If you have applied for a study abroad job at a university, you probably already know there are hundreds of applicants for each position. You might wonder why you are not advancing, when clearly you are a stellar candidate. (We believe you.) The truth is, sometimes it is not you. Sometimes it is simply the process that allows candidates to filter up or down.
I've come to the stage in my career where I am asked to serve on international education search committees. This has been an illuminating experience, to say the least. On the outside you imagine it being a simplified process-- resumes come in, there is a short-list, and the best candidate is chosen from the pool. Once in the inner circle, you realize it is a complex and multi-phase process, guided by HR protocol and the deeper psychology of elimination. And what seemed like the top candidate can miss the mark anywhere along the way.
During my most recent search committee experiences, I tried to make note of what went on from start to finish so I could share it with all of you. I hope these observations help you to consider how each phase presents its own challenges and opportunities for you as a candidate.
PHASE 1: Resume Review
1) Meet all minimum requirements.
2) Meet as many preferred requirements as possible.
In a way, the resume review is all about the checklist-- you want to hit all of the marks. HR usually has a checklist that follows the posted job description. Don't leave anything to assumption. If it says "fluency in a foreign language", list it -- even if you were a Spanish major.
Search Committee Mindset:
Looking for reasons to eliminate
A spelling error or cliche can get you in the "nope" pile. The same goes for overly long (or short) resumes/cover letters and bad formatting.
Pique their curiousity.
What makes you stand out? They may put you in the "yes" pile just because they want to hear more. Do you have an interesting hobby that demonstrates an allied skill set? Include it on your resume. You might not think your weekly Star Wars podcast is of interest, but it shows you have skills in marketing, writing, communication, and technology. And they will remember you as the "Star Wars Guy/Gal".
Be authentic in your cover letter when describing why you want this job in this organization. Have you been trying to break in for a while? Say so. Describe your efforts (ex. informational interviews, pursuing continuing education, conferences attended, etc.) to demonstrate you are serious about the profession long-term. Show them why you are a good investment.
PHASE 2: Phone/Skype Interview
Tell a compelling story of who you are and what you can do.
Everyone will get the same exact questions during this phase. For this reason, answers will tend to have some similarity among candidates. Your job is to not only answer the questions, but use your response to highlight your unique strengths. You want the committee to have confidence that you are worth the $$$$ price tag for a campus invite.
Search Committee Mindset:
Comparing and ranking candidates
In this phase, resume credentials tend to take a back-burner to soft skills. How well you communicate, and how well you think on your feet, can make the difference in if you secure the on-campus interview. They will be comparing your strengths to all of the other candidates'. Interview order can be important psychologically. Earlier candidates might be less memorable, while later candidates will be sized up to those who come before.
Find ways to share real-life examples of work you've done, inspiring them to think of what ideas/attitude you will bring to the team. Read up on the PAR method before you start your interview.
PHASE 3: On-Campus Interview
Keep your game face at all times.
It is common for an on-campus interview to last all day, through at least one meal, and include both group and individual interviews with multiple stakeholders. It is tiring. Don't let your guard down, even during "casual" times like a campus tour. Don't speak ill of anyone-- especially former employers or anyone involved in the delivery of your study abroad experience.
Search Committee Mindset:
Comparing candidates' weaknesses
In the phone/Skype interview phase, the committee tends to rank candidates based on their strengths, but during the on-campus phase things are higher stakes. Not to scare you, but they are now more sensitive to your flaws. Not that they are looking for you to mess up or trying to break you down, but if something negative stands out in the way you respond or communicate, it will likely be discussed in post-interview deliberation.
After all interviews are complete, each committee member will be asked to rank on-campus candidates in order. Then a discussion ensues where each member tries to persuade the others their top candidate is "the one". In some circumstances, this can come down to pointing out candidates' (real or perceived) weaknesses.
Hopefully, this piece gives you some food for thought as you craft your resume and cover letter or as you pre are for your next phone/on-campus interview. I'd love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments below-- whether it comes from your perspective as a job candidate or as a person who has served on a university search committee.