Spring this year has brought a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar. In the latter category is record rainfall, which has rescued California from a 5-year-long drought. In the former category is pollen, which results in an ongoing chorus of sneezes among the staff here at the Center for California Studies., situated in Tahoe Hall on the Sacramento State campus.
Spring has always been my favorite season, characterized by the themes of rebirth, growth, and renewal. The Center encounters these themes as we renew our various experiential education programs. For example, the entire office has been engaged in the process of reviewing applications (over 1400 of them!) and conducting interviews for our next “crop” of Capital Fellows. We also have been involved with selecting our next DC Fellow (who will spend a year at the California Institute for Federal Policy Research in Washington, DC), the next Panetta Intern (a Sacramento State undergraduate who will represent the campus through the Panetta Institute), and the next class of Education Policy Fellows (our newest fellows program, aimed at mid-career professionals in education policy).
All this focus on selecting fellows and interns has had me thinking a lot about the interview process. Of course, there is no single method that can successfully identify the “right’ candidate for any position. That’s why we rely on multiple methods beyond just interviews, including writing exercises, academic records, letters of recommendation, and others. But interviews fill a unique role. They show us not what someone has already accomplished, but rather what makes them tick. Are they deliberative or impetuous? Confident or reserved? Do they think on their feet? How do they tell a story? How do they connect with others? What do they emphasize in conversation?
I’m often asked what attributes stand out to committee members during interviews. There is no single answer to that question because we use multiple interviewers who view the candidates through their own unique lens. But one characteristic that is valued in all our programs is sincerity. It’s clear to a selection committee when a candidate is trying to impress them with answers and statements or that the candidate doesn’t fully engage with core aspects of the programs such as public service. Such an approach is awkward, like that cringe-inducing Brady Bunch scene when Peter Brady tries to be Bogart. Worse, it conveys duplicity and undermines the legitimate strengths of the candidate. So, perhaps the best interview advice comes from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”