and engaging quickly in conversation at the beginning of the interview is vital.
  • Most interviews start with a very basic request—“Tell me about yourself.” DON’T say what is on your resume; they have read your resume. Instead, tell your story! This means you need to know your story. Your resume contains the pieces of the puzzle, but your story paints the picture those pieces form. Paint that picture in the interview.

Good luck in your job search and in all your interviews. Please feel free to respond with your tips and suggestions or tweet them at me. You can follow me at @pglove33.

For the whole job search story, get my book Job Searching in Student Affairs: Strategies to Land the Position YOU WantSeriously, it will be the best $9.99 you spend this week!



  1. Patrick, your last tip is on point! This is a chance to make your interviewer(s) smile! If you can engage me in the first few minutes by 1. demonstrating that you know enough about interviews that this will likely be the first question; 2. having thought about and practiced your home run swing; and; 3. engaging me by telling a story with depth, conviction, and humor, then you’ve got me. You’ve got my full attention for the entire interview, and more likely than not I won’t give a second thought to whether or not you’ll be a good fit in my organization.

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