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Bonk's 30-30 Rule: Questions for Higher Education Faculty Job Interviews
Monday, February 04, 2008
Have you ever looked for a job and been frustrated that the questions seem to have come from left field (or right field or center or perhaps from an idiot playing short stop)? Have you ever scrambled or been overly nervous trying to think of all the questions you might be asked in a job interview? Sure, everyone undoubtedly has.

How can technology help? Today, face-to-face interviews are no longer the only option. Increasingly, I see universities relying on technology to speed up the process and enable them to more effectively spend their limited travel monies while simultaneously expanding the job pool of applicants. Given the expansion, it gives candidates who might be weaker on paper but who have more passion for their chosen occupation, charisma, interpersonal skills, creativity, and flexibile personalities to shine. What technologies? Well, let me see...there is Skype, Google Talk, Wikipspaces, Yahoo, AOL, or MSN chat, chat within a course management system, Webcam interviews, email interviews, IP-based videoconferencing, and phone (landline, mobile phone, and speakerphone conference calls) or some combination of any of these. Yes, interviews, like courses in higher education, are fast becoming highly blended experiences. I do not forsee academic interviews in Second Life or Twitter just yet but I am sure that they are coming.

If it was me, I would have a bunch of 20-30 minute videoconferences with candidates--say 8-10 in 4-5 hours. You could really meet some interesting people that way and find some talent that you might not see otherwise. Of course, phone or email interviews might reduce internal biases so that might be a place to start. Often, a candidate will look great simply because of who he or she worked with but may not be that great as what appeared on paper. The university one graduated from and the people mentoring and publishing with that person are indicators of strength but they should not place blinders on search committees and too often such criteria do.

While interviews using videoconferencing seemed like the craze a few years ago, lately, I seem to have a number of my doctoral students getting phone interviews for jobs in higher education. I was on a search committee recently that utilized phone interviews before bringing candidates in for face-to-face interviews. It is so common, it is now expected. When this occurs for one of my students, I normally give them a list of 20 questions that they might be asked during said interviews and another set of 20 questions that they can ask of those doing the interviews. I am often told that these are helpful but recently someone said I was missing some key ones that she was asked. In response, I expanded the list tonight to 30 questions or topic areas they could ask about and 30 more that the person being interviewing could ask. They are posted below. Hope you can use some of them.

Part 1: 30 Topic areas that could be asked during phone or face-to-face interviews:
1. Current Research Grants: What grants are you bringing with you? What grant sources? Do you have anything in progress? What’s your experience preparing grant and managing grant?
2. Future Research Grants: Do you have any grants in review or that you intend to write? Can you tell us where your future research will come from?
3. Research Focus: Tell us about your research. How would you establish a research program here? One of the papers you submitted talks about XYZ, and I have been doing research that is related—can you tell me her views on XYZ. What have you focused on in your research? Do you have a research plan for the next 2-3 years? What about 5 years from now? Where is it headed?
4. Research Strengths and Weaknesses: What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses as a researcher?
5. Dissertation: Why did you choose your particular dissertation topic? What did you discover? What did you find that you did not expect? What would you do differently? Will you extend your research?
6. Colleagues and Mentors: Who are you working with? Who is your advisor? Who is your mentor? I see you are working with XYZ, how did this collaboration start?
7. Future Colleagues and Mentors: Who do you think you can work with from our faculty here at XYZ university? Have you read any articles of the faculty members here or explored their Websites? Note that some advise reading at least 1 article from every person in the department in which you are interviewing.
8. City, Geographic Location, and Culture: Tell us what you know about the city and area of the country we are in. What do you know about our culture? How do you feel about living here?
9. University: What do you know about our university” What interests you most about coming here?
10. Strengths or Contribution: What can you bring to the program/dept. in terms of research and grant? What contributions can you make?
11. Your Goals: What are you looking for? What is your ideal job?
12. Teaching Approach or Philosophy: Tell us some of your teaching techniques or approaches. What is your teaching philosophy? How do you motivate students?
13. Teaching Expectations: Have you read through our course catalog? What courses from there do you think you might want to teach? If you could teach any course, what would it be (i.e., what is your ideal course)? Based on what you know about us, what courses do you think our department might development?
14. Teaching Strengths and Weaknesses: What do you see as your greatest strengths and weaknesses as a teacher?
15. Distance Teaching Experience: Do you have experience teaching at a distance and/or designing distance courses?
16. Personal Questions: I always ask to tell me their hobbies and favorite groups or type of music but I want to work with people a long time. They might ask about what you do in your spare time.
17. K-12 (or corporate or higher ed) Experience: Do you have K-12 or higher education teaching experience?
18. Courses to Teach: What courses do you feel comfortable in teaching?
19. Type of Researcher: Are you a qualitative or quantitative researcher?
20. Books: Tell us what books you have read in the field lately and your impressions of them?
21. Conferences and Professional Organizations: What conferences do you plan to go to or do you like? What professional organizations are you a member of? Have you held any professional posts within them?
22. Collaboration: Describe instances wherein you collaborated with others in research, teaching, grant writing, and other service. Do you see yourself as someone who works individually or collaboratively? Tell us about the general principles that guide your interactions when working collaboratively in a team activity.
23. Homepage: Do you post your teaching philosophy or publications at a web site? Do you have a homepage? If so, what can we find on it?
24. Accomplishments: What have you accomplished in your current position?
25. Reasons for Applying: Why did you apply for this job? What interested you?
26. What Do You Want to Know: Is there anything we could answer about this position or university?
27. Job Fit: How do you see yourself fitting in within this program or department?
28. Department or Program Initiatives: We have been doing XYZ lately. What might you contribute? What might you do?
29. Position: This is a tenure track, nontenure track, lab, clinical, etc., position. Can you tell us how you match this position and why you applied for it?
30. Other: Do you have any additional questions for us? Can we answer anything else?

