The Conservation Interview










For those about to interview…some things that have worked for me.  This is intended to broadly cover internships, grad schools and jobs.

1. The point of the interview is to determine if you and the position are a good fit for each other.  Sometimes a door has to close for another door to open.  Interviewing is always a worthwhile experience and makes you a better professional.

2.  Read over the job description with a fine-toothed comb.  Some of your interview questions will be based on that position description.  Think about what experiences you had or courses you’ve taken that relate to the things in that description.  Make sure you know what they are describing in the position description and if you are at a total loss, at least try to read up on the subject so you’ll have some theoretical knowledge if not practical skills.  You are studying for an oral exam, and the subject is YOU.   In your head, you ought to have answers for each category on the job description.

3.  Since the subject is you, read over your resume and cover letter…the one you sent that got you the interview…and make sure you can discuss the things written there.  Interviews often reference those documents, and you can’t ask them to hand over your CV to ponder what you wrote.  If there are gaps in your dates, be able to explain them.  Remember the names of people you’ve worked or studied with so they pop to the front of your mind.  It’s OK to write yourself an outline and actually study for an interview.  At the very least, it makes you feel like you are doing something to prepare and if you feel a little more confident that will help make a good impression.

4. Be honest with yourself about your weaknesses, what areas you have not studied, where the edges of your knowledge are.  There is an interview technique that involves asking progressively more in-depth questions on a single topic until the candidate does not know the answer.  In fact, students are often asked some sort of question that they are unlikely to know the answer, because it reveals interesting information about a person’s honesty, self-awareness, ability to think on their feet, and reaction to stress.  (I’ve seen this technique for management-level positions as well, and wow can it be revealing!)

5. Google the heck out of the institution.  If you can find the names of staff, check bibliographic databases like BCIN or the Getty AATA to see what they have written and what areas of research interest them.   Don’t go out of your way to drop this info in an interview, but if there is a natural way that it comes up, all the better.  

6. Interviews often ask for little anecdotes, so be ready to give examples of the following: a project that was challenging but you succeeded, a project that went poorly and how you dealt with it/what you learned, how you have dealt with conflict, how you communicate, what you consider your greatest weakness. 

7. The interview is about what you have to offer and why they might want to work with sparkling, positive, organized, charming you.  It is not about what YOU want from them.  This is not the time to talk about how much it pays, when you want to take vacation, and what skills you want them to teach you.  There will be an opportunity to negotiate those issues later if they offer you the position.

8. Some interviews will involve a portfolio.  This may be conservation work you have done (treatment reports and images) or it might be studio art.  There will usually be instructions about this, and you are wise to follow those instructions meticulously.  Questions often involve probing the edges of your knowledge about technique, alternative ways to do things, ethics, familiarity with materials and products etc.

9. Some interviews will include a writing exercise.  This is usually timed.  My method is to read the whole thing first, trying to figure out what it is testing for.  Then I re-read it and jot notes in the margins.  Next, formulate an outline that has an intro/summary sentence, a step-by-step answer, and a summary statement at the end.  Then I actually write the thing.  If you just start writing, you’re likely to wander and seem unfocused.

10.  Have you read over the AIC’s code of ethics and guidelines for practice?  You’d best go do that (again) because it will put certain concepts and phrases in your head that will be helpful. On the AIC website under core documents.

11. A lot of interviews end with “Do you have any questions for us?”  Do not say “no.”  Think of a few ahead of time, just in case.  Asking a good question at the end is a nice way to engage the interviewer(s) and convey enthusiasm about the position.  

12. Consider sending a thank-you email later that day or the next.  A simple thank-you for the opportunity to interview, I’m-grateful-for-your-time sort of thing is classy.

Folks who have found a mentor are going to hear about all this anyway, its not letting a cat out of the bag to blog about it.  On the day of the interview, it’s like the day of an exam.  Being mentally and physically rested and nourished is the best thing, and by that point, you either know enough or you don’t.  You have to just walk in and give it your best shot.


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