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Polish those trainers

Week 3: To succeed at interview you need to play the part. Prepare well, says Phil Revell. And clean your shoes

For the jobseeker, the arrival of the invitation to interview is just the start of the process, but it can spark that first moment of panic. You have been sent the letter, so your referees at school have also been sent the letter. Best tell them you are thinking of leaving.

Interviews should be treated as a performance. This is not an occasion when the adage "Be yourself" offers the best advice. Which self are we talking about? The well organised, cool, calm and collected self that started the term? Or the bags-under-the-eyes, stressed out, sleepwalking disaster that was left when the term trundled to a close?

Performance it is then, and every performance needs a script, some props and some time to rehearse.

The first thing to find out is the location of the school. If it's local this won't be a problem, but faraway job interviews need planning like a military operation. If you are travelling by car you need to check the route, including finding somewhere to park at the other end. Rail travel involves a lot of timetable research, and could still leave you on a station forecourt totally devoid of taxis, with a half-hour walk to an interview starting in 20 minutes.

Double-check the venue. Some sneaky schools arrange interviews at their lower school, or sixth-form annexe. Make sure you turn up at the right building. Schools have been known to interview at a local hotel - there could be good reasons for that, but be very suspicious of schools that interview in holiday time. Why don't they want you to meet the kids?

The vast majority of schools now ask candidates to teach a lesson. This is a Good Thing, but you should be told in advance what you are teaching and to what kind of group. This is so that you can prepare a scintillating lesson. Don't try to second-guess the school's policy on lesson prep and assessment, and don't try anything you haven't tried before. The rules for interviews are the same as those for Ofsted: thou shalt do something safe.

Which brings us to the other aspect of a good performance: costume. Men are safe in a suit, and this is not the occasion to dispense with the tie.

Shoes are important. There are some sad individuals who imagine that the shine on a pair of shoes bears a direct relationship to IQ and all-round ability. It would be just your luck if there was one such on the interview panel and heshe caught sight of your battered and scuffed beetle crushers.

So - clean them the night before, and don't wear trainers.

Women face a trickier decision. The simple rule is dress so that your mother would approve. Minimal exposed skin, a skirt that's safe to bend down in. No midriff showing, no cleavage, minimum jewellery.

You could get appointed wearing a plunging neckline and thigh-high hemline.

But ask yourself - do you want to work for a head who appointed you because he could see your knickers?

Once you arrive at school, treat the whole day as one big interview. That includes the socialising in the staffroom, the tour around the building and the lunch in the canteen. Beware of giving too much away to the other interviewees. Apart from the confidence-crushing replies you might get in response, there is always the possibility of an internal candidate who might pass on your indiscretions to one of the panel over lunch.

Does the school offer an opportunity to meet your future colleagues? You could end up working with these people, and discovering that one of them appears to be a manic depressive and another an incorrigible flirt could influence your decision.

Most schools still interview all their candidates in one fell swoop, a practice that human relations professionals in other walks of life regard as a form of torture. It means that there could be a lot of sitting around in the staffroom. So take something to read - such as The TES. And don't use The TES or The Daily Telegraph as a cover for reading The Sun. Someone might ask you to opine about the lead story, and there would be no brownie points for knowing what Chantelle or Colleen were wearing on their latest shopping expedition.

The actual interview usually comes as a relief. Finally you get your chance to shine. Be straightforward, direct, ask questions and Sit Still - being the centre of attention isn't easy. You need to remember that any interview is a two-way affair. You are allowed to ask questions, and some of the time in the staffroom should be spent thinking of the things you would need to know before accepting the job.

If it's a promoted post, it's really important to discover what kind of responsibility allowance is attached. What's the departmental budget? Are there any plans to upgrade the teaching accommodation you will be based in?

Don't make rash promises. If you say you love sport and helping with extra-curricular activities, you can be certain that the head will follow up on your offer if you get appointed.

Schools often expect people to give an answer to a job offer on the day.

This is another example of HR practice which disappeared with the diplodocus in most other employment contexts. You do not have to give a decision on the day, and if pressure is applied, you should ask yourself whether you want to work for an organisation that bullies people before it has appointed them.

Do collect your expenses form. Do ask for some interview feedback, which may or may not be useful. Don't slag off your previous school.

Is there a motto for interviewees? Or a collective noun? For a motto, "Engage brain before operating mouth" is hard to beat. And a collective noun? How about a palpitation?

More Get That Job page 2

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