Ok, that is 30 things they could ask you. But what might you ask them? Aha! Time for some revenge--what can you catch them off guard about? Yes, 2 can play this cat and mouse game. Of course, it does not have to be a game at all--it can and should be a very friendly and cordial back and forth of questioning and answering. When that occurs, you have likely found a place you can feel at home and will stay a long time or so we hope. So use these questions below at the appropriate moments. I would not ask all of them; just use the ones that are critical to you or that fit within your interview conversation. The more conversational and colleagial you make it, the more likely you will get the job. And these, once again, are just a sample list--be sure to add your own questions and topics of concern. I am missing issues related to sabbatical leave policies, healthcare benefits, retirement plans, etc., which are more common questions once you have a job offer.

Part 2: 30 Topic areas that you could ask about during phone or face-to-face interviews
1. Faculty Make-up: Describe the faculty and their interests and what courses they each teach. How many people are there? Any adjunct department members? Why or why not? Are there others from related departments I might work with?
2. Faculty Meetings: Describe faculty meetings? Do people get along well? How often do you meet? What is it like?
3. Future Vision and Strategic Planning: Where is the department headed? What plans are there for the next few years and beyond? Are there any plans for additional hires in the department? What is the overall leadership like in this place (deans, department chairs, presidents, etc.? How long has the university president been there? Do you think he will stay?
4. New Buildings and Expansion: What recent buildings have been put up on campus and what is planned for the near future? What building are in serious need of remodeling or replacement?
5. Course Expectations: What courses will I be expected to teach? Are any courses in need of development?
6. Department Enrollment Trends: What are the enrollment trends?
7. Best Things: What are some of the best things about working in this department, college, and university? Why are they the best things? Is there one thing that pleasantly surprised you about working here?
8. Areas Targeted for Improvement: What are some areas that might be improved in this department, college, and university? Do you think any of these will happen soon?
9. New Hires: Who are the most recent hires? Did anyone recent have difficulty when going up for tenure? If so, why?
10. Camaraderie: How is the camaraderie in the department, college or school, or university?
11. Faculty Support: Do faculty get a desktop computer? How often is it replaced?
12. Additional Support: What types of extra support night a first year faculty member receive at XYZ? For example, graduate assistant to help with research, release time in first semester, summer monies for research, extra conference travel, etc.?
13. Research Respected and Rewarded: Is research respected and rewarded here? Is so, how is that displayed?
14. Internal Grants: What types of internal grant funding exist? Can you give me examples of grant projects for research or course development that have been supported?
15. External Grants: What types of external grants are people in the department and college or school getting?
16. Classrooms and Technology Support for Teaching: What are classrooms like and technology support for when integrate technology in teaching? Any course management system or other technology that I would be expected to use?
17. Teaching Respected and Rewarded: Is teaching respected and rewarded here? If so, how is that displayed?
18. Semesters or Quarters: Are they in a semester or quarter system?
19. Summer Teaching: Do summer teaching opportunities exist?
20. Service: Are new faculty protected from being placed on too many service commitments?
21. New Faculty Mentoring: Is there a program in place for new faculty mentoring? If so, what kind of program is it? Describe how new faculty are mentored or could be mentored.
22. Course Management Systems and Online and Blended Learning: How many faculty are using Blackboard/WebCT/etc.? In what ways? What classes, if any, are taught online? Any blended learning examples?
23. Outreach: Is all the teaching on campus or is there any outreach expectations or opportunities? Is this a land-grant university where more outreach might be expected?
24. City and Area: What is this area like to live in? How are the schools?
25. Travel and Other Support: Is there any travel support?
26. Student Funding: How are graduate (or undergraduate if a small college) students supported (if applicable)?
27. Libraries: What are the library facilities like?
28. Faculty Union: Is the system unionized? If so, is it required to join it? (there are pros and cons to this)
29. Negotiating Hot Buttons: Are there certain things that are acceptable for a new person to ask for or maybe expected that I would ask for? For instance, in the School of Education at Indiana University a common “hot button” is technology—you can ask for as many computers or laptops as you need and can justify. I was told if I wanted racing stripes on my computer, all I had to do was ask for them.
30. Recreation Facilities: Are there any workout facilities? In the long run, this may be the most important question you can ask. Or, if you are a jogger like me, ask about the percent of roads that have sidewalks for running and jogging paths.

