“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Albert Einstein, physicist (attrib.)

Building on my previous post, “Applying for 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 the Chronicle of Higher Education and Monster.com; also practice this interviewing exercise on the Oberlin College Career Services site.

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, habits, and aesthetics. 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 gauge your artistic 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 a MacArthur Grant – $100,000 annually for 5 years – what projects might you pursue?”

To begin with, 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. Some academic search committees won’t prepare specific questions nor organize their queries in line 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 that:
1.  Spell out how you’d excel at the job’s duties and meet 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, and teaching philosophy
4.  Establish your credibility as an up-to-date, energetic, and respected professional

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, provide numerous timeslots when you’ll be available and inquire who is on the search committee; then, research the committee members’ backgrounds.

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

  • Rehearse the language you’ll use. If you’re a novice, conduct a mock interview with a mentor.
  • During your interview, have your talking points in front of you, speak succinctly & articulately, and jot notes as questions are asked over the phone.
  • 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; then, ask about topics that you couldn’t adequately research online such as enrollment targets, guest artist programs, long-range planning, career development resources for students, and so forth. 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; additional data can be mined on the Chronicle site).

The On-Campus Interview
On-campus interviews are multipart events in which you get to establish your authority. So, prepare in detail, dress up, and show that you’d be a terrific colleague.

Recital: Choose repertoire that conveys your artistic personality & proficiency and makes it easy for committee members to compare you with others. Also consider on-campus rehearsal issues: don’t include thorny ensemble pieces or those with grueling piano accompaniments; be a resourceful facilitator at rehearsals. While on stage, speak briefly before each selection and otherwise offer an engaging presentation.

Master class: 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. Address the audience too, and tie your points into general principles, but maintain a musical focus in which students play or sing during most of their lesson time.

Lecture: Some schools ask candidates to prepare lectures. Here, too, thorough preparation and mentor feedback in advance prove invaluable.

Interview with 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. Beyond informing, though, strive to inspire your prospective colleagues with your vision and energy. Pay attention to your body language too, and ask additional questions.

Interviews with administrators: A candidate almost always has a one-on-one session with a department head. 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. At a university, you might also meet with someone from the upper administration such as an associate 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.

Meals: Prepare to discuss committee members’ artistic 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.

*  *  *

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

The Musician’s Way explores audition strategies on pages 217-222 and delves into inclusive performance techniques throughout Chapters 7-11.

Related posts
Applying for faculty positions
Career strategies that drive creativity
Music education and entrepreneurship
Music: The practical career?
What makes an entrepreneurial musician?

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

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