Joyful Interviewing

Before I went through the interview process at Temple University, I would not have thought that interviewing could be joyful. However, that is how I would describe my experience as I went through the many months of interviewing at Temple.

A recruiter reached out to me about the job at Temple last November. I didn’t know much about Temple. My niece had attended there for a couple of years so I knew where it was, that it was a public university, and that they had a good basketball program. The job description, written with the emphasis on the mission of accessibility, affordability, service and excellence, caught my attention. I was intrigued and my conversations with the recruiter and head of the search committee deepened my interest.

At the time I felt that it didn’t make sense to pursue the opportunity because our youngest daughter has two more years of high school and we are tied to Ann Arbor until she graduates. Before I officially applied for the position, my husband, Mark, and I talked about whether we could make it work if I got the position. For me, it was a matter of integrity that I would not pursue the position unless I would be willing to accept the job. Mark was supportive and encouraged me to throw my hat into the ring. We decided together that we would figure out how to make it work if I got the offer and that I needed to pursue the opportunity.

My first interview was a videoconference with the search committee. A couple of the committee members had U-M connections and they were genuinely enthusiastic about my experience and leadership. I met the committee in person when I was invited back to campus a couple of months later for two marathon days of back-to-back interviews.

When I saw the interview schedule for my visit, I knew they were serious. I met with the President, Provost, Deans, Vice Presidents and key faculty and staff members. In preparation for the interview, I talked with my executive coach and wrote my intention to leave everyone that I met with feeling peaceful and energized and that I would get enough information to determine whether this was a place where I could be the positive leader and help in the development of a virtuous organization.

My two days on campus were amazing. My affection for Temple started with my first interaction with a charming student who offered to help as I examined the campus map the night I arrived on campus. It continued to grow during the two days of interviews as I asked each person I met why they chose to work at Temple. Their passion around the mission and the possibilities at the university was inspiring and infectious.

I came home energized and excited but Mark was worried. His concern increased when I was notified that I was one of two finalists and Mark and I were invited for the final day of interviews and a tour of Philadelphia in April. This is when we started serious discussions of how we really could make this work while preserving our marriage and family life.

The final day of interviews had the same energy as my first visit to campus. My favorite interaction of the day was a town hall meeting where all of computing services were invited to attend and ask me questions. That town hall was so much fun with a lots of laughter and great questions. I surprised the group by asking them a couple of questions. The first question I asked was “What are you most proud of that you have accomplished at your time at Temple?” The second question was “What do you want the incoming CIO at Temple to know? For the first question, I asked people to share their responses openly. For the second, I asked them to just write down their response and turn it in so that I could know what was important to them. Those responses gave me valuable information that was crucial to my eventually accepting the job.

While I was interviewing, Mark was investigating. He took the subway to the Temple campus, walked around, struck up conversations with students and parents, tried to attend a class (it was the day of the final exam so he decided not to stay), and went to the bookstore to buy Temple gear. Mark summed up the visit by saying that Temple had fallen in love with me and I had fallen in love with Temple. This was definitely true.

Trying to figure out how this could work with our family was the hardest part of the entire process. Reality dashed my fantasy of having all of us relocate to Philadelphia immediately. Mark can work from anywhere, which is helpful, but children and pets are not easily transportable between locations. We explored many different scenarios through various bouts of stubbornness and hard conversations. The option that we could both live with was to have me work Monday-Thursday at Temple and work remotely on Fridays from Ann Arbor until our youngest graduates in a couple of years.

I was thrilled when I got the call that Temple had selected me as their next CIO. The final barrier to me accepting the job came down to whether it would be feasible for me to telecommute one day a week for two years. While I had been transparent during the entire interview process about our youngest needing to stay in Ann Arbor, the possibility of regular telecommuting had not been discussed as a way for me to balance my work and family obligations. The initial answer was a partial yes with time restrictions that wouldn’t work for my family.

For me, it was a practical and well as a philosophical question. Telecommuting is expected for high tech professionals and I have had flexibility in my work schedule for decades. Also, I had data from the computing services staff that telecommuting was important to them from the question that I asked at the town hall meeting. More broadly, it raised concerns for me about how much autonomy I would have to lead and make changes. Even after talking with the head of the search committee and the provost, the reluctance for me to telecommute remained.

So I turned down the offer.

I did this in complete freedom and peace. As much as I loved Temple and wanted the opportunity, I knew that I couldn’t be the positive leader that I aspire to be if it wasn’t possible to make this change. A friend, who is a positive business consultant, encouraged me to give Temple the opportunity to fire me before they hired me to see if they were really capable of and interested in creating to a more positive work culture and whether they would be open to other changes that I would want to promote.

Happily, Temple demonstrated that they were interested in changing and offered to have me work with HR on a telecommuting policy for all of computing services. This satisfied my practical need to telecommute while advancing my ability to create a more positive and trusted work environment. And it gave me a very positive signal about what a good fit we would be for each other.

I start at Temple in August.

My challenge for you this week is to approach your current job and your next job with integrity and freedom. You should always be looking for a good fit. Remain curious and approach interviews as conversations where both sides are learning about each other.