woman being interviewed for a job by two interviewers“Like any performance, a job interview involves specialized knowledge and skills.”

Building on my previous post, “Applying for Music Faculty Positions,” this article offers tips to help candidates interview successfully for music teaching jobs in colleges, conservatories, and universities.

Interview Basics

Like any performance, a job interview involves specialized knowledge and skills – far more than can be covered here.

So, study articles about interviewing on sites such as Monster.com; review online guides such as the one published by Oberlin College.

Among other things, you’ll read about two types of interview questions: traditional and behavior-based.

Behavioral questions probe your past actions to uncover evidence of your abilities and creative or scholarly activities. For example:
•  “What activities did you undertake in the past year to recruit students and what were the results?”
•  “Where did you perform last season and what repertoire did you program?”

Traditional questions might explore your vision, knowledge, and how well how you think on your feet:
•  “If you took this job, what recruiting strategies would you employ in the first year?”
•  “What are your long-term career goals?”
•  “If you received the likes of a MacArthur Grant ($100,000+ annually for 5 years) what projects might you pursue?”

You need to be prepared to respond to both sorts of questions. At the same time, you can’t assume that the people who will screen you will be practiced interviewers (See: “The No. 1 Mistake Interviewees Make“).

In fact, some academic search committee members will be woefully unskilled at interviewing and won’t fully align their questions with a job’s published duties and qualifications.

It’s up to you to ensure that committee members and hiring managers receive all of the information they need to make informed decisions about whether you’re best for a job regardless of what questions come your way.

Accordingly, in advance of an interview, prepare talking points, and strive for an experience that flows more as a conversation than an interrogation:
1.  Spell out how you’d excel at the job’s duties and meet or exceed the specified qualifications
2.  Demonstrate your knowledge of the institution and why you’re interested in the position
3.  Indicate your artistic vision, professional goals, creative/scholarly activity, and teaching philosophy
4.  Establish your credibility as an up-to-date, energetic, and respected professional by quantifying your achievements

Also document questions that you’ll ask – more about that in a minute.

The Phone/Video Interview

Search committees commonly filter applications to single out candidates they’ll interview by phone or video. After completing those interviews, they pick three or so finalists to invite to campus.

When you receive a request for a phone or video interview, in addition to providing times when you’ll be available, inquire who is on the search committee, and then research the committee members’ backgrounds.

Some additional quick pointers (you’ll find many more tips on job sites):

  • Rehearse articulating your talking points. You might practice with a recorder and then conduct a mock interview with a mentor.
  • During your interview, have your talking points in front of you, speak succinctly and articulately; during phone interviews, jot notes as needed.
  • Show enthusiasm for the position, the institution, and your profession.
  • Be collegial, but not too casual; avoid laughing over the phone – it can seem odd when visual cues are absent.
  • Come across as an experienced colleague with potent ideas, a solid work ethic, and an eagerness to grow.
  • Prepare pertinent questions: study the institution’s website, and then ask about topics that you couldn’t research online such as enrollment targets. Don’t ask about compensation – it’s seldom appropriate until a job offer is made (for state-owned schools in the U.S., faculty salary information is public; general data can be mined via the Chronicle of Higher Ed website).

The On-Campus Interview

On-campus interviews for music faculty positions are multipart events in which you get to establish your authority. To that end, prepare in detail, dress up, and show that you’d be a terrific colleague.

Recital: Choose repertoire that conveys your artistic personality, diversity and proficiency as well as makes it easy for committee members to compare you to others. Opt for titles from your core repertoire, avoiding newer, less-secure ones. Also consider on-campus rehearsal issues: don’t include thorny ensemble pieces nor those with grueling piano accompaniments; be a resourceful facilitator at rehearsals. While on stage, speak warmly and briefly before each selection, or provide an overview at the outset, so that you demonstrate your communication skills and personality.

Master class/teaching demo: Inquire ahead of time about what repertoire the students will perform and how long their lessons will be. Then, use time efficiently: acknowledge what each performer has done well, and then work on things that can be improved promptly. It should be evident in each lesson that students have surmounted obstacles and gained fluency as a result of your input. Address the audience, too, and connect your points and musical demonstrations with general principles that all students can apply. All the while, maintain a musical focus in which students play or sing during much of their lesson time.

Lecture/presentation: Some interviews will involve candidates presenting lectures or teaching classes. Here, too, thorough preparation and mentor feedback in advance prove invaluable. Be sure to specify your technology needs and also back up presentation files online.

Interview with a search committee: Search committees often ask each candidate the same series of core questions; then, they branch out. As with a phone interview, plan to articulate why you’re interested in the position, what your professional goals are, and how you’d carry out the job’s duties, noting past successes in areas such as recruiting. Beyond informing, though, strive to inspire your prospective colleagues with your vision and energy. Pay attention to your body language, too, and ask precise questions. It’s wise to have your written questions documented – bring paper or a tablet to every interview session to access your prepared questions or notes as well as to document key information.

Interviews with administrators: A candidate almost always has a one-on-one session with a department head or other leader. Reiterate the main points you made to the search committee, ask about the administrator’s plans for the school, and inquire about departmental resources and practices – e.g., you might ask about scholarship monies for students as well as funding for faculty recruiting and scholarly activity. At a university, you might also meet with someone from the upper administration such as an assistant provost with whom you’d again establish your professional stature and discuss institutional resources and long-range plans.

Meeting with students: Students often convene as a group with prospective teachers and then submit evaluations to a search committee. Aim to inspire, inform, and motivate. Speak concisely about your background, vision, and teaching style; maybe illustrate points using your instrument or voice. Ask students about their aspirations and needs; listen to and engage with them regarding their concerns.

Meals with committee members: Prepare to discuss committee members’ artistic and scholarly interests, recruiting techniques, teaching strategies, work challenges, and the like. Show that you’re a good listener. Beforehand, scrutinize committee members’ recordings & publications, and plan to inquire about their areas of expertise. Be cautious with alcohol: limit yourself to one drink at dinner but abstain if no one else imbibes. Remember that whenever you’re with someone from the institution, you’re being interviewed.

Lastly, follow up an interview with carefully worded thank-you emails.The Musician's Way book cover

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There’s no time like the present to elevate your interviewing skills: study online resources and arrange mock interviews so that when you get shortlisted for a position, you’ll rise to the top.

Related posts
Applying for faculty positions
Music education and entrepreneurship
Music: The practical career?
The No. 1 Mistake Interviewees Make

© 2011 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Alexander Raths, licensed from Shutterstock.com