It seems ridiculous. You’ve been working in college athletics for years. You’ve helped raise tens of millions of dollars. The people you led were successful, and you rarely if ever missed a goal. Your references are excellent, including your former athletic director and even a few major donors who want to see you succeed.
In short, your resume speaks for itself.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. So does everyone else’s.
That’s why you should never discount the value of interview skills. Sure, you can sweet talk boosters, and you have plenty of experience dealing with the power players in a university, but interviewing for a new job is different. Even during a lengthy search process that involves multiple interviews, you might only have two or three hours total in front of the person who will ultimately decide whether you get the job or not. That’s not nearly enough time to put all of your skills on display, so you should really make an effort to get it right and do it quickly.
Here are a few pointers we’ve received over the years. Some come from well-tread sources like career-focused websites, and others come from the decision makers themselves.
Ban “I” From Your Vocabulary
College athletics is team oriented by nature, so why would you propose ideas as though you will be the only one executing them? Furthermore, even though it may feel like it at times, you don’t do everything on your own at your current job. Even if you’re interviewing to be the AD, the leader of the program, you are still a part of a team. Nobody comes into a college athletic department and succeeds on their own. If you want them to consider you as part of the team, you need to speak like you already are. “We can increase fundraising.” “We had a lot of success with fan engagement.” “Our team can reach these goals together.”
Listen and Respond
I’m a firm believer that if you listen to anyone long enough, they will tell you exactly what they want to hear. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your interviewer and encourage them to expound on their answers. Be open and receptive to what they are saying because, even when they aren’t talking about this position specifically, they are giving you a roadmap to their ideal candidate. Just don’t fall into the trap of staying quiet the whole time. You don’t want to be a wet blanket. Make sure you respond with honest and full answers. Be enthusiastic about what they want to talk about and your interview will turn into a conversation.
Be Confident, Not Cocky
Overconfidence can quickly unravel the first two pointers on this list, and that’s where the whole thing falls apart. At the same time, measured confidence can be your biggest asset. You have some great ideas, but you don’t have all the answers. Luckily, you’re confident that you and your team can find a solution. A great tip for exuding confidence while not coming across as cocky is to think out loud. When you get stumped, don’t sit there in silence or say “I don’t know.” Talk your way through the issue with the interviewer. Let them know that you may not have ever addressed that issue directly, but you do have experience and people around you who can help you find the right approach.
Don’t Underestimate Their Pride
It’s a no-brainer to wear the right colored tie. You’ve got to look the part, right. But beyond the school colors, you need to know the issues and points of pride. And their points of pride should never be underestimated. Yes, they are proud they made that bowl game, even if they got blown out. They really are excited about that new Chick-fil-a near the stadium. The local elementary schools are pretty decent, why else would they send their kids there? We live in a society that is constantly disparaging one thing or another, and it’s easy to try to find common ground with a stranger by complaining about what you think is an easy target. But that easy target is likely a part of their everyday life. Be careful where you tread.
Matthew Monte is Managing Editor of College AD and formerly Co-Managing Editor of Underdog Dynasty. He is a graduate of The B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration at UL Lafayette, mostly because it didn't require a foreign language. Matt is also a recovering stand up comedian who occasionally relapses.