Your Turn: Asking questions you actually care about

Hello folks, sorry for the brief hiatus. My students returned from winter break with a vengeance making even finding time to cook food difficult (Read: I’ve ate an unhealthy amount of Chinese food recently).

The topic of today’s Wall of Text is the 2nd part of the interview, the time when you get to ask the questions and try and figure out if this institution is right for you.

One of my bigger points in any question I have answered or any approach I recommend you take, is the importance and need for reflection.

Liddell, Hubbard, and Werner (2000) in their text Powerful programming for student learning: Approaches that make a difference, state that reflection is vital to the learning process. They are speaking in context of programming, but I find it applicable to this topic. The authors outline four main goals:

  • Link Experience to Learning Objectives
  • Provide Reflection activities
  • Encourage regular reflection
  • Feedback and Assess reflection

These elements although programming focus have a strong connection to how you should be shaping your interview questions. Reflection is how you discover who you are and what you care about. Coming from a place of reflection is how you will discover fit, but at the same time display your objectives to a potential employer.

Before even beginning your draft of your interview questions start with reflection. What are your learning objectives for your next few years, let’s say 1-3 to be conservative. What are you doing to force this reflection? How often are you reflecting? Are your reflections genuine? Have you had a friend or supervisor walk you through your reflections of your self to see if they match their perception of you?

Once you have identified who you are, and what you want, the rest comes easy.

I was talking a friend on G-chat (the great coalescent of Student Affairs professionals) about her job search. She is a 2nd year grad in a higher ed program. During our conversation she was trying to come up with interview questions to ask interviewers. I asked her simply, "What do you want out of an office, your co-workers, and the institution"

She responded:

  I want a challenge, I want supportive coworkers that enjoy the humor in our work, I want to be able to take classes and I would like an office that encourages me to continue to learn and push myself, I want coworkers that expect their ideas/thoughts to be challenged and that will challenge mine to be sure that we’re coming up with the best solutions and support for our students, I want to work at a school that values assessment or at least sees the need for it, and I want to work at a place that is always trying to be better instead of being stuck in their traditions and the way they always do it.

From that small instinctual reflection some very strong questions can be built:

  • "What is the culture of assessment at your institution?
  • "How do you achieve work life balance?"
  • "How are ideas challenged?"
  • "Can I take classes?"
  • "How do you see new candidates being challenged?"
  • "How is your office looking to progress?"
  • "How is humor integrated in your work?"

These are some very simple questions that are targeted towards what she individually wants and needs.

Formatting the way you focus your effort avoids using the cliche “What is the culture of your office?” and probes further into what really matters, along with saying something about your goals.

When you are starting to create your interview questions, take a step back. Focus on what you want, reflect, then pull that reflection into pieces to form questions. You will come out of it with succinct and targeted questions that will help you find fit, not banality.


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All grammar, spelling, or proofreading mistakes were intentional.


Liddell, D. L., Hubbard S., & Werner, R. (2000). Developing interventions that focus on learning. In D. L. Liddell & J. P. Lund,  Powerful programming for student learning: Approaches that make a difference (pp. 21-33). New Directions for Student Services, No. 90. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.