The Student Affairs hiring process at times can feel like the plot to America’s next cheesy reality tv show — Cue over the top announcer voice, “250 application were received for one position, and only three will make it to the on-campus interview. There will only be one person left standing!” This Darwinian game of selection is something that, over the course of a multi-month job search, can wear down even the most enthusiastic job seeker and slowly erodes personal confidence, which ultimately can translate to a desperate and lackluster interview when you finally do receive one.
The general advice that is given to keep the job search process as short as possible, and secure that dream job, is the infamous networking — “Go to conferences”, “attend regional meetings”, “Do informational interviews”, etc. Despite these great ideas, sometimes you just don’t have the connections formed for a position that you have your heart set on. So what is a Student Affairs professional to do, when one has submitted an application for a position that she or he would love, but has no connections to that institution built up through previous networking? When this is the case, I recommend experimenting with an unsolicited interview.
The unsolicited interview as we define it here at P.I.C. is the intentional act of holding a conversation with a person who has a high probability and ability to influence if you get selected for an interview. This person, for the sake of this post, will be referred to as a Person of Influence or P.O.I.
Three Ways of Getting an Audience With a P.O.I.
Explore the Campus and Building – Often times when I find a position that I am dying to having, I will go on a walking tour of the campus after I have submitted my application. I’m trying to get a feel for the campus, the students, and if I will enjoy working there. Use this same exercise to bump into a P.O.I. and really make your tour count. If you have the flexibility in your current work schedule, do your campus tour during traditional working hours and walk through the building that houses the department you are looking at the position for. While in the building, actively seek an opportunity to speak with a person who works for the department, and then ask them a simple non-stalker question.
A good question if you see a possible P.O.I. randomly in the hall is “Where is the xyz department?” That person will hopefully respond with “Oh, the xyz department is right over there. I work in there. Can I help you with something?” You respond, “No thank you, I’m just doing a campus tour. I applied for the xyz position and wanted to get a feel for what the campus is like and where the department was.” If they don’t ask you any natural follow-up questions leave them alone, thank them for their time, and walk away. I can’t emphasis enough, DO NOT GO INTO THE DEPARTMENT’S OFFICE that is unless you are invited to do so by the person you spoke with. Remember you are trying to get a job, not a restraining order.
Check the department’s website for upcoming event – If the department you are applying to has an upcoming public event, it is almost guaranteed that there will be a P.O.I. working it. This is a perfect non-stalkerish way of getting an unsolicited interview. Despite the fact that you might only be showing up there to try and get the ear of a P.O.I., pay attention to the event and really take in what the event is about. When you get the opportunity to speak with your P.O.I. of choice, you want to have a few good questions about the event and even have some previous knowledge on the subject; this is where actually engaging in the event pays-off. A quick Wikipedia search should be fine for the previous knowledge.
Double Down and Go All In – This method is for the fearless would-be applicant. This method is only for people who have not yet submitted an application. Call the hiring manager directly and ask if he or she could do a quick phone or in person interview about the work or the department. Despite the fact that one intention for this interview may be to get a job with this person/department, you should genuinely come up with a reason to want to interview them. Do you work for the school paper? Are you doing research for your thesis or dissertation? Or are you just curious about the field and that person’s work.
Example Phone Call: “Hello, Dean Smith. My name is John Aellig. I’m currently doing background research for my thesis. I would love to spend 15-20 minutes interviewing you about your experience in the Department of Residence Life.”
Remember the old saying, “People love to talk about themselves” and your job is to actively listen to their personal narrative. When using this method I would definitely not mention that you know anything about the job posting that originally started you on this interviewing adventure. If asked if you were aware that the P.O.I. has a position open and/or is looking for someone to fill a new position, say something to the effect of, “That’s very interesting. I’m open to new opportunities, please tell me more.”
I hope these three ways to score an unsolicited interview help you in your job search. Always be respectful to P.O.I.s and keep appropriate professional boundaries. If the situation warrants it, send a short hand-written thank you note to solidify yourself in their mind.