How Teachers Can Avoid Interviewing Mistakes

I have interviewed no less than 200 applicants for part-time and full-time college teaching positions, and I have met both good and bad interviewees.  Many are nervous, which is to be expected, but many are also unprepared.

The first of my interviewing tips for teachers is to be prepared to answer the most common questions.

In this article I will address two issues for teaching candidates to consider.  First, I will share my thoughts about nervous habits, and then I will suggest some positive practices that some candidates overlook.

Bad Habits Teaching Candidates Demonstrate

By definition, a habit is an action of behavior that is repeated so often it that it becomes typical of that person. Often the person does not even realize he or she has a habit. Typically, nervous habits fall into this category. And nervous habits are often bad habits, at least when it comes to interviews.

By the way, this is a slide I used when I led a book discussion at my college. The book was one of my favorites – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. If you have been following Adjunct Assistance, you know that this book was the basis for my series entitled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective College Instructors.

Haven’t read the book?  You really should!  Regardless, here are the 7 Habits of Highly Effective College Instructors:

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

Habit 6: Synergize

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Examples of Bad Nervous Habits

Nervousness, in and of itself, is not a bad habit. Actually, it is not even a habit. It is a way people react to certain stimuli. It is perfectly normal to be nervous when you are interviewing for a teaching position.

Bad nervous habits are actions or behaviors you display that reflect poorly on you and/or annoy others. There is little you can do to curb nervous habits unless you:  1) identify your nervous habits; and 2) develop strategies to curb them.  Some of the habits that fall into this category are fiddling with your hair, repeatedly saying “ah,” playing with a pen, and drumming your fingers on the table.

I am not an expert in this area, but I have a compensating strategy to recommend.  Come to the interview with a notepad.  Use it to write down the names of those with whom you are interviewing.  But prior to the interview, write a few notes to yourself at the top of the page.  List cues that will remind you of you tendency to, for example, make jokes.  Just one key word at the top of the page should be enough to remind you to keep your quips to a minimum.

During one group interview, there is a nervous habit I observed which the entire committee found distracting and annoying.  The candidate would start her answer to every question with the same phrase.  She would repeat that same phrase several times during her response to our question.  If we asked her about her use of technology in the classroom, she would respond, “What you need to know about technology in the classroom is …”  A minute or two later she would go off in another direction, starting out, “Another thing you need to know about technology in the classroom is …”  You say that this is not in the least way annoying?  The problem was that during 45 minutes of questions and answers, she must have used that phrase a hundred times.  That habit distracted us, making it difficult to listen to the answers she was trying to communicate.

Good Interviewing Practices

So much has been written on this topic. I want to share a few good practices that I have seen lacking in many candidates.

  • Overdress – The college classroom has become a very casual environment.  Some instructors believe that they connect better with students when they dress down.  However, when you are interviewing for a teaching job wear conservative business attire.
  • Take Notes – I cannot believe how many candidates don’t take notes.  Bring a notepad and take notes.
  • Respect Titles – Make sure you know who has a doctorate, and address that person as Dr. [last name] until that person asks you to address him/her otherwise.
  • Ask Questions – An interview is a two-way endeavor.  The interviewers want to learn about the candidate, but the candidate should want to learn about the institution.  Asking questions shows that you really want to learn about the job and the college.  Failure to ask questions sends a negative message.
  • Follow Up – Send thank you letters to the committee members if you are interviewing for a prestigious position at a world renown university.  In lieu of that. use the commonly accepted form or written communication – email.  If there is something you forgot to tell the committee, say it in the email.
  • Be Patient – Wait to be contacted.  If you are a leading candidate, they will not forget about you.  You will annoy committee members if you send emails or make phone calls asking about your status.


© 2012 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

April 22, 2012


About Dr. Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

My name is Paul Hummel, and I often introduce myself to others as a recovering engineer. If you are familiar with the Dilbert cartoons, let me simply say that I lived all of that. I started my college saga at Illinois Institute of Technology. Eventually, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management. I worked for many years in industry, and during this time I did some college adjunct teaching. During my career I held several managerial positions in industry, the last as Director of Technology of a division of a Fortune 500 corporation. Then, in 1996, with minimal planning or forethought, I found myself working as a manufacturing consultant on behalf of Elgin Community College (ECC). My career in higher education began to take shape. I fell in love with ECC and with the mission of community colleges in general. I worked fulltime and occasionally taught college courses for my institution and two other colleges. After a couple years I set a goal to move over to the “credit side of the college” and eventually become a college administrator. In 2006, having earned my doctorate in education, I achieved that goal. I was hired by Waubonsee Community College as Dean for Technology, Mathematics and Physical Sciences. I have had the great fortune of working at two excellent colleges. The insights I want to share are drawn from the various college positions I have held. At ECC, in addition to my consulting role, I coordinated non-credit professional development training programs for three years and spent four years advising students in the TRiO Student Support Services program. That position helped me understand college education from the perspective of today’s college students. After seven years at Waubonsee, I retired April 30, 2013. I now devote my knowledge and skills to upgrading and expanding the websites I created beginning with Adjunct Assistance. I have three other websites: College Teaching Tips, Keys for College Success and Lighthouse for Learning. A lot of work lies ahead for me in terms of upgrading and expanding each of these websites, but I could not be more excited about fulfilling the vision I have for helping college instructors and their students succeed.

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