Diversity is a topic imbedded in many job descriptions and interview questions for higher education jobs, and for good reason. Today’s post-secondary cohort is made up of a wide range of people with varying demographic characteristics and personality traits, and qualified higher education employees should be ready and able to discuss this topic and to demonstrate their competence surrounding these issues. It is not uncommon to hear questions related to pluralism, diversity awareness, and the ability to work with various populations when applying for college positions.
As with any interview question, an important strategy is to be able to describe, specifically and with examples, some of your experiences and contributions, and to be able to talk about them in a way that illustrates your understanding. Another important aspect to consider – and this is important not just professionally, but personally, as well – is, how do you stay aware of diversity issues, and are you engaged in a process of self-evaluation and awareness regarding your interactions with and perceptions of different populations? Whether it’s age, cultural and ethnic identity, ability status, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or any of the myriad ways in which people differ, in order to best serve a student population – whether through direct instruction, support services, program management, even up to the highest level of college administration, you have to know your product (you) and know your audience.
These questions are often asked explicitly in interviews or on applications; other times, they may not be. However, a candidate will stand out if she is able to describe the population being served at the institution and to relate her qualifications and experiences to meeting the needs specific to the population of students attending the university, college, or vocational institute. For many professionals in the education field, it’s easy to think these answers would be obvious, but actually describing your values and views to strangers in an interview is often much more difficult than anticipated. By having these discussions with friends and colleagues and taking the time to prepare for these questions, you can begin to articulate your awareness, appreciation, and connection with diverse populations and perhaps be better able to land your next higher education career.
Tara Wainwright is a Higher Education Career Counselor, Adjunct Instructor, and Lifelong Learner who has served on numerous hiring committees and currently resides in the Seattle, WA are.
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