Friday, June 10, 2011

Job Hunt: Telephone Interview Success

Recently I have heard stories from more and more musicians about their experiences with telephone interviews.  Whether you are auditioning for a performance gig or a teaching position, it is highly probable that you will need to discuss your skills, ideas, and experience with another person before meeting them in person.  Successful telephone interviews are essential to getting to the next round of the interview and can be extremely daunting.  Here are a few things I have learned from doing various phone interviews over the past few months.

  1. Prepare your environment.  Since no one will see us, it is easy to think that the physical surroundings are not important.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  Not only does a quiet setting allow one to maintain a level of professionalism and thoughtfulness, an appropriate situation provides the means to present yourself in the best light.  Make sure to have a copy of your current resume and the job description close at hand.  Material to make notes during your conversation may also be helpful to keep you focused and on task.
  2. Anticipate standard questions and prepare responses.  Phone interviews are stressful enough. You can alleviate unnecessary anxiety by preparing answers to questions that will arise in almost any interview situation.  These questions may include a brief introduction of yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and how you handle collaboration and/or conflict with colleagues.  I have found it helpful to briefly outline my responses to these questions in order to refer to them during the dialogue.  This advance preparation allows you to rest mentally while showing your interest in the position through your preparation.
  3. Do a little research.  Take the time to investigate the institution you are talking to and learn a little bit about them.  An informed interviewee is able to answer questions in regards to the specific situation at the institution. 
  4. Have a glass of water.  Nerves combined with lots of talking produce a dry mouth.  Whether you drink it or not, you'll be glad to have the water close at hand.....just in case you need it.
  5. Listen. Nothing is worse than answering a question that was not asked.  Listen carefully to each question, make notes as necessary -- especially as interview questions can sometimes be quite involved -- and answer the question asked directly and succinctly.  If you are not clear on the meaning of the question, feel free to ask for clarification before launching into a diatribe.
  6. Ask questions.  At the end of most interviews, you will be given the opportunity to ask questions of the interviewer.  By asking questions, you signal that you have thought about the position and the process in advance and are genuinely interested in the possibility of joining the team.  Questions might include a request for information about the music department's size, opportunities for private instruction in the community, community music organizations, and the anticipated timeline of the hiring process.
By no means am I an expert at phone interviews.  I'm learning as I wind my way through the application/interview process.  I'd love to hear your suggestions to add to my list of tips. Leave your ideas in the comments below.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Studio Issues - Redesign or Relocate?

Summer is upon us and that means I will be traveling for much of the summer.  As a result, I have cancelled piano lessons for the summer and using the time to reflect upon the past year while planning for the fall semester.  At the top of my list is the question of redesigning my current studio situation or simply relocating.

The spring brought massive amounts of rainfall to the Memphis area.  Many properties experienced significant water damage, including the Arts Annex of Delta Arts.  The arts organization of Crittenden County, Arkansas has generously allowed me to use the annex for the past few years at no expense.  The facilities have been convenient and the price was right.  During the storms, the annex experienced some severe damage.  Add to this the constant threat of losing the annex due to the financial constraints of the arts organization and you will understand why the thought of relocating is on my mind.

The instrument in the room is sufficient for teaching beginner students (yes, I hear your collective groans because of that statement), but most of my students are now reaching a level where a better instrument is no longer a luxury but a necessity.  The space is not exclusively devoted to my teaching; other organizations benefit from the use of the annex. This is wonderful for public relations, but causes difficulties for me when it comes to scheduling and decorating.

I would generally grin and bear it, but another option is available at this time.  The church that I work for has mentioned that it might be possible to begin teaching there with the idea of developing a music conservatory to serve the community.  There are definite benefits to this scenario.  The instrument is concert quality.  The facility is already equipped with technology and sound equipment.  Students would be able to present recitals on the same instrument they use weekly.  Personally, it would eliminate an additional stop in my already over-scheduled life.  The benefits are great.

The negative comes in relation to my current students.  The church is approximately 30 miles away from my current studio location.  While it is not unusual for families in eastern Arkansas to commute across the bridge into Tennessee, it may deter some of these students from continuing their studies with me.  I have come to enjoy working with these young people and we are making strides together in their love of the piano. 

The other negative relates to the process of recruiting new students.  I consider this to be one of the greatest difficulties in establishing a piano studio.  While I do not currently have students in the southeast Shelby County area, it is a larger market and one in which I regularly perform.  I have a reputation in the area.  When I consider the fact that there are only 7 students in my studio at this time, I feel confident that I will be able to find the same number of students across the river. 

As you can see, I'm in the early stages of making a decision, so nothing is settled at all.  What factors do you consider when thinking about relocating your studio?  If you have already gone through the process of moving, what lessons have you learned from the experience?  What would you do differently if you had it to do all over again?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dinner Party

A former student of mine conducted an interview with me today for an introductory speech.  Nothing overly exciting about that.....I'm always happy to talk to my students and help them out when I can.  There was a question that was thought-provoking and one I had never been asked quite this way.

The question was phrased something like this.  Imagine that you were hosting a dinner party for two musicians -- a living performer and a dead composer.  Who would you want to invite and what would you serve for dinner?  I laughed about the last part of the question since I would probably end up ordering take out!  I knew the student was needing answers, so I gave a valid response off the cuff.  I have continued to think about the question and have really had some difficulty narrowing my response to just two people.

For the current performer, I'm leaning toward a conductor.....maybe Michael Tilson Thomas or Esa Pekka Salonen.  Both of these men give such riveting interpretations and appear to be both highly intelligent and delightful conversationalists. 

The composers have me in a pickle!  I would love to sit with Copland to talk about his approach to American music, but I also think it would be absolutely amazing to listen to Mozart or Stravinsky talk about the art of composition.  Wagner would be fascinating -- despite his personal philosophies about humanity, he certainly knew something about dramatic moments! That doesn't even begin to explore the wonderful possibilities.....Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Bach........the list could just go on and on.

Who would attend your dinner party?  What's on the menu?  I'm really anxious to hear your responses to this one!