'I've felt battered and bruised by job interviews'

The gruelling, dehumanising recruitment process has made this teacher question whether she really wants to remain in the profession

candidates waiting for job interview

As a well-qualified, experienced teacher in a recruitment crisis, I’d have thought finding a job would be easy.

Yet, at times, the recruitment process took its emotional toll. I have felt battered and bruised and even considered looking outside of teaching for a job – something I would never had dreamed of doing before the process began.

Let me get this straight: it wasn’t the fact that I didn’t get the job that affected me. It was the battle-royale format that seems so prevalent in teaching recruitment that did the damage. It knocked my confidence and left me wondering whether, if that’s how people are routinely treated, then perhaps this isn’t the profession for me. 

No pause for breath

I have been routinely marched out of one task and into another without time to pause for breath. “Done your timed essay? Now go teach.” 

I have been the third stranger in a morning to teach a class of frazzled Reception children, hungry and tired before lunch. I have scaled down my plans to suit their needs and then been told I didn’t challenge them enough. 

I’ve had a class teacher masquerade as a teaching assistant to observe a lesson and been asked during an “informal chat” how I intended to keep on top of workload with young children at home. 

Beyond my own experiences, I have heard numerous horror stories of this kind of interview: candidates having to plan in a group and then team-teach a lesson, while being observed throughout: utter madness.

Blame The Apprentice

Personally, I blame reality-TV programmes like The Apprentice for normalising this gruelling, dehumanising recruitment format. 

I think it’s really time to ask ourselves as a sector: does this format of interview get the best from people? Does it allow us to select the best candidate? Or does it simply make the process of elimination easier? Let’s see who cracks first and employ the last person standing. Job done.

Perhaps people who are organising these interviews have thicker skin than me, or perhaps they’ve never gone through the humiliation of having to politely walk back into a room, collect their belongings and give a jolly goodbye to the other candidates after being ditched halfway through the day. 

Perhaps they’ve never known the frustration of not being given the opportunity to talk about a lesson you gave or a task you completed: the gnawing feeling of things unsaid that follows you around for days. 

Or, perhaps they have experienced it and found it formative. For me it has indeed been formative, but only in that I know, should I find myself involved in recruitment in the future, that I will make a point of listening to candidates’ experiences of the interview process and considering how it reflects on the school I represent. 

Putting candidates at ease

I’ve had positive experiences too, but they are few and far between. In one interview, the senior leadership team came to observe me teach in my current setting. You can find out so much more about a teacher from seeing them with children they know, in an environment they have created. Then it’s not about a wow lesson, but about real learning over time.

More recently, I decided to give job application another go and was pleased to find a likeminded leader who saw the benefit of putting a candidate at ease in an interview and getting to know them properly. The interview had formal questions, as you’d expect, but it felt like a relaxed chat over tea, and I was able to clarify my points throughout. They saw the best of me and, by the time I taught my lesson, I felt so at ease that it flowed naturally. 

Perhaps if schools took the time to do recruitment like this, then there would be fewer teachers looking elsewhere – a softer touch has definitely kept me in the profession, and I’m glad, because it’s definitely where I ought to be.

The author is a primary teacher and English lead at a school in Hampshire

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