Written by Scott Bauman
Let’s put ourselves past the point of application with resume and cover letter already submitted. An invitation to interview follows the initial evaluation of qualifications. The interview process varies based on the size of the athletic program and the perceived significance of the position related to the school/institution. Typical for the interview process, there will be a hiring committee responsible for deciding amongst the candidates involved who will be the best fit for the job. Each industry is becoming more digital, the trend of initial interviews taking place on the internet is becoming more common. There is an advantage to that with being in the comfort of your own home, however, it presents the inconvenience of a less intimate environment that takes place during direct interaction.
Successful interviews start prior to stepping foot on campus or signing-on to Skype. The preparation prior to an interview is essential towards feeling confident and comfortable, being ready to articulate why you are the best candidate for the opportunity available. These are some observations from my experiences that could set you apart from the rest of the pool of candidates:
- Do your research – There is likely a reason for the interest in applying for this particular program, however demonstrating awareness and appreciation for components outside the scope of coaching indicates a deeper investment into the institution as a whole. The school website is a valuable resource to identify things like mission statement, core values, school traditions, or campus culture.
- Portfolio & Prep – How do you take the stress off the interviewing (interrogation) component of the conversation? Easier said than done. I will be the first to admit anxiety comes with the territory of interviewing. But, due diligence gives comfort. Take the stress off of selling what you would do with hypotheticals. Provide hand-outs or visual aids to give a concrete understanding of the abstract concepts that you have already mapped out. Run through a mock interview with someone conceptualizing possible questions with considered responses for what you would do if in a similar situation. A portfolio with thoughtful engagement in conversation gives off a brand of conviction, as opposed to critically thinking in the moment attempting to come up with something profound that has not been fully thought out.
- Be on time – If you’re early you are on time, if you’re on time you are late.
- How you dress is the literal first impression – Validity aside, preconceive notions start with body language and appearance. Be cognizant of the position and perceived culture where you about to interview.
- Gauge the room – Formality, number of interviewers, and initial greetings. The first interaction can give you a read for how to connect with the audience. Who is the point-person of the hiring committee? Who else is present: other coaches, teachers, alumni or professor? Are there any differences in personality traits right away? Subtle dispositions may play to your advantage when covering a talking point.
- Be a great listener – Interviewers already have an idea of what they are looking for in their potential hire. There are likely questions shaped to fit their narrative pointing you in the direction of what they have in mind. Do they ask a lot about culture? Are they focused more schematically? Is it experience they are looking for or fresh blood to bring innovative ideas to fuel the program?
- Do you have any questions for us is your time to turn the tables – An interview is often misunderstood as a one-way sales pitch. This opportunity will represent your decision-making and career path. Take the time to identify whether or not this is the right fit for you and your family. Ask the questions that will give you an indication of how likely you can find sustainable success with the resources that will be at your disposable.
- Humility and gratitude to finish – Express your appreciation for being considered. Follow up within a couple days with thoughts thanking the search committee (separately) and a subtle, but clear reminder why you want the job. Some times this can be done via a handwritten note to add a personal touch.
Consider how we prepare our athletes to induce confidence during competition. The repetitions during practice can create the confidence to perform and comfort comes from knowing what you are supposed to do prior to having to do it. Below is the handbook containing reference points I had used throughout an interview for my first head coaching opportunity.
Questions to Consider
As mentioned earlier, interviews are not uniform. Some interviews may seem textbook with questions that you could find from a quick Google search (e.g. strengths vs weakness), others may seem shaped to find a particular candidate.
Tell me a little bit about yourself
Often the opening question to start interviews, but can be the most revealing. It is the initial impression and an open-ended question that really allows you to take the conversation in any direction that you choose. There are so many personality traits that can come to life in this one simple, yet loaded prompt. My best advice is to combine brevity with immediate substance, try turning this into a two-part question:
- What experience do you have?
- Why did you apply for this particular job, based on previous experiences?
This is an opportune time to bring in a few from the hiring committee that may have a connection, or association to similar interests, or experiences. Comparable to a thesis statement, who you are and why this will be worth their time moving forward!
What is the best way you receive feedback?
This was one of the most challenging questions I had received because it had never been asked to me before in an interview. Additionally, I thought the concept was great so it caused pause from me when asked. As coaches, we are consistently in the position to give feedback, yet hardly consider when we receive it.
In the event that you are presented a question you didn’t feel prepared to answer; try to draw from other answers you have provided as precedent or use from the resources which you have provided. This allows you to stay consistent without trying to create something out of thin air that could later contradict yourself. An easy trick to stall to gather your thoughts is by rephrasing and repeating the question back to them. Then respond with conviction like you had expected it the entire time.
Do you have any questions for us?
I would refer you back to (#6) the earliest list of observations. Have questions prepared to ask the interviewers. This is clearly a demonstration of your interest in the job, but it is your time to dig a little deeper into the institution and current climate of the program. There is a reason this job is available for better for worse moving forward. It is to your benefit to have as clear of an idea where the current program stands and what it will take for you to find the success that you envision in the foreseeable future.
First Time Coaches
I would encourage you to read #FirstJob by Coach Lynch (Leicester, MA) who does a tremendous job breaking down concepts to consider when taking over a program. Interviewing skills are strengthened through experience. Try not to get discouraged if following an application and interview that it doesn’t work out – these are productive reps for the right opportunity at the right time. This industry is highly competitive and is all about the response to rejection. Continue to put yourself out there and learn from each opportunity. If any coaches are struggling with templates for resume, cover letter, or program handbook material don’t hesitate to contact. I will be more than willing to share with you some of the resources I have used in the past.
Good luck coaches!