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Interviewing Strategies That Search Committees and Chairs Need to Know

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Behavior-based interviewing is designed to address the skills, expertise, and experience of candidates. Also called behavioral interviewing, it is built on the premise that past experience is the best predictor of future performance (Doyle, 2010). Gone are the days when interviews began with "Tell me about yourself " and ended with "Where doyou see yourself in five years?" 



The posting below gives so good advice on new faculty hiring interviewing strategies. It is by Mary C. Clement, professor of teacher education at Berry College.  She can be reached at:

It is from The Department Chair: A Resource for Academic Administrators, Fall 2010, Vol. 21, No. 2, PP 14-15. For further information on how to subscribe, as well as pricing and discount information, please contact, Sandy Quade, Account Manager, John Wiley & Sons, Phone: (203) 643-8066 ( or see:


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: World Grant Universities: Meeting the Challenges of the Twenty-first Century



Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Interviewing Strategies That Search Committees and Chairs Need to Know


The stakes are high when trying to hire the best new faculty who can effectively perform the duties of teaching, scholarship, and service. With hiring such a critical issue, the need to invest time in the preparation of search committee members, and administrators, is important. Because much interviewing is done on campuses by faculty, their ability to help select new hires may be only as good as their skills at interviewing. The following steps will guide you in how to interview prospective faculty members and how to teach search committees the basics of interviewing.

Behavior-based interviewing is designed to address the skills, expertise, and experience of candidates. Also called behavioral interviewing, it is built on the premise that past experience is the best predictor of future performance (Doyle, 2010). Gone are the days when interviews began with "Tell me about yourself " and ended with "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

Step 1: Identify the specific skills needed by the new hire.

Have all who are involved in hiring identify the specific skills and expertise of the new hire. For example, if the faculty member is to run science labs, include this is on the list. If he or she will coordinate and teach an introductory course, list that. Obviously, the candidate is to teach well, publish, and serve the institution. Strive to make those requirements more specific-teach upper level sections, conduct research that is relevant to X, and serve on university-wide committees.

Step 2: Write behavior-based questions for the specific skills listed.

Behavioral questions (or sentence starters) begin with phrases such as, "Tell me about a time when . . . ," "How have you . . . ," "Which methods have you used for . . . ," and "Describe your experience with . . ." Sample questions include:

* How have you planned and delivered lessons?

* Tell us about a lesson in an introductory course that went well and why it went well.

* How have you involved undergraduate students in your research?

* Where have you shared your research in the past?

* Describe your research agenda and how you have developed publications in the past.

* Describe committee work you have directed.

Step 3: Fair use of questions.

Once questions are written, they must be used in each interview, in the same order, by the search committee. This includes telephone interviews, interviews conducted at conferences, and on-campus interviews. The search committee will create a set of questions for the preliminary interviews and a longer set for the on-campus interviews. The interviewers will have the printed list in front of them and should be taking notes and evaluating candidate responses during the interview. This consistency is important to demonstrate fairness to all candidates.

Step 4: Decide on an evaluation instrument.

It really does not help to ask candidates questions that cannot be evaluated. After all, what is the right answer to "If you were an animal, which one would you be?" A simple evaluation instrument asks raters to mark unacceptable, acceptable, or target for each response. Those preferring to set up their evaluation instrument on a numeric scale may choose a scale of 1 to 5 or 1 to 7, where 1 indicates a weak answer and 5 or 7 a very strong answer.

A rubric goes a step further in evaluating responses, as a rubric has criteria for answers. For example, if the question addresses past teaching, the criteria for assigning the rating of unacceptable, acceptable, and target are described for the evaluator. A specific example might be that the committee has agreed that the candidate must have experience with lower division courses in the field:

* Unacceptable: Candidate has had no experience teaching a lower division class by him or herself.

* Acceptable: Candidate has had some experience teaching sections of lower division classes and has been responsible for assigning grades.

* Target: Candidate has had more than three semesters of teaching lower division courses and has assumed responsibility for all aspects of the courses.

These criteria are listed on the evaluation rubric and circled by the interviewer, with space for comments.

Step 5: Learn to listen for answers.

Candidates trained in how to answer behavioral questions may have learned the acronyms of PAR and STAR. Evaluators need to remember these acronyms as they listen to answers. PAR represents Problem, Action, and Result, and STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result (Clement, 2008). After a question is asked, the listener can focus on the candidate's response by following the steps of the acronym:

* Example: Tell us about your experience teaching large lecture sections and what you have learned that you would bring to our campus.

* Response: In my last semester at Western University, I taught a section with 160 students. I learned to be very visual, to master the audio system, and to use that university's clicker system to involve students. When students can't see or hear, or can't give feedback of any kind, they become disengaged quickly. I also used some active learning strategies that included frequent questions and think-pair-share. Even in a large lecture hall, activities can be added and students can be involved.

The listener should hear that the candidate is familiar with the situation, can describe the difficult task, took action, and the result was positive. This is a target answer.

Step 6: Training in illegal questions.

Faculty need to be reminded that questions about race, color, sex, religion, national origin, birthplace, age, disability, and marital/family status cannot be asked of candidates in any situation. Some colleges choose to distribute a list of these protected questions to all who attend open candidate sessions as a reminder.

In addition, these questions may not be addressed in informal conversations over the get-acquainted dinner. This gets a little trickier, as a candidate may begin to reveal some personal information. Even when a candidate shares personal information, such as "My husband has already relocated here and I'm hoping to move as soon as possible," a committee member may not address any questions about family. It is not small talk to say, "Oh, your spouse already lives here, what kind of job brought him here?" This is an illegal question. Comments about jewelry and attire are also off limits as they may be construed as asking about religion or culture.

Step 7: Apply the steps.

The screening interviews (email, telephone, or at a conference) need to be structured.

The questions should be prewritten and delivered in the same order to all candidates. Evaluation is critical, as bringing a candidate to campus who would never be hired costs time, money, and morale.

Step 8: Make the interview information rich.

The purpose of interviewing is to find the best match of candidate and job, ensuring that the new hire can perform the duties needed by the department. New hires who are happiest with their jobs are ones whose expectations are met. A new hire who says, "This is not at all what I expected" will probably not stay long and will give minimal effort to the job until leaving.

One way to help candidates understand the job is to provide as much information as possible during the interview- the information-rich interview. This includes explaining class size, number of courses to be taught, salary ranges, benefits packages, and so on. A clear explanation of how promotion and tenure are earned is also essential.


Retention begins with hiring, as candidates are evaluating your campus from the first communication received. If the interview process seems businesslike, it instills in the candidate a confidence in the administration and in future colleagues. If treated professionally during the interview, the candidate feels that he or she will be treated professionally after hiring. Every interview is about two things: you finding the right hire, and the candidate deciding that the institution is a good employer. An interview is a recruitment tool as well as a selection process. Behavioral questions will aid in determining the skills and experiences of the candidates. Training the search committee will help to make the interviews more effective.


Clement, M. C. (2008). Recruiting and hiring effective teachers: A behavior-based approach. Alexandria, VA: Educational Research Service.

Doyle, A. (2010). What is a behavioral interview and behavioral interview questions and answers. Retrieved from