Musicians: test your skills with 3 more interview questions

As a follow up to this post, (where we covered tough interview questions #1-3) here are three additional difficult interview questions for you. Test your skills on these so you can upgrade your job search outcomes.

If you’ve ever wondered, after an interview, “Why didn’t I advance to the second round?” or “How else could I have answered that question?” or “Why was the employer asking that question?!,” then this post is for you.

Think how you would answer the following 3 questions. These are typically asked in interviews for teaching positions. But you can easily translate these questions to other sectors such as arts admin and business job interviews. Depending on the type of job you’re applying for, you can swap out the word “student” for “employee you’d be managing,”  or “customer.”

As noted last week, no matter what the question, the employer is ultimately looking to understand who you really are. That means how you think, how you problem solve, and how you deal with others. Why? In order to gage whether or not you’d be a good fit for the position and institution.

Adjust your mindset

So if the employer is trying to get a sense of who you really are in the interview, and you’re busy trying instead to be whatever you think they want you to be for the job, things aren’t going to go well.

A key piece of advice I give clients preparing for job interviews is to stop trying to please.

Stop trying to be or say whatever you think the employer wants to hear. Don’t behave as though this is your doctoral oral exam. Don’t approach interviewing as though you’re taking a test that requires giving the “right” answers in hope they find you worthy.

What’s wrong with seeking to please?

The employer is looking to hire a professional—someone who knows herself and her strengths. Someone who can communicate the value she offers, not someone desperately seeking approval.

This doesn’t mean being aggressive or cocky. It’s about being confident and treating the interview as a two-way exchange between professionals.

Yes, the employer is trying to find out what you’d be like to work with. But you also want to be finding out what the job, your colleagues, and the institution are really like.

Don’t go into an interview feeling desperate. Employers can smell it.

Instead, go into the interview knowing what you have to offer and pay attention to what you’re curious about. Ask follow-up questions that reveal your interests and understanding of the employer’s concerns.

Respond genuinely. Part of your job is to help put the committee at ease. You don’t need to tell jokes, but you do need to come across as a real person they can picture working with.

Try on a more confident mindset with these 3 questions (and if you missed what we covered last week or want to review those, they’re here.)

#4 How would you work with a student who needs motivation?

No matter what type or level of institution, motivation is a core issue (for teachers as well as for anyone who manages others).

Even though this question asks for a hypothetical answer, (how would you work with a such a student), I’d recommend illustrating your answer with a compelling story from your experience. One that demonstrates your approach, your values, your reasoning—and what you’d be like to work with.

Tell a story about a specific student you worked with on motivation. Start with the presenting problem: tell how the student’s lack of motivation showed up.

Then tell what kinds of interventions you tried. Maybe you discussed with the student her long-range and short-range goals. Perhaps you found that the student was coping with peer pressure, discouragement, or worries over grades. Or that she needed help with time management and scheduling skills. What did you do to help the student?

Tell how the student responded to these interventions. And what in the end actually helped her—the results achieved.

Note that a compelling story isn’t simply a one-two punch. It’s not a quick fix, a single piece of advice given or creative approach that you demonstrate once and then presto—no more problem.

Real life and real teaching doesn’t usually unfold like that. Not with a complex issue like motivation.

Choose your story carefully

It should reveal the expectations and standards you hold your students to. Plus how you communicate these and work with students over time to help them develop good habits and positive mindsets.

Your answer to the question should also reveal your sensitivity of the student’s developmental and personal needs. And your ability to deal with and respect the “whole” student.

It should also illustrate you keeping a healthy professional boundary, so that lessons don’t become pity parties or counseling sessions.

When a situation warrants it, it’s good to show that you refer students to appropriate counseling or other services to get any additional support they may need. Just make sure you also describe how you worked with the student within the teaching context to help them improve their motivation.

#5 How would you work with a diverse student body?

With this question, again, it may be framed as a hypothetical, but it’s great to answer with s real-life story that illustrates your teaching in action in relation to issues of diversity.

The challenge here is that diversity can mean many different things. So you need to clarify how you’ve experienced diversity in teaching and how you’ve approached the issue.

For instance, you might have had experience teaching “non-traditional” students who are older and are coming back to music after pursuing another profession.

The story you tell might could be about how you helped a particular student feel more accepted and at-ease despite being different from the majority of other students. Perhaps in studio classes you found it helped to acknowledged that student’s valuable life experience. To help, maybe you created group projects in which the student’s skills would be appreciated and she or he would be able to connect easily with other students.

Or you might have experienced working with a studio of students having a wide range of ability levels. Perhaps in teaching sectionals you found ways to pair less advanced with students with those who could do some strategic peer coaching, so that each student benefitted.

Let’s say that diversity has come up for you in teaching international students with language and cultural differences. In that case, your story might highlight the challenge one of your students faced and how you helped her acclimate within your studio and in her program.

Whatever your story, make sure you tell it so that listeners can fully visualize the situation.

The cardinal rule of storytelling is Show Don’t Tell.

Stories should also have a beginning, middle, and end.

Begin by describing a real situation with an actual student (use a first name). Describe the situation: explain the problem and how it showed up.

The middle of your story is what you did to help, the interventions you tried and how the student responded to these.

The end is you telling what helped the most, what you and the student learned—and what the end results were.

In order to frame a compelling response to this question, you need to have first thought through for yourself:

  • How you define diversity.
  • What experiences you’ve had that illustrate your judgment, values, and self-awareness in dealing with those who differ from you.
  • How you’ve modeled inclusive and respectful behavior for your students—and perhaps dealt swiftly and appropriately to address any problems around diversity among your students.

#6 How would you balance professional development, performing, teaching, and service?

With this question, again, it’s great to have a story that illustrates your approach to managing competing demands on your time.

That might mean describing an exceptionally busy semester when you also had to fit in several important concerts and master classes or other large-scale projects.

A couple of tips here: don’t paint a picture of yourself as someone who works 24/7. Even if you’ve operated that way in the past, I’d advise against describing this as your approach because you’d essentially be telling the employer that you’re headed for burnout.

And don’t simply say to the employer, “My performance work never gets in the way of my teaching: I schedule very carefully.” Don’t assume that the employer is only concerned about students getting their correct number of lessons.

With the way this question is worded, the employer is implying that were you to get the job, you’d be expected to balance the areas of “professional development, performing, teaching, and service.” So it’s best to answer with a story that illustrates as close as possible how you have done this in the past.

Here are ways to frame your answer

For example, “professional development” might be you working with a career or performance coach. As for balancing this with your performing work, it’s best if your story details how you fit in extra-curricular performances off-campus (these help with recruiting).

And for the teaching, it’s great if your story includes how you balanced master classes at other institutions. As for service—your story might detail how you approach fitting in serving on institutional committees or community organizations.

To give a satisfying answer to this question you need to have thought through:

  • How you manage and prioritize your time.
  • The way you’ve dealt with scheduling conflicts.
  • How you have pursued continuing professional development, balancing it with performing, teaching, and service.

Hope this helps and here’s to better interviewing!

For more tips, see secrets to acing the interview and what the employer really wants to know.

Do you have a question about interviewing?  Hit me up in our FREE Musicians Making It Facebook group.

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