Teacher job interviews: 6 ways to stand out

Everyone wants to stand out at interview - here we ask leaders what candidates have done to leave a big impression

Grainne Hallahan and Dan Worth

Teacher job interviews: How to stand out from the crowd

Standing out in a job interview situation is always tough – most applicants are likely there because they have strong CVs and meet the job requirements.

So it can often be the small details that stand out when the panel comes together to consider their decision.

But how can you ensure that you are the most memorable candidate (for all right reasons)?

Teacher job interviews: How to make a great impression

We asked school leaders for their advice on how candidates can make their mark and give themselves the best chance possible of securing the job.

1. Put away the resources you have used

Amanda Wilson, a headteacher at a primary school in South London, says little touches like putting away any resources you have used after a lesson observation can speak volumes about a candidate – from their working style to their attitudes to a classroom.

“Offering to put back resources shows you appreciate the importance of keeping things tidy,” she says.

“It also shows you're not thinking it is the sole responsibility of the teaching assistant to do these jobs. It promotes a sense of being a team player and being able to lead by example.”

Daniel Woodrow, headteacher of St Gregory CEVC Primary School, in Suffolk, offers a similar tip.

We did have one candidate who set the children a task in the teaching activity and then sharpened all the class pencils for us while they were talking to them,” he says.

“They started doing it because the children needed coloured pencils in their lesson but then they just kept on going all the way through. They were chatting to the children at the same time and it actually came across as somehow helping the children to open up and engage.”

2. Be nice to your rivals

Woodrow says it's important to be nice to your rival candidates – it does not go unnoticed and shows a lot about someone’s true nature.

“I think it speaks a lot to a person's character that when they are in a pressure situation like an interview, and are talking to someone who is effectively a rival, they are still supportive, kind and friendly. 

“It definitely counts in someone's favour if I oversee or overhear something like that. It says so much and shows a really empathetic, collaborative nature.”

More must-read recruitment advice:

3. Say thank you

Saying thank you to the office staff who arranged everything rarely goes unnoticed, Wilson says. 

“Sending a thank-you email after the interview to the person you have been in email communication with, for their helpfulness, helps to create a rapport with what could arguably be considered one the most important people in the school,” she says.

“Even when emailing in your application, or asking to arrange a visit, if you can get into the good books of the office staff they will definitely pass this on to the headteacher.” 

4. Be innovative 

Thinking outside of the box can work, says Woodrow, as he found in his most recent interview.

“When I was interviewed for the job I have now, I was asked to give a presentation on where the school would be in five years' time, so I wrote a full Ofsted report for the school for five years in the future and handed it out to the panel at the end of my talk,” he explains.

“That got a lot of positive feedback and was something I was told that they'd never seen before.”

5. Tell your stories

The balance between professional and personal in an interview can be tricky to get right, but it can really help you stand out, says Paul Taylor, principal of Fullneck School in Pudsey, Leeds. 

“We had interviewed once but not found the right candidate for the role so had to readvertise. Karen applied the second time and had a good CV; a  previous successful career in business, then working for a federation of primary schools in North Yorkshire – and interesting hobbies (for example, as an elite Ironman competitor and training to be a jockey," he says.

“After a while, I asked (semi-seriously, really) where this amazing love of life and passion for work came from. [Her] response was that she had survived the Boxing Day tsunami.

“The way she tells the story is incredibly moving and frightening, but it explains why she makes the most of every minute of every day. She was actually diving at the time and, having been thrown around like in a washing machine, resurfaced to the devastation that I’m sure we all remember.”

For him the story and the drive and determination it had given the candidate was the clincher. Of course, this balance between being too personal in a professional context is always a tightrope, but it shows that sometimes it can be the spark that stands out over the more traditional metrics.

6. Ask insightful questions 

Keziah Featherstone, head at Q3 Academy Tipton, in the West Midlands, says the questions you ask at the end of the interview can also be a great way to stand out – especially if they tap into something deeper than the information that can probably be found on the school website.

"Rather than 'What’s your marking policy?', I’ve liked ones on positives to come out of Covid for the school and on the vision for the future of the school."

This echoes a similar point made by Kate Jones in a recent article on Tes where she offered suggestions on the questions teachers should ask at the end of a job interview, such as, "What is the best thing about working at your school?", "How will you support my professional development?" and "How do you support teacher wellbeing at your school?"

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Grainne Hallahan and Dan Worth

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