A post by Julie Voce, Head of Digital Education, and Mimi Weiss Johnson, Senior Educational Technologist, City, University of London.
In the first two parts of this blog series, we talked about how to prepare for and write a good application. If you followed our advice, you should have been invited to an interview – congratulations!
Preparation is key to a successful interview, and it can be tricky to do this well with often just a week’s notice. You can start some things now though.
What job was this again?
The first thing to do is to get the job description out again and remind yourself what you have applied for, especially if you have applied for several roles recently. As with the application, you should tailor your interview preparation for the role and the institution that you are applying to. It is also useful to bring the job description to the interview as a reminder as you may be asked a question that relates to the specifics of the role.
Review your examples.
When recruiters write interview questions, they are designed to cover at the very least the essential criteria, so if there is a criterion for ‘supporting academics with technology in their teaching’ you should expect a question asking you for an example where you have done this. You should have already prepared a lot of this in your personal statement, so re-read this and reflect on the examples you have already provided. Could you expand on these examples in the interview or are there other examples you can now reference at an interview? It is handy to have more than one example per criterion so you can choose which one best fits the question in the interview and to act as a backup for other questions that may arise.
Prepare responses to common questions.
“What techniques do you use to manage a workload with immediate and longer-term deadlines?”
“Can you give us an example of when you have worked collaboratively with colleagues to find a solution to an issue?”
Everyone is looking for the successful candidate to have effective communication, organisation and IT skills, good time management, the ability to work as a team and as an individual, and the ability to problem solve. You can start now by producing some good examples for the types of questions that might come up. Make sure that the examples demonstrate what you did and choose examples of how you did these things well. Think about having different examples for each criterion, e.g., for teamwork you might be asked to describe an effective team or a team that experienced challenges. If you are applying for the next step up, then consider using examples where you can demonstrate that you are currently working at the higher level required, such as leading a training course yourself rather than just assisting someone else.
An easy question to start with, why did you apply for this job?
“This will cut my commute in half and my friend works here so we can have lunch together!”
That’s great news, but why did you apply for THIS job? This is often the first question you will be asked at an interview and should be an easy one to answer. Whilst it might be more money, an easier commute, better lunch options or just a way out from a job you don’t enjoy, we do not need to know that. We want to know why THIS job itself appealed to you and what experience you can bring to the role. Also, we know that our institution is a fabulous place to work but do not make that the sole reason for applying. Make sure you reference the job description and highlight some key areas that interest you or are relevant to your experience. A great way to ensure that you do this is to start by saying ‘this job will provide me with the opportunity to……’. Fill in the blank with something positive like ‘work on learning spaces projects’ or ‘get more involved with assessment technologies.’
What’s hot in the world of learning technology?
Often the job description includes something about horizon scanning or keeping a watching brief on trends in the sector, so it’s likely you will be asked a question about this. A common error here is to talk about things that are new to your current place of work, for example, talking about lecture capture being new when the institution you have applied to has been using it for 5 years already. Try to think a little further ahead, say 2-3 years, for things that are quite innovative but still realistic.
There are lots of ways you can keep up to date with what’s happening and do some horizon scanning, for example:
- Attending webinars or events, such as ALT-C or Jisc Digifest, or joining one of the ALT special interest or member groups.
- Being active on Twitter – follow @A_L_T and join in with regular Tweetchats such as #LTHEchat.
- Reading reports or articles such as the 2021 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report – Teaching and Learning Edition or the 2020 ucisa Technology Enhanced Learning survey
Prepare your task.
Once you have been invited to interview, you will likely need to put together a presentation or develop something like a training guide or online course as part of a pre-interview task. The first thing is to make sure you read the brief and understand what you have been asked to do. Think about the following:
- Is there a particular audience you need to address? Sometimes presentations are framed to present to an imaginary audience of academics or designed to be a mini-training session. Make sure you target your presentation accordingly.
- How long do I have to present? Make sure you practise your presentation. If we have asked you for 10 minutes, then we expect you to keep to time.
- Have you been asked to follow a particular format? You might be asked to develop a handout that fits on two sides of A4, or produce a video lasting no more than 5 minutes. Make sure you follow the brief as this demonstrates an attention to detail.
- How will you take your presentation to the interview? You may want to have the presentation stored on the cloud and on a stick drive just in case there are connectivity issues at the interview location.
- What technology will be available/used? For an on-site interview, you might want to check whether specific software will be available. For an online interview, does it state what web conferencing tool will be used? Do you know how to use the tool?
Contact HR for further information if anything isn’t clear or you need to know if specific technology/facilities will be available. It might also be useful to ask a friend or colleague for feedback on what you have produced.
“I enjoyed your recent blog post about using cameras in virtual classrooms.”
You should be told who will be on the interview panel so finding out more about them will help with building rapport. What projects are they and their team working on? Have they published anything you can refer to? Are they active in the community? It is always nice when a candidate refers to something you are working on or something they know about the institution as it shows they have done their homework, but keep it brief and relevant to the topic. Remember, you are here to talk about yourself, not provide a full history of each panel member.
Prepare some questions for the panel.
At the end of the interview, you will always be asked if you have any questions for the panel. Whilst you are not scored on this, it does show that you are interested in the role and can help clarify things you are not sure about. Questions you might want to include are:
- What does a typical day look like?
- What will be the challenges for this role in the first six months?
- How will I work with a particular stakeholder group?
- Ask about a particular project or initiative that is mentioned in the job description, e.g. Could you tell me more about the learning analytics project?
- Can you tell me about training and development opportunities?
Practice makes perfect – the mock interview!
Once you have prepared your examples and responses to common questions, why not try a mock interview. We have supported friends with this, and it has been a great experience for everyone. We typically find that people do not go into enough detail with their responses, so a mock interview provides a good opportunity for you to reflect on your responses and examples before the big day.
If you work in a university, some careers departments offer this as a service for staff and sometimes to alumni. You could also ask a colleague or friend who has experience of recruiting. Give them a copy of the job description and ask them to come up with some possible questions and then give you some feedback on your responses. If you have collected common questions already, you could ask them to use these for the mock interview. If you can’t find anyone to assist, then you could always record yourself responding to a set of questions, so you can review how you have responded.
Finally, plan for what will happen on the day. For in-person interviews, know where you are going, who you need to ask for and how to contact them in case of any issues on the day. Plan your journey in advance and aim to arrive 30 minutes early. If you have to rush, then you are likely to be out of breath and you won’t have time to collect your thoughts, which isn’t a good way to begin.
For online interviews, check that your microphone and camera are working and that your virtual background and display name are appropriate, make sure you won’t be interrupted and make sure you have contact details for the panel chair in case of any internet issues.
Hopefully, you are now prepared for the interview itself. Don’t forget to take it easy the day before the interview and give yourself some headspace to focus on the task at hand. Our next blog post will look at the interview itself, and give you some guidance on how to stand out in the interview.
With thanks to our City Digital Education colleagues Taqveem Ahmed, Kathryn Drumm and Olivia Fox for their advice and feedback.
This post has been written by Julie Voce, Head of Digital Education, and Mimi Weiss Johnson, Senior Educational Technologist, City, University of London.
If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.