A job interview invite shouldn’t be cause for panic. As a teacher, this is your chance to show that your personality lives up to your on-paper credentials. To help you make the most of your interview, we asked a panel of experts for their top tips.
First impressions count
Like it or not, first impressions count, and they probably begin much earlier than you think.
“You are on interview from the moment you get to the school,” says Richard Fawcett, a former headteacher and now a recruitment consultant for the Association of School and College Leaders.
“It is important to be polite to the receptionist and behave with the pupils as you would expect a teacher to behave.”
Richard says he has known candidates for senior positions lose out because they have walked into the school with their hands in their pockets and their tie at half mast.
The interview room
Once in the interview room, your interviewers will almost certainly have formed a judgement of you before you have answered their first question, says education careers expert John Howson.
He argues that the rest of the interview represents the search for information to endorse this judgement. “It’s a bit like an iceberg, where the words are above the surface but the non-verbal information is two-thirds below the surface and that is what you make judgements on,” he says.
Once first impressions are out of the way, body language is important during the rest of the interview, particularly eye contact, according to David Tuck, former president of the National Association of Head Teachers.
“You want to know whether they look at people, but if someone spends all their time apparently checking they’ve got the right colour shoes on, that doesn’t inspire confidence,” he says.
To stand out from the crowd, candidates need something else: presence, says Tuck. “It is hard to define, but it’s that ability to communicate and inspire confidence that people can trust you.”
There is a fine line between bragging and promoting yourself, but he says he is looking for someone who can talk about what they have done and can command attention.
Headteachers are also often keen to see how teachers relate to children. Some schools ask candidates to teach a practice lesson, while Tuck, a primary headteacher, says he has asked prospective employees to read a story to a class, so he can see how the pupils respond. “The relationship between the teacher and the child is the most important thing in education,” he says.
Lindsay Roy, former rector of Inverkeithing High School in Fife, looks for qualities including presence, judgement, the ability to communicate and getting to the point without waffling.
Answers should be long enough to show that you know what you are talking about, but not so long that you lose the panel’s attention.
Interviewees should be passionate about what they do. “I’m looking for somebody who is enthusiastic and inspiring, someone who can engage with young adults and who can be a leader: every teacher is a leader in the classroom,” he says.
Although the key to success is hard to pin down, it is important to try to build a relationship with the interview panel, says Fawcett.
Humour and smiling play a role here, but while a sense of humour is good, flippancy is not. “The best thing is to establish a dialogue,” agrees Howson. “The worst sort of interview is one where somebody asks a question, you answer it and then they move on to the next question. It’s better to get some sort of conversation going.”
Answering your interview questions
It’s OK to wait a moment to consider your answer. Your interviewers will prefer a pause to an answer that isn’t thought through.
Try to draw on practical examples wherever possible. Your answers will mean a whole lot more when they’re backed up with previous experience.
Use the SAR technique to answer questions
S – Situation: Describe the situation you were in – this should be a specific example and can either involve either classes you have taught in your last year of teaching, or any experience before that.
A – Action: Describe what you did in the situation. You should be very specific in outlining exactly what you did, not what you might do, or what a team as a whole did, but what you did.
R – Result: Describe the results you achieved. What was the effect of your action, why was it successful, what might you do differently next time, if anything?
You will be given an opportunity to ask any questions you might have at the end of the interview. Use this opportunity to explore any areas you are unclear on. It is a good idea to think up a question or two beforehand that you can ask at this point to show that you are interested in the school and the role.
Do your homework
Before your interview you should make sure you are up to date with the latest policies and guidelines, particularly with regard to safeguarding, and government directives that impact upon your subject or key stage.
You should also ensure that you have researched the school and the job carefully. Nothing says “unprepared” like a candidate who hasn’t read the job description.
Know your worth
From a pyschological point of view, you are in a stronger position to negotiate pay when you are away from the interview room. There is a natural imbalance of power during an interview situation, therefore pay negotiations should take place once you’ve finished the interview and have been offered the job.