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Blog from the Job Hakr: Student Affairs Job Search

Blog from the Job Hakr: Student Affairs Job Search


First Round Interview

First Round Interview

First Round Interview

First Round Interview

Most job applicants will need to get through a first round interview. Sometimes that happens in person. But most of the time it happens over the phone or via a video through Zoom, Skype, Hangouts or any online platform.

No matter the medium, doing well at the first round interview is key to progressing through the process and in the search.  That means that all job seekers, as well as entry level student affairs professionals, will need to adequately prepare for the first round interview.

This article will help you determine two of the most common types of first round interviews; the logistical differences between them; participants involved n the process; and a summary of how to prepare for each step along the way.

Two different types

There are two different types of first round interviews. The first takes place over the phone and the other takes place via video. Video first round interviews are usually conducted via some kind of online platform. Some of the most popular ones are Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts.

No matter the modality, the objective for the student affairs job seeker during the first round interview is to distinguish oneself and to progress to the next stage of the interview process. That usually involves either an on-campus interview or another phone or video interview.

While the outcome for the first round interview is the same; the way that you prepare for either the phone or video interview will differ slightly.

Phone first round interviews

One of the greatest parts of the first round phone interview is that you only have to worry about your voice. You should be able to connect with your interviewers with few issues so long as you have a clear connection and signal.

Because of this, it also means that you’ll be able to take notes at will using whatever device you’d like. Personally I’ve taken notes via my computer since I can type faster than I can write. However, sometimes tapping on a keyboard can be distracting over the phone. In that case, I opt to take notes by hand.

The most important notes that I like to take during these interviews are the questions I’m being asked. I’ve done first round interviews countless number of times and compiled them into some of the most frequently asked interview questions for student affairs job seekers here.

Lastly, phone interviews are usually very brief. Your contact will setup a time to speak with you over the phone. This usually lasts between 20-30 minutes and includes introductions from both parties as well as any questions that you may have.

First round video interviews

Unlike phone interviews, the video interview requires that you worry about what you look like as well as the quality of your audio.  In addition, since you’ll have to look presentable on screen, it may be harder for you to take notes. That’s because your camera serves as a replacement for your interviewer’s eyes. You’ll want to make direct eye contact with the camera in order to represent yourself well on screen.

Lastly, the video interview is usually more stressful than the phone interview because your interviewer can both see and hear you. This means that the video interview replicates the in-person interview more closely than speaking to someone over the phone.

Logistical differences between phone and video interviews

You won’t need much to prepare for phone interviews. In fact, so long as you can find a quite place with good reception then you should  be golden. Additionally, you’ll want to find a place that has little to no echo. So that means that a bedroom, office, or small conference room would be the best place to hold a phone interview.

Phone Interview Ideal Places:

-Quiet Place

-No Echo

-Good Reception

Conversely, the video interview will require all of the things from a phone interview and more. You’ll still need a quite place with a good internet connection. But in addition, you’ll want to go the extra mile and have a clean and well lit background that won’t be a distraction during the interview. In addition, you’ll want to make sure that you maintain strong eye contact with the camera lens when delivering your responses. That’s because the camera lens serves as your interview’s eyes during the video interview.

Video Interview Ideal Places

-Quiet Place

-No Echo

-Good Reception

-Clean Background

-Well Lit

Short of a television studio, you won’t find an ideal place to host a video interview. But you can make do with what you have.

First round interview participants

There are many people who you may interact with during the first round interview. But these are the following individuals who are most likely to be on the other side of the phone or computer.

-Hiring Manager: This is the person who will ultimately make the decision to hire you for the role. They are also the person who will supervise you in this position. This is one of the most common people to conduct your first round interview.

-Human Resources Representative / Screener

The HR screener might be the person conducting your first round interview. If this is the case, then they are mostly likely in this position to make sure that you’re okay to progress to the next stages. That means they are checking to make sure that things like responsibilities, start date, experience, and salary requirements all line up. For the most part, these HR screeners are here to make sure that you check enough boxes to progress to the next interview – usually to someone who will work in your functional area (i.e. student activities; housing; career development etc…)

-Select Search Committee

Lastly, select members of the search committee might be present during your first round interview. These are the individuals tasked with filling the open position at the institution. They may all work in the office you are interviewing for or across different areas of the university.

Preparing for the first round interview

Preparing for the first round interview is a little bit different compared to preparing for an on-campus interview. That’s because the first round interview is relatively low impact and will take up to 30 minutes of your time. You should adequately prepare for your interview; but not sink so much time into the process that you’re unable to apply to other positions.

