It is 9.30am on interview day. You’ve been so worked up about lesson plans, interview questions and what to wear that you failed to remember that today is interview day for several other candidates, too.
But there they all sit in the staffroom: your rivals. And you’ve got to spend the whole day with them.
You survey them and feel the first stirrings of unease. That bloke over there is looking pretty sharp in his suit. Maybe you should have worn one, too?
And – wait – are those two in the corner comparing teaching portfolios? Were you supposed to bring a portfolio? You don’t even have a portfolio. What is a portfolio? Blind panic sets in. It suddenly feels really hot and you look for a window to open.
Meanwhile, the room of people stare at each other in various states of discomfiture, forced to make conversation to clear the tension.
It all starts off friendly enough, but then it dawns on you, with horrible clarity, that they’re all trying to find out how much of a threat you are. And the really hardcore ones are throwing carefully crafted comments about their teaching prowess into the conversation in an attempt to faze you.
So you think your voluntary work with youth groups might give you an edge? Hard luck, chum: Portfolio-Wielding Suit-Wearing Guy practically invented the concept of youth groups in between giving orphans euphonium lessons and taking three extra A-levels.
You think about a retort when you notice a less-than-confident candidate sitting whey-faced in the corner, shaking and sticking their head between their legs so as not to pass out with nerves. You think about this. Should you be that nervous? Perhaps you don’t want it enough. Why aren’t you vomiting at your own feet?
But then, over there on the seat opposite, is a quietly confident applicant who seems to know an awful lot about school politics, and by the door is someone who appears to be at the interview day for the sole purpose of winding you up.
Who is the normal one? Whom should you copy? Somebody, help!
It’s grim, this group interview day thing. But if you follow these tips, you can make the best out of an excruciating situation:
● Network. Swap email addresses so you can keep each other informed about any vacancies that arise. There are perfect jobs for all of you somewhere and you can help one another to find them (or cry on each others’ shoulders when you don’t).
● Don’t give too much away. Be friendly but discreet. You may all end up getting on fabulously, but they’re still your rivals at the end of the day.
● Talk to the staff, not the candidates. By all means get to know each other when there’s nobody else about, but you’ll make a better impression if you chat to the existing staff at lunchtime.
● Don’t have too much fun. Your potential employers will be glad to know that you can get on with people, but if the staffroom starts to sound like a riotous youth club, they won’t be impressed.
● Don’t rehash your interview. If you think it went brilliantly, nobody wants to hear it. If you think it went terribly, you’re giving the competition a welcome confidence boost. Keep it to yourself.
● Don’t be an idiot. Intimidating people into thinking they’ve got no chance against you is obnoxious. Unless someone’s doing it to you already – in which case, go for it.
You also need to prepare yourself to encounter certain types of people. You can probably fit some of them into the following (slightly tongue-in-cheek) groups. Study them carefully and prepare accordingly.
Talks loudly and enthusiastically about his interview lesson to anyone who’ll listen (NB. said lesson plan will always involve role play and, inexplicably, placing an empty chair in the centre of the room. You’ve got nothing to worry about). Nod politely but don’t listen to a word he says. He’s talking gibberish because he’s insecure and/or he’s a horrible person.
Did a placement at the school last term and their mum’s the head of governors. You might as well save yourself the humiliation and leave now – or that’s what they’d like you to believe. But it’s still anybody’s game, right? Of course it is: don’t believe the hype that will no doubt come from this candidate’s own mouth.
The Returning Mum
Returning to teaching after being at home with the kids for the past four years. She’s got more experience than you and some excellent references. Then again, she’s also got a big blob of baby sick on her shoulder, which nobody seems to have drawn her attention to. Mention it; help her. I’ve been that returning mum – believe me, help is welcomed.
She’s laddered her tights already, has left her resources on the bus and is trying to work out how to fake her own death after accidentally kissing the headteacher’s hand instead of shaking it. Steer clear: chaos is infectious.
Pale, clammy, and pacing the staffroom, wringing his or her hands. Offer them chocolate.
The Old Pros
These two have been on the interview circuit for months and are talking animatedly about which staffroom has had the best biscuits so far. They are intimidatingly at ease. So, why haven’t they been offered any of the million jobs they’ve been interviewed for?
Spurns staffroom chat in favour of forcing every passing child to interact with them, in the hope that someone will notice how good they are with kids. Smile and think about how unsightly desperation is.
Asks about your interview lesson, listens with their head cocked condescendingly to one side, then says: “What a wonderfully old-school idea.” Ensures that everyone knows that they are the best person for the job. Which they probably are, if you want to employ a complete arse. Make a name up – Professor Stan Down is my favourite in such situations – and ask whether The Expert has heard of his famous theory of education. Then sit back and enjoy the reaction.
Lisa Jarmin is a primary school teacher and blogger