Teacher job interviews: how to handle rejection

A failed job interview can be a springboard to success in teaching, says secondary school teacher Sam Tassiker

Sam Tassiker

Teacher job interviews: How to find the positives if you don't get the job

There was a joke for a while amongst my friends that I had some kind of magic interview power – every job I went for, I got. The challenge didn’t seem to matter. Whether it be a prestigious school, a government role or teaching abroad, I succeeded. I don’t say it to be arrogant, I say it to draw attention to how to cope and move forward when that so-called magic dwindles and another candidate impresses more than you. 

My first experience of this was trying to gain a teaching position in Scotland. It seemed that the breadth of experience I had that intrigued other schools, wasn’t quite so impressive in a Scottish setting. Maybe the private system still holds the stigma of being a bit of a doss here? Working abroad is all beach parties and half-days, isn’t it? Whatever the issue, I had my first real experience of failure here, and I couldn’t help but cry on the phone to the depute who called me to break the news after my first state-school interview. Not hugely professional, perhaps, but an honest and authentic reaction displaying the investment I had in gaining the position, I told myself.

When teacher job interviews don't end well

As it happens, that school was too far away from where I live to be easily commutable (a real consideration with a very young child). It was full-time, which wasn’t ideal either, but it was an excellent school, so I’d pinned my hopes on it.

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However, as Scottish folk will tell you, "what’s for you won’t pass you by". Shortly after, I managed to secure a role in a fantastic school, a manageable 20 minutes away, on a part-time basis. The perfect balance of school getting the best of me in the classroom and my family getting the best of me at home.

If you’re not the right fit for the school, you won’t be happy there. It doesn’t matter how accomplished you are if you aren’t the leadership’s vision of what is right for the role. Perhaps you’ll even apply to the very same school again for a different position and be successful; I’ve seen it happen.

We give this advice to our students and children all of the time: if you’ve done your best, you can do no more. When dealing with a "no", remember that you can still hold your head high. Be proud of juggling interview prep and your usual teaching load and of putting yourself out there to be judged. It’s brave.

Applying for a promoted post

Not quite as brave as applying for a promoted post in your own school, though. Oh, the bitter heartbreak of missing out on an internal position is a wholly different pain. How can the people who know you, who chose you once, decide that they don’t want you this time? It’s irrational and you know it but it feels like a betrayal.

Following "the call", you need at least 24 hours to scowl, you avoid eye contact with everyone involved and you profess that you’ll never help out at another school function as long as you shall live. Then, your inner 14-year-old retreats, or it should do. Because when you look at it logically, there were other internal candidates all thinking the same as you. People who you’ve seen teach, you’ve collaborated with and who you know are bloody brilliant at their job.  

Your resilience in the face of rejection can say a lot about you to your leadership team. Your acceptance of feedback, acknowledgement of weaknesses and strategy to plug the gaps might just be what gets you over the line next time. And there will be a next time, because remember: what’s meant for you, won’t pass you by. 

Sam Tassiker is a secondary teacher in Scotland

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