Ok, I hope these are helpful. I realize that there are many more I could list. I also know that these are limited to higher education types of positions--especially for new faculty members. In addition, most of these relate to universities in the United States--in the UK, Japan, Korea, Australia, Germany, Taiwan, etc., the topics of concern and the questions will likely be totally different. But it is a place to start. I must point out that I created this list from my brain, feedback from colleagues, lists and resouces from other places, and so on. Normally, I would provide citations to a few key and specific resources, but here I do not have any to quickly provide. There is no one source for success in job hunting that I am aware of.

Again how might technology help get these questions out? Well, I am using a blog here to spread the word. People can comment on what I am missing. In addition, sample interviews could be podcasted and made available. Or students looking for jobs might post questions like these to a Wiki and negotiate the questions as well as the answers to them. Or perhaps experts might be made available (perhaps retired faculty) who walk one through an interview process using Skype or Google talk. These experts might also respond to questions in a community in Yahoo! Groups or a group in Facebook. Or perhaps some of the best and worst interview practices might be Ustreamed or posted in some other way. Or doctoral students might similate interviews in MSN chat with their colleagues. There are many ways technology can help share such interview questions and procedures so as to reduce the common tension associated with this process.

Good luck to you!

My 7 and 7 Addendum:
After chatting with Stephen Downes, I think there is a need for an addendum to at least some additional caveats to the above list. Here are seven things to consider. First, to really succeed in finding a job (which means that you are happy and the place that eventually employs you is happy), there must be a personal commitment to contribute to the processes, products, ideas, and happenings of the place you are interviewing at. Do not simply go through the motions of an interview if you are lukewarm about it--you are wasting time; both theirs and yours. Second, you must prepare and practice for the interview. Do not walk in cold--look up the place and the people and become interested in some aspects of what is happening there. Third, there should be a sense of joy, passion, and fulfillment that can be derived from the position. Passion! Yes, you must have some passion when in this job or your internal light bulb will slowly burnout. Fourth, you must display confidence when interviewing and also believe in yourself. Fifth, you should have creative and worthwhile ideas that you can pursue in this position--you can be creative and unique in nearly any job. Hec, I was a creative accountant once. Sixth, you should have a genuine willingness and interest in helping others who work at this place as well as beyond it and exhibit a sharing attitude (not a taking one). The higher education world is becoming a place of open educational resources and you can have a role in expanding that in interesting ways. Seventh, there should be meaningful and personal goals that you can fulfill in this position.