That’s why the best student affairs job seekers prepare for the first round interview by following these seven steps:

-Get names of the attendees

-Review the description

-Review staff backgrounds

-Create your WHY

-Create bullet points

-Create 3 strategic questions

-Ask for timeline

Getting names of attendees

Most student affairs professionals don’t attempt this step in the very beginning.  Particularly if they are going to be on a first round interview call with several people. But this first step is one of the most important in the process. Knowing who will be on the call will help to setup your expectations; determine targeted questions; and put your best foot forward.

The best place to look for a full list of attendees would be to review the confirmation email. At best it would give you information about the person interviewing you. Otherwise it would normally include the names and titles of the other people on the call.

If you don’t have the full list of attendees, then it’s okay to ask the interview organizer for this. This often occurs if an administrative assistant setups up the interview for you. A polite response e-mail for “those who you can expect on the call” will help you get this list.

Ideally you’ll want to come away from that request with full names, titles, and email addresses of everyone who will be included in your first round interview.

Reviewing the description

Often student affairs job seekers will just take a glance at the job description again. But what most people often fail to do is to take each one of the responsibilities and re-word them. The best way to do that would be to put “how” in front of each bullet point. “How would you manage a residential community of 300 residents?” “How would you create a robust programming schedule?” Creating answers to those questions prior to your interview will help you answer those questions during the interview.

During your review of the description, you’ll also want to find alignment between what they want you to do in the role and what you’ve done before. That’s when you can determine if questions about residential life (when you don’t have any residential life experience) might be difficult to answer. Conversely, questions about new student orientation programs (when you’ve worked extensive with new students) would be a breeze for you to answer.

Review staff backgrounds

After you’ve gotten a list of interview attendees and reviewed the description; you can dive deeper into the individual staff members that will be on the call. Sometimes this will be just one person. Other times it’ll be a few members of the search committee.  Regardless, you’ll want to get a sense of the following by researching these committee members online:

-Find their LinkedIn profile and examine how long they’ve been in their position; their previous titles; and their current role

-Determining how long they’ve been in one position can help determine the institution’s stance on promotion

-Determining how long they’ve been at the institution can help determine the their personal longevity in their role

-Examining the roles and institutions that they’ve worked at before can help shed some light on their career arc

The answers to all of this will help inform you how your own career at the institution might progress.

Creating your WHY

The number one question that student affairs job seekers should prepare for during their first round interview is the “why” question. That is “Why have you applied?” or “Why do you want to work here?”

This is often one of the very first questions asked during the first round interview. But most student affairs professionals fail to prepare for it. However, if you take a few moments to craft a response for how your background and desire fits what they need; then you can set yourself on a strong path towards earning an invitation to the second round.

Create bullet points

Now that you’ve done some research into the position; the staff; and creating your “why;” it’s now time to summarize the main points of what you’ve learned. You can call this your “highlights” for the interview. I prefer to call it my “bullet points.” As in these are the most important things to remember about this institution and position for this first round interview.

An example of some bullet points I included in a past interview have been:

1. This is major research institution

2. The director of the department started in this role

3. They value a diverse workforce

Create 3 strategic questions

Now that you’ve have your bullet points of information, it’s time to come up with your three strategic questions. I call these strategic questions because they aren’t questions to fill up time during your interview. Rather you are asking them because you are looking for very specific answers.

That’s because interview questions mainly fall into two different categories:

1) To GAIN information

2) To demonstrate that you KNOW information

For example, you could ask, “I saw that experiential education is mentioned repeatedly in the mission statement; can you tell me how that’s used that in practice?” This demonstrates that you’ve done your research and know the mission statement. It also demonstrates your interest in seeing that mission in action.

Ask for timeline

The last thing that you should do before ending the interview after asking your three strategic questions are “What are your next steps? Where do we go from here?” This simple request for a timeline helps you determine and set expectations for what happens after the interview.

They may tell you that they’ll be conducting first round interviews through the end of the week. They may say that you’re the last phone interview. They may indicate that they will reach out to all candidates next week. However, you wouldn’t know this if you didn’t ask for a timeline at the end of your interview.


There are going to be at least two different kinds of first round interviews. They can take place over the phone or via video. Phone interviews are easier because you only need to worry about audio. Video interviews require a little bit more preparation because you’ll also need to make sure that you have a clean, clear, and well lit background.

Interviewers will most likely fall into three different categories: the hiring manager, human resources representative, or select members of the search committee.

Remember to follow these steps to ace your first round interview. That includes getting the names of the attendees; reviewing the description; reviewing staff backgrounds; creating your WHY; creating bullet points; creating 3 strategic questions; and ending with asking for a timeline.


I hope that this article was helpful in preparing for your first round student affairs interview. If you’d like some more insightful and helpful advice, then click check out the free eBook Getting Started in your Student Affairs Job Search available here.

Happy interviewing,

Dave Eng, EdD

Provost, The Job Hakr



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