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5 warning signs to look out for on interview days

The day of your interview can be a nerve-wracking one, so be careful you don't miss these warning signs, says teacher Helen Mars

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It’s that time again: the days are getting longer, Tes Jobs emails are popping up in your inbox like the shoots of spring bulbs and there’s an extra-busy cover list...interview season has begun.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a seasoned teacher, an aspiring senior leader or embarking on your NQT year –everyone needs to be on the lookout for those all-important clues to help you find the job of your dreams. Sadly, though, sometimes a dream job can turn out to be a nightmare.

However, sometimes, the clues to which jobs to avoid are staring you in the face. Here’s my guide to spotting the red flags to avoid a career misstep.

1. A typo too far

Beware if you find glaring errors on the school’s website or in its marketing literature. Minor typing errors aside, there’s no excuse for big mistakes and it shows the school doesn’t care enough about the impression it makes.

Another good indicator is just how recent the latest update is on the school’s Recent News section. Does it refer to the headteacher before this one...or even the one before that? As you read, ask yourself if this is really the dynamic establishment it claims to be.

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2. Buzzword bingo

Be on your guard for mission statements that parrot the latest fads without any evidence of how they might actually be applied to the school. 

If you spot overuse of words and phrases such as “wellbeing”, “cultural capital” and ”independence”, then be ready to ask the school exactly what it is doing about them. Merely displaying such buzzwords on a swishy website has little impact on staff or students unless they are followed through with actions.

3. Spot the teacher

As you tour the school, watch out for deserted staffrooms. Empty staffrooms can be a warning sign, but even worse are the ones where everyone falls quiet and refuses to meet your eye when they learn you’re there on interview. 

It could be that all the teachers are out running sports clubs or reading the latest teaching blockbuster in their office, but a lack of buzz and collegiate spirit in a shared area is usually a good hint that staff aren’t happy.

4. Hands-off SLT

Start asking questions if you note a lack of senior leadership team or headteacher presence. It’s one thing being shown around by the head boy or a sweet Year 7 duo, but you should expect to meet some, if not all, of the senior team on your visit, too.

An absence of SLT suggests there’s lots of churn in staffing or they are not that interested in their team: either way, it’s a concern.

5. Hidden students

If it is eerily quiet as you tour the school, then you might want to rethink your decision. Eons ago, in a school now consigned to history, I once accepted a job where the interview went well and the school seemed peaceful and calm.

After my first day teaching there, I commented to one of my more experienced colleagues that the school I was seeing was nothing like the one I'd seen at interview. ”Ah,” she replied, “they interview everyone in one week, when the naughty ones are out.”

Naively, I had not noticed this. Make sure you see a lesson changeover or lunch break for a real feel of the school day, or a fire drill (NB. Do not set off the fire alarm for this purpose. This will not go down well, however well-meaning your intentions).

Not all red flags mean curtains

The main thing to remember is that not every red flag is a cause to pull out of the interview – just don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the adrenaline of the day and accept the job without checking the school out thoroughly first. Also, make a point of asking follow-up questions about anything you’re not sure about.

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