Field Notes: 4 tips for nailing your next job interview

November 15, 2019
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a panel of interviewers shaking hands with interviewee


"Field Notes" is a regular AACRAO Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at

by Becky Tankersley, M.Ed., Communications Manager of Strategy and Enrollment Planning, Georgia Institute of Technology, and AACRAO Group I Content Coordinator

Our team is going through the hiring process for a new position. As the hiring manager, I’ve reviewed resumes, read cover letters, conducted phone and in-person interviews, and had lots of back and forth with Human Resources. 

I’ve been at my current institution for seven years, which means it’s few years since I’ve gone through the interview process as an applicant. Now that I’m on the other side of the interview table, I’ve learned there are certain elements that make a candidate stand out in the hiring process. 

A certain skillset, depending on the job description, is required to move an applicant from the resume pile to the phone interview. In addition to their past experiences, soft skills play a role in moving a candidate from the phone interview to the on-campus portion of the process. 

If you are seeking a new position, here are a few tips from a hiring manager’s perspective, on how to put your best foot forward in your in-person interview.

Be prepared. Being prepared is about far more than knowing your resume, dressing the part, and arriving on time (hint: arrive early!). Being prepared also includes the following:

  • Create a portfolio. These days you can create a portfolio online for little to no cost to you. If you are seeking a communications-related position, a portfolio is a must-have. A hard copy may only be necessary if you have print pieces you helped create that you would like to showcase. Even if you are not applying for a communications-related role, you should still build a portfolio! A portfolio can include samples of emails you’ve written (omitting personal data, of course), blog posts, articles, planning materials for events, event schedules, social media posts/campaigns, travel itineraries, or presentations you’ve given. The ultimate goal of your portfolio is to highlight your work, showcase your ability to think critically, and prove your capacity to plan ahead.  Provide a link to your portfolio in your application or cover letter. An interviewer should not have to ask you to provide this information! A candidate who provides a portfolio without being asked to do so shows they are ready to make an immediate impact if/when hired. 

  • Do your research. A little bit of research goes a long way. Find interesting nuggets of information about the college/university/company to which you are applying and drop those in when talking with interviewers. “I didn’t realize until I looked at your website that there are over 50 club sports on campus,” or, “Congratulations on bringing in a record-setting class in 2019!” Throwing in these little tidbits while chatting shows you went the extra mile and came to the table prepared.

  • Bring your resume (yes, an old fashioned, hard copy of your resume!). While it may not seem environmentally friendly, make copies of your resume and bring them to your interview. Most likely you will not need to distribute them—however—the simple fact that you thought ahead and brought them speaks volumes to your preparedness.

Be specific in your responses. When asked why you’re interested in the position, respond with specific reasons that directly tie to the job description. When asked about your past experiences, highlight specific examples of the work you’ve completed. The interviewers have already reviewed your resume, so share a story about how you organized a successful event, a time you led your team to achieve a goal, or what you did to reach certain metrics on a campaign. Avoid being too broad in your responses, as that leaves your interviewers to make the connection between you and the job at hand. Show them the connection is already there!

Listen to understand, not respond. Your opportunity to sell yourself is when interviewers ask questions about you. Your opportunity to dig deeper into the job and workplace culture is when they ask, “what questions do you have for us?” When you arrive at this point, listen to understand what they say rather than formulating a response in your head. By this time you should have effectively highlighted your experiences. This is your chance to interview the team and learn more about their expectations for the role. Showing you have the ability to listen to understand, rather than respond, demonstrates your ability to collaborate and work within a team.

Follow up. It should go without saying to always follow up with the hiring manager, and anyone else on the interview team, with a thank you. While I personally will always advocate for the handwritten thank you note, an email will suffice. Not only should you thank the interviewers for their time, but take the extra step to recap what you learned about the position and detail how you look forward to contributing to a certain project or goal. Be prepared to provide a list of references should you be asked to provide one. While you may not want to provide these too early in the process, it’s a good idea to have in mind who you want as a reference and be ready to contact them if/when the time comes.

There are many factors used in the hiring of a candidate for a new or vacant position. While following these tips cannot guarantee a job offer, it can help you to reflect on your experiences, focus on your goals, and be prepared for the next steps in your career.



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