Archive for the ‘job search’ Category

You have just received your Ph.D. and are seeking a tenure track position at a distinguished university.   Following are three ‘huge’ mistakes made by new Ph.D.’s that I have witnessed over the past four to five years.   In each case, the candidate was the search committee’s top pick until they made their faux pas.

Episode 1 – Two $60 Bottles of Wine

This candidate had it all – a degree from a top university, a budding research record, and strong interpersonal skills with faculty, students and administration.    After a full day of interviews and a well-received presentation to the faculty, the search committee took our candidate to dinner.   At the dinner table, as the search committee deliberated over what to have to drink with their evening meal, our candidate took charge and ordered two relatively expensive bottles of wine.    Not good.    As it turns out, the freely flowing wine uncovered the true nature of our candidate.   It turns out that our candidate was a highly opinionated and arrogant individual who managed to offend everyone by the end of the evening.    While I was not pleased at the search committee spending $120 for wine at a search committee meal, it turns out that this was money well spent.   We avoided a terrible hire!

Episode 2 –  Not Following Instructions for Research Presentation

Another top candidate – another disaster.   Like all tenure-track candidates at our school, this newly minted Ph.D. was given specific instructions to provide an overview of his research agenda and to discuss how this research agenda would fit with the department and school.   The department and search committee know that these instructions are not the ‘normal’ research presentation, so we go to great pains to make sure that the candidate is aware of our research presentation requirements.   What baffles me in this case is that I was the one who spoke to the candidate on the phone and went over the protocol step-by-step for our research presentation.   This candidate chose to give a typical ‘dissertation defense’ research presentation with absolutely no overview and with absolutely no discussion of our department or school.   What truly amazed me is that this candidate was extremely disappointed that he didn’t get a job offer.    Arrogance?  Inability to follow instructions?   Again, we were happy we learned this up front and avoided a bad hire.

Episode 3 – No Energy or Enthusiasm

This story saddens me.   This Ph.D. candidate was a non-traditional candidate.  He had spent 15 years working before going back to school for a Ph.D.   His research and teaching record were strong and a good fit for our department and university.   Importantly, several phone conversations with our candidate left me with the clear impression he definitely wanted to be at our university.  The interview day started off well.   Yet as the day went on, our candidate was unable to sustain energy or enthusiasm with faculty and students.   Somehow, he was quite ‘high-energy’ with all of the administrators and some of the senior faculty.   Yet to a person, our junior faculty and students just didn’t feel the energy.    Obviously, we didn’t extend an offer.   Later, I talked to a colleague at another university who interviewed the same candidate.  He related the same story – no energy, little enthusiasm.    Advice to all of you Ph.D. candidates out there – energy and enthusiasm are very, very important during the job interview process!!!

Other mistakes to avoid in the academic job search process can be found here – read carefully!

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe


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NCAA_logo.svgI have recently had the opportunity to serve on the search committee to find our university’s next athletic director.    Following are ten interview questions that we asked each candidate.  Enjoy!

Question 1: Please tell us why you would like to become the athletic director at our university?

Question 2: What are your long term professional goals and how does this position fit into those goals?

Question 3: Please explain your philosophy and approach to external work (i.e., fundraising, corporate alliances and partnerships, marketing and social media) and how you would apply it to our athletic program. In which of these three areas have you had the most experience?

Question 4:  What is your history around recruiting, hiring, promoting and elevating females, ethnic minorities and LGBT staff in your organization?

Question 5: Excellence is one of our guiding principles for selecting a “next tier leader” for our athletic program. Can you provide an example of moving a “good” program, project or initiative from “good to great” and how were you instrumental in leading this change?

Question 6: Please tell us how you have or would be able to assist scholar athletes in establishing a balance between a successful athletic career and their all-important academic pursuits?

Question 7: Please provide us with one or two examples of major successes with regards to revenue generation in which you were directly involved.

Question 8: Where do you see areas for growth and, in this context, what do you feel a next tier leader would be engaged in to take this athletic program to that next level of athletic success?

Question 9: What will you have accomplished in your first year at our university?

