Help me not fuck up this job interview.
October 12, 2014 6:06 PM   Subscribe

I have a job interview Tuesday morning for a part-time, college-level language teaching job. I want the job, I'd be good at it, and I have experience teaching this subject. But I have literally zero experience with job interviews. Fellow Mefites, please share your interview wisdom generally, and specifically, help me come up with (a) a list of questions to be ready for and (b) some questions to ask on my part.

This is going to be literally my first job interview ever. What I know about it is that it will be "short" (according to the email I got), probably fairly casual, and the person who'll be interviewing me is a human resources person rather than someone in my academic field. I assume this person will be making the hiring decision mostly or completely on her own, although I don't actually know. This is a continuing-education type job, so I wouldn't be in an academic department.

I have experience with this kind of teaching and have a good CV and references. I doubt there will be many other candidates for the position, so I think I have a really good shot, and I don't want to mess it up. What are some obvious questions everybody gets asked in job interviews so that I can prepare? What specific questions might be asked in an interview for a part-time academic teaching job?

My main worry is that in situations where I'm on the low side of a power imbalance I can sometimes come across as rather passive and disengaged: I tend to let the other person take the reins and just react to them without taking much part in steering the conversation. I want to show engagement and that I'm excited about this job (which I am), but I'm having trouble thinking about questions I can ask. There's nothing I need to know to decide whether I want the job. I already know the approximate hours and pay (the latter is about standard; as for the former, I'd happily work more hours but there isn't that much demand for the subject I'd be teaching). I am curious about the student population that tends to take this class, and how large classes tend to be (I assume they're very small), so that's one thing to ask about. But I feel like there are lots of other obvious things, both practical and otherwise, that anyone would be interested in knowing before signing up for this kind of job, and I can't really think what they are. Tell me, MeFi, what do I want to know about this job?

One thing I would like to know is how many other candidates they're interviewing -- is it OK to just ask this straight out?
posted by zeri to Work & Money (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What's your teaching style? What tactics do you use to keep students engaged? Do you use active learning and, if so, what kinds? What's the hardest thing you've faced as a teacher, and how did you handle it? What's something students have trouble learning about your language, and how do you teach it? How do you deal with teaching students who may be at very different levels of speaking the language?

I'd ask what students do or do not like about the program and what expectations the school might have of you outside of the classroom. I'd also be curious about pay in a CE program, i.e. whether your pay is tied to enrollment and when to expect pay checks.
posted by one_bean at 6:42 PM on October 12, 2014

Check out for advice
posted by insomniax at 6:49 PM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: They'll almost certainly want to know the obvious--how you got into teaching, what your experience has been like, what things you enjoy/don't enjoy about it. They may ask you about your general approach to teaching or particular teaching strategies, as one_bean suggests. A pretty typical thing to ask in job interviews of all kinds is to ask about challenges you've faced and how you've dealt with them. Since this is part-time, they may want to know about what you're doing with the rest of your time. A couple of people I know applying for teaching-type positions have been asked to give the interviewer a brief lesson ("show me how you'd explain 'adverbs' in five minutes".). But if you're interviewing with HR that seems less likely.

Things you can ask them--definitely ask about the classroom makeup--size, background. Are there prerequisites to the class? Do you have freedom to create a syllabus from scratch or are there particular things they expect to be covered? If this is continuing ed--what's the attrition rate for the classes? (I'm assuming it would be higher than for classes where people are actually enrolled in a degree program).

Also definitely ask about non-classroom expectations--do they expect you to participate in any activities outside of the classroom, like outreach or administrative work? Will you need to keep office hours or is your presence only required at classes?

I would not ask how many other candidates they are interviewing. There is really no reason to ask this except to gauge what your chances of getting the job are, and it will make you sound weak. At an interview, you should proceed with the attitude that it doesn't really matter who else they're interviewing because you are confident that you're a top candidate. You CAN ask about their timeline for making a decision and if they expect to be interviewing many more people, because their hiring timeframe is something that affects you directly.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 7:05 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Be confident. You got this.
posted by Fister Roboto at 9:39 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Write out questions you think you might be asked and prepare/practice answers. When you are asked questions not on that list, try to pivot to the answers you have prepared.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:13 PM on October 12, 2014

The best job interview advice I ever got was this: when the interviewer says "Tell me about yourself" (and 90% of the time they will), give your standard professional elevator speech, but end with something unique about yourself - not necessarily work-related. For example, I would end my answer with "and I am the 2008 Illinois State Jaycee Jeopardy champion."

Twice I had the opportunity to take this advice, and both times I got the job. : )

Good luck!
posted by SisterHavana at 11:17 PM on October 12, 2014

Department chair at a university here. Here's what I ask: what would you teach in an intro class? What kind of assignments would you give? What have you found that works and doesn't work? What does a successful class look like for you? I'd also try to ask questions about content. So, you say you'd cover S's theory of X. I'd ask about that. What do you yourself think of S's theory of X? What do you think when students think the theory of X is actually a theory of Y (where this is some sort of common misunderstanding). Are there other theories of X you find more plausible? Why?

Here's a question I think I should get asked more than I do: so, chair, you've taught here for Y years. What is your view as to what makes a successful class here at university of Name? Or: I like to teach T's theory of Y. But students get lost at this particular point in the view. What have you've done to counteract this misunderstanding?
posted by persona au gratin at 2:15 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll tell you what I kinda wish I'd asked at my interviews: how does language learning fit into the overall culture and mission of the school? I've taught part and full-time at many universities and community colleges, and the unfun experiences were in a department or school that didn't value the work I was doing or didn't have a clear idea why what I did was important (the second worst experiences were the schools in which I had crappy coworkers, but that's a whole other kettle of fish).
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:08 AM on October 13, 2014

Never go negative.

For example, "Tell me about [your last supervisor]." If the truth is that he was an arrogant, dictatorial bully whom everyone hated, your answer should be along the lines of, "He could be demanding, but that motivated me to do my best, an experience that's taught me to be highly productive, even under pressure like tight deadlines."

"Tell me about..." questions are an opportunity to connect your experience to the qualities and skills you possess that make you a valuable employee.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:44 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm actually having a hard time thinking of a good answer to "What's your teaching style". I kind of just go into the classroom and teach. What are some adjectives one might use to describe a teaching style? Ones that are actually informative (rather than self-advertising boilerplate of the "passionate" kind)?
posted by zeri at 2:37 PM on October 13, 2014

You will probably get a whole bunch of great answers to that question if you post it as its own question in a week!

But the short answer is: you can have an interactive style, a more lecture-based style, you can always trot out that "flipped classroom" stuff . . . language teachers can get fun and name-drop Krashen or Vygotsky . . . the list goes on!
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:33 PM on October 13, 2014

Research "teaching philosophy" and write up one of your own. I realize that since you don't already have one it hasn't been asked of you in document form, but writing it up will focus your spoken responses. I'd also be prepared to discuss a general outline of intended course structure but also totally ready to be handed a syllabus and be asked if I felt comfortable teaching to it (hopefully your answer will be yes).

If I were in your shoes interviewing for this position, I'd absolutely ask about their typical student profile (after extensive googling so I can either nod knowingly or convey true surprise if there's a disparity between available info) as well as what other resources the university has for students have to excel particularly if they are having trouble writing or turning in assignments, how many students are majoring in the subject, how many adjuncting sections they tend to have open each semester, and if there are any possibilities for full-time positions in the area in the future.
posted by vegartanipla at 5:32 PM on October 13, 2014

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