Please, no more cheesy interview questions

Too many interviewers ask candidates to name the cheese, vegetable or TV character that best describes them. Please stop, pleads Stephen Petty

Stephen Petty

Teacher job interviews and school recruitment: Please, no more cheesy questions, says Stephen Petty

A friend reports that, during a recent interview for a senior leadership post, the candidates were each asked, “If you were a cheese, which type would best describe you?”

Oh please, give it a rest. Not another “If you were a…” interview question.

No doubt the person on the panel who thought up that question was hoping to impress the others with their roguish originality: “This will be insightful. They won’t have a prepared answer to this one.”

Wrong on both counts. These days, teachers are regularly encouraged by friends, media and interview panels to pick which cake, chocolate bar, vegetable, biscuit, historical or TV-drama character they would most identify with. Most candidates today are wearily ready for such a question.

The chances are that each candidate interviewed for that job probably had an entire cheeseboard of answers ready to serve on request.

Teacher job-interview questions: the cod psychology

It's not difficult to work out the cod psychology behind such a question and to select the best cheese for the occasion.

If the candidate sensed that the panel was looking for someone steady who wouldn’t rock the boat, then they would respond – after a few seconds of feigned reflection – with “cheddar”. This would be followed by a suitably reassuring explanation for that choice. “I like to think that I'm firm, trusted, respected," and so on.

All of which is a load of old hogwash, of course, but the candidate might as well play the game to their advantage.

If it seems that the panel wants someone who will help shake things up a bit, then the interviewee knows to opt for something a little more radical, such as “Stinking Bishop”, “Vampire Slayer” or even “Slack Ma Girdle”.

In fairness, I am no psychological expert, but I cannot accept that choice of cheese will bring any lucidity to the panel's post-interview deliberations.

I very much doubt whether a teacher identifying as a camembert or gorgonzola would have any bearing at all on their ability to perform as a senior leader. Or whether they were a brie or a red Leicester would have an effect on how well they could win the confidence of colleagues.

Being a Wensleydale or a parmesan would make not the slightest difference to their capacity to run a successful staff Inset session on differentiation. Being a fresh, young roquefort or a mature stilton would have no bearing on their ability to contribute to pupil achievement, mental health or the overseeing of school trips. And whether or not you were an emmental or a manchego would not be a help when handling some of the livelier moments around the site.

So enough of cheese questions and other such examples of posing and posturing in interviews. Maybe candidates should all make a pact and respond in exactly the same manner if some self-promoting fool on the panel starts to go cheese (or similar) on them: “Sorry, but can we go back to the sensible questions?”

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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