Questions at an Interview

I think I’m through with interviews for this summer, though some new jobs just posted. (Community colleges often find out in the summer what is going on with their budgets.)

Here are some difficult interview questions from the Chronicle forums along with my attempts at answers:

questioning“How would you describe your current research project to an undergraduate student with what might be described as a less-than-wonderful academic record?”

Obviously I probably wouldn’t get this. But, if I did, I would say, look at how writing that is both popular and literary can be divided and what makes those divisions worthwhile. (To borrow a metaphor from a different answer on that thread,) I am looking at different kinds of bread. I don’t want to look at what makes toast versus not toast, but at what makes wheat different from white different from spelt.

How is your work theoretically grounded?

I’ve actually gotten this one. And I didn’t do as great a job as I would have liked to, though I KNOW the right answers.

“Why do you think that one of your references has not sent in your letter?”

This was perceived as a hostile question by a hostile group, and it probably was. However, if it were my question, I might say that the person doesn’t respect community colleges and is not impressed that I have applied there. The person is more likely to have not written because they want my career to go in the same direction theirs did…

“tell me anything about yourself, like if I just met you on the street”

I’d say, “Hi. I’m Dr. Davis. I’m new around here and looking for a good restaurant. I like unique places with a wide variety and not all spicy. Do you have any recommendations?” Because, let’s face it, I’m not talking to strangers on the street usually.

“How much would you want to be paid?”

The best suggested answer was, “$150,000 a year, plus benefits, a personal secretary, and participation in the Administration’s retirement program. But we both know that’s not going to happen, don’t we?”

I think I’d put in travel money for six conferences a year, including one overseas, instead of one of those, but…

“What would you want students to remember from your classes ten or twenty years after they graduate?”

For writing, this is a slam dunk question. I want my students to remember that they became better writers in my class. I would hope it would be through my insistence on revision or my witty introductions, but I don’t really care what got them to that point, as long as they did become better writers and remember it.

For literature, this was a little harder. I think I would want them to remember that literature, while not easy to read, is fascinating if you know the background and context and genre. So if you’re reading lit and it’s not interesting, it is because you don’t know enough to see what is interesting about it.

‘What is the one word you would use to describe yourself? And remember it can only be one word. No sentences, paragraphs, or qualifiers. I warn you no one has answered this question well to date, and I’ve been asking it for 20 years.’

I recall it verbatim. Punctuated with a smug smile, chair lean, and tented fingers.

I would say flexible. I know there are entendres, etc, but I am really good about doing what needs to be done. Even if I don’t know anything about the subject, I have great research skills, read well, and write quickly. I can become a sufficient expert on any topic in my field in a couple of weeks (at the most) to carry off anything but a doctoral level class.

At a master’s granting instutition in an extremely expensive urban area: Have you given any thought to how you’ll afford housing? Unfortunately, we can offer no housing assistance to incoming faculty …

My first thought was, “I’ll take my father’s plan and sleep in my car.” That’s how my dad got through his undergrad days.

What is a weakness?

Most of the answers weren’t really weaknesses.

What I say is that I’m not naturally organized and I work hard to be organized. I color code and label my class notebooks and only take papers out to grade them and then put them right back in. (I don’t mention that occasionally I lose the notebooks!) They seem to like this strategy and it really IS a weakness and yet it is one I have learned to compensate for.

“How would you define success in this job?”

Seeing through the papers that some students are learning to write better.

The person talking about this didn’t actually understand the job and asked the search committee for their answers. This would be a GREAT follow-up question, when the SC asks for what questions you have. I’m adding it to my list.

“As a teacher and a thinker, what core principle would you absolutely go to the mat for?”

Writing is essential in the modern world and good writers learn a lot from writing, so lots of writing is the core of a composition course.

“Give me an example of a time when you have set out to do something and failed.”

The poster said that one interviewee said he had never failed, but that his transcripts did not hold for this. I think the interviewee was probably thinking of the experience as a whole- he did get a degree.

I failed to learn geometry well enough to write more than the most basic proof. I stayed in class, stayed after for tutoring, and continued to work on it. The first test I passed in the entire class was the final…. Would that answer work? Or do you think it would be considered too far back?

“Give me an example of a time when you have tried to get others to do something for you and have failed.”

I’m not sure I would use this answer, but my greatest frustration in this area was teaching my son to read. He knew how to read, because I had taught him that. However, he refused to read for me. I couldn’t get him to read comics or books or even a note on a paper. He said no one else expected him to read and that he wasn’t going to. (Did I mention he was stubborn?) So I put him in a class with someone else, in which everyone in the class was reading. He was reading within a week.

This is academic, but is not about college.

How would you teach this advanced senior course to freshmen’?

Hmmm. Over a two year period?

What was your undergraduate GPA?

Some people seemed to think this was terrible. My answer is, a B. (Yes, I don’t know what level B. But a B.)

Why should we hire you?

I am a great teacher. I care about my students and work with them both in and out of class. I am a flexible with my work and can teach many different areas and am willing to take classes at odd times on a regular basis. This demographic is the reason I went to graduate school and I’ve been preparing for years to do this job well.

What important trends do you see in our industry?

Many colleges are moving towards writing that is centered in the majors. CC1, for example, is offering a health sciences freshman composition course. SLAC has a pre-major composition requirement for both behavioral sciences and health sciences that focuses on writing in that discipline. I would not be surprised at all to see that specialization continue.

Why does the study of literature really matter?

Literature offers an opportunity to deal with life in fictional situations. It gives us vocabulary for experiences we have not had yet. In addition, it lets us learn through hypothetical situations. Basically literature enlightens us on the whole of human experience, if we are willing to let it.

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