Question 10: The NCAA and our athletic conference are highly disciplined organizations that require members to be in compliance with a multitude of regulations. What role do you see the AD playing to make sure our university is compliant and also has a voice to help set regulations?

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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The Magical Department Head!

Is your university or college searching for a new department head?  Following is a series of phone interview questions used in a recent department head search.    I hope that you find these interview questions to be useful.

Question One:  What generated your interest in the department head position at our university?

Question Two:  Key dimensions of the department head position include nurturing undergraduate student learning, supporting faculty development, and developing external relations. Give examples of your leadership experience in each area and indicate how you would prioritize these three areas as the department head.

Question Three: Describe your experience supporting interdisciplinary collaboration across departments and across colleges.

Question Four: Describe your leadership style. What have been your most significant leadership successes and challenges?

Question Five:  The successful candidate for this position must continue their scholarship to remain academically qualified. How might you stay active in publishing scholarly research while serving as department head?

What can we share with you about the department, the college, or our university that would be useful in evaluating your interest in the position?

If we go further, can we contact your references? Can we contact other people in addition to your references?

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe 




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DetectiveIf you serve on a dean search committee, I have some advice that you cannot afford to ignore.  Advice that comes from personal experience – as a committee member, as a former candidate and as a faculty member.

This advice starts with a story.     A colleague from another university was ranting about how his university had been hoodwinked by their new dean.   From my colleague’s perspective, their new dean turned out to be a fraud – someone who during the interview process had presented himself as a collaborative leader who fully embraced faculty governance and transparent decision-making.    What really infuriated my colleague is that he had been a member of the dean search committee.   We both agreed that better reference checking would have headed off this disaster during the search process.

When calling references, here are some suggested lines of questioning:

  1. When calling references use the self-described leadership style presented in the cover letter and ask whether or not it agrees with the references’s experience.  Following is a direct quote from the cover letter of my colleague’s current dean:”My leadership style has been described as participative.  I know the importance of listening and showing respect, of coaching rather than directing, and of finding the champion for a project and empowering him to succeed.”  From my colleague’s perspective, none of this description is remotely true.  Subsequent conversations with former faculty familiar with the new dean, confirmed the fanciful leadership style description.
  2. Be sure to call references, on and off the list, that are peers, direct reports and superiors.   No matter how strong the candidate appears on paper, contact references that can give a 360 degree perspective on the candidate.   How does the candidate interact with peers in other colleges?   Do direct reports feel respected and part of a team?   How have past relationships with superiors progressed?    How did the candidate handle constructive criticism from prior directors?     Do not limit phone calls to people on the candidate’s reference list.
  3. When calling references be sure to probe self-described explanations for leaving a prior leadership role, particularly if the individual was in the role for a short period of time (4 years or less).   When a candidate takes time in their cover letter to explain an early departure from a leadership position, be sure to probe.     Again, get a 360 degree perspective.    Was the candidate effective in this prior role?    Was the candidate having problems that were unresolvable?     What did the candidate learn from this prior early departure?   Did they play a role in this departure?   I would suggest that if the candidate did not learn from the prior early departure, then there most certainly is a problem.

The Dean Search Committee must be permitted to call references and there must be agreement on how the committee will handle the feedback.    Many search firms will attempt to do the reference calling themselves and often will discourage the committee from placing calls.     Many search committees will create standardized “vanilla” questions for reference calls.     My experience is that these are of little use.   You must develop individualized reference call questions for each candidate – building on key dimensions of the candidate’s cover letter and CV.     Failure to do so may mean years with a “dean from hell”.    Just ask my colleague!

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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SONY DSCThe ‘airport interview’ is an important step in the academic dean search process.    The airport interview can be defined as a step in the administrator search process whereby the top candidates (anywhere from 4 to 10) are brought to a location near the university’s airport over a one or two day period for 1-1/2 to 2 hour sequentially arranged interviews conducted by the dean search committee.   Following are some insights from Dr. Jeffrey L. Buller in his book The Essential Academic Dean: A Practical Guide to College Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2007):

To be sure, there is an ‘American Idol’-like auditioning aspect the can seem superficial and unworthy of the tasks for which the successful candidate will be called upon to accomplish.   However, it is also true that if you cannot convincingly communicate leadership in a one hour meeting with 10-20 friendly interviewers, it is reasonable to assume you may not be successful as dean.