There are seven things that the institution or organization doing the hiring should keep in mind. First the job should also offer you a chance to think and reflect from time-to-time. This is where creativity and rejuvenation happen! Second, it should provide for professional development (PD)--no one can survive today without some retooling. Third, and highly linked to PD, there should be networking opportunities to expand your horizons. Fourth, it should be prompt and courteous in telling the candidate where they stand in the interview process. Too often, institutions of higher learning fail to keep job candidates apprised of the state of the interview process; those they have rejected are often not told that. Fifth, there should be no bait and switch--what the job candidate is told during the interview process should be honestly delivered. Too often there are moments when one arrives at work wherein the department chair or supervisor says, "oh, we forgot to tell you about this or that." In my first job in higher ed, I was told that moving expenses would likely be paid for. But when the moving vans came, I got a call that they hired too many people that year and had no money for moving expenses. Moral--get everything in writing. Sixth, they should evaluate the whole person and what they offer. Too often institutions of higher learning look at specific course needs for next year and not long term needs of a department or university. They should consider how that person will grow to be an effective teacher, mentor, colleague, researcher, etc. I have seen too many people eliminated from consideration from their answers to one silly question or from one research talk when they have done dozens of studies and may have simply picked the wrong one to present. Keep in mind, job candidates have at least 20 years of training and education--not knowing who your university president is or what the school fight song is should not eliminate anyone from the job search. Knowing about the city, state/province, country, or region of the world is vitally important but such information is relatively easy to find. It is silly silliness to ask it as a key question (I heard one institution of higher learning did this recently). Adapting to the place will take months or, more likely, years. Not knowing the capital or average life expectancy of people in that region should not be a deal breaker--you can find the answer in 2 minutes in Wikipedia. Caveat: Respect the people applying for a job with you--their journey has been long and they have overcome many a pothole and hurdle to get to this point. Do not simply search for faults or weaknesses; search for strengths, creative drive, and professional passions. Seventh, the company or institution should offer you a chance to shine--to be creative and productive in however that is determined. As Stephen Downes reminded me this morning, the institution or organization does not own you, but must grow you. Or as he put it, the employer (or job situation) should personally empower you and give you dignity, freedom, and autonomy. I am reminded of Google's 20 percent time rule--employees can pursue whatever they want for 20 percent of the their time. This has sparked a wave of creativity at Google and many new products. At IU, I also have 20 percent time (1 in 5 days wherein I can consult for instance). Of course, as a result of this "freedom," I typically work 7 days a week and holidays.

So the questions I list above are just a starting point to prepare for the interview. There are dozens more important things in getting the job and later being happy with it. You must have opportunities for freedom of expression, creativity, connectedness to others such as networking, professional growth, commitment to your ideas, a passion for what you do, and, of course, some humor or laughter when things do not always turn out as planned. Can you find this out before accepting a job? Does anyone list this stuff in their job postings? Not typically. Use the above questions as a guide only. Grants are listed first since search committees at universites in the USA might ask you this first. There is more to success than grant writing, however. Be wary of this focus among your colleagues. Too much focus there has the chance to effectively wipe out all the other aspects of a job that make it worthwhile and valuable to you. This is you we are talking about. (Thanks for the help with aspects of this addendum Stephen!)
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  posted by Curt Bonk @ 2:51 PM  
  • At 5:32 PM, Blogger Stephen Downes said…

    The first thing you thought of was grants? Some things in academia never change.

  • At 7:07 PM, Blogger Curt Bonk said…

    Ha ha ha. It is ingrained here. I have made a series of rants about this lately and I agree with you. I am bemoaning it to all my friends; however, I had a student who interviewed for a job last week and did not do well since it was the first question she was asked. It was in my original list of 20 questions but closer to the bottom and so she may have missed it. So I moved it up since it is the key question today. Publishing is no longer the coin of the realm. It is grant money.

    Hence, I created this list for people like her to help her get a job--it was a pragmatic decision not one that I wanted to make (i.e., to move grants to the top of the list; I had "what are your musical interests" as my #1 item in my former list of 20 questions). It is silly silliness in higher education these days--writing grants for projects that you may not want to do or feel like doing just because everyone thinks it is important. But that is the reality of higher ed. I may not last long in such a reality. I much prefer being true to myself but that seems to no longer be the norm in higehr education in the USA. It is all about grants, money, etc. It matters little if the person getting the grant can ever communicate the results or present them well or badly he or she will mistreat those working for him or her on the project. The impact does not matter either. What seems to matter is the money. The person with huge impact for a $500-5,000 personally financed study using consulting monies (which is what I often do) is not looked upon as favorably as somoene with $100,000 or $1,000,000 but who has no results or impact.

  • At 9:23 AM, Blogger Dr. Nellie Deutsch said…

    Thank you for taking the time to write a fantastic list of very useful tips.

  • At 5:00 PM, Blogger Curt Bonk said…

    Sure thing. It too a while but is important I think.

  • At 9:58 PM, Blogger Snea said…

    Ah, these are very thoughtful questions that I wish to be asked.

    Thanks, Dr. Bonk. This blog remains the best!


  • At 2:13 AM, Blogger Padmanaban said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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