For the candidate, the (airport) interview is like sudden-death overtime with no regular game beforehand: one cannot really win, but one can lose at any moment, for unlikely reasons.

Fortune favors the mentally nimble candidate who can be informative but concise, conveying a sense of individuality without rampant eccentricity.

My final advice comes from a highly respected academic recruiter.  At the airport interview, be insightful, be concise and be sure to listen.    Show that you have ‘done your homework’ in preparing for the interview.   Demonstrate that you are a good listener.    Finally,  show how you are an effective communicator.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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externalrelationsRecently our college hired an associate dean for external relations.    I recently ran across the interview questions that we used with the candidates.  Here we go:

  1. What has generated your interest in the Associate Dean for External Relations in the college?
  2. Key dimensions of the Associate Dean for External Relations position include: nurturing experiential learning for students; attending to details with multiple on-going tasks; and cultivating relationships with internal and external stakeholders.   Give examples of your leadership experience in each area and indicate how you would prioritize these areas.
  3. Our strategic plan indicates that we need to do a better job at preparing students for internships and employment.  What are your thoughts and ideas of how the college can meet such goals?   Where do you see the college 3-5 years from now?
  4. To successfully organize the undergraduate commencement exercises will require somebody with a specific set of skills, particularly attention to details.   Given an example of an event that you have successfully organized?
  5. Describe your experience with creating and organizing student initiatives and events that engage students.
  6. Describe your leadership style.  What have been your most significant leadership successes and challenges?   Tell us how you resolve conflict and handle stress.
  7. The successful candidate for this position must be able to motivate faculty engagement in experiential learning activities.   How might you accomplish this task?

Our top candidates for the position answered the questions well.   The ultimate selection was based on the dean’s perceptions of fit within the college’s leadership team.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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Pete Carroll-198x300Pete Carroll, football coach for the Seattle Seahawks, in his 2010 book Win Forever: Live, Work, and Play Like a Champion, described in detail a conversation between himself and Jim Valvano, legendary college basketball coach.   The conversation was about Coach Valvano’s insights into the hiring process.   Coach Carroll recalls Valvano’s ‘interviewing tactics’.

Coach Valvano told me that my goal should be to leave the interview with “no negatives”.  Every comment, every phrase, or story must be positive, and I must be prepared to talk only about things that put me in the best light.  No matter what the topic, it was my job to turn every answer into a response that highlighted my strong points.  Like his point guard, who controlled the court, or my middle linebacker who controlled our defense, I had to control the interview.

Carroll summarized his conversation with Valvano:

He taught me that if they asked a questions I couldn’t answer, then I shouldn’t answer it but instead find a way to turn the question to something I could talk about comfortably, positively and honestly.  ……   He explained the importance of being disciplined in the setting and avoiding any and all negative thoughts.  If I spoke with positivity and confidence, it would be evident that I believed in myself, and that belief was what the interviewer would be looking for.

Actually, there is more to the story.   When Carroll had to apply these lessons when interviewing for the head football coach at the University of Southern California, he consistently responded to questions with answers that reflected a consistent theme about his vision and philosophy.

When it was time for me to present my vision and plan, I stated my intentions in the clearest and boldest way that I could think of. ….. I took them through my philosophical approach, discussing everything from the central theme of competition that would be synonymous with the program, ……   With each statement I gave, I felt more confident.   The more confident I felt, the more excited I became.

As I reflect on academic searches at the President, Provost, Vice-Provost and Dean levels, I certainly buy into Jim Valvano’s tactic of ‘leave the interview with no negatives’ and Pete Carroll’s strategy of ‘consistently responding with answers that reflect your vision and philosophy’.    I have witnessed several successful candidates at our university that were able to leave the interviews with ‘no negatives’.   However, I do not recall any candidates in my twenty years of academic experience who have left the interview process having effectively communicated a consistent vision and philosophy.   I’m still waiting!!!

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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