How hard can it be to land a job? Anthea Davey says sell yourself but don't sell yourself short
It's that time of year when The TES jobs pages begin to fill up with enticing descriptions of schools comprising angelic children, state of the art facilities and fabulous opportunities. Once you have decoded the spin and described yourself in the application form in glowing terms, you may be rewarded with an interview.
Remember, just as you are trying to sell yourself to the school, so the school's management will try to sell the school to you.
1. Do your homework
Do some research so you have a good idea what to expect and use the knowledge you gain in the interview. Most heads will be flattered if you recognise various achievements and are excited about being part of any future successes.
Use information available to you, such as the school prospectus (to be taken with a pinch of salt) and the most recent Ofsted report (to be taken with a bucket of salt). Even better, though, is word of mouth. Ask colleagues or fellow students if they know anything about the school and, if you can, look around beforehand.
2. Dress smartly
It's obviously best not to be chewing gum during an interview or shaking hands limply while looking at the floor, but I never cease to be amazed at the attire of some interview candidates. While it's true that the tie may be seen as a symbol of sexism, an interview is not the best place to strike a blow for male equality in clothing. Likewise for the ladies, a suit is probably your best bet for appearing professional.
Once you get the job you can argue about the suitability of wearing the biker gear to school.
It is important to be punctual, but arriving ahead of time is a real advantage, especially if you're being asked to teach a lesson and need to check facilities and equipment. Interview days can be packed with different people to see, so it's better to have found out vital details like where the staff room and toilets are.
4. Be prepared
You must be organised to be a successful teacher so it makes sense to demonstrate this skill at interview. Make sure you are clear about the timetable of the day and anything you need to bring with you, such as lesson plans and resources. If you're asked to teach a lesson, the school should let you use their equipment, but it may be less stressful to arrive with everything you need. The photocopier might just break down as you're copying your essential worksheets, so don't leave anything to chance.
If given the chance, chat to other members of the school. You may have the opportunity for a break or lunch with the rest of the staff.
This is both your chance to make a good impression (I've been asked on several occasions for an informal view of a candidate) and to be a covert spy. Questions that are too trivial to ask the head (eg do you have to pay for tea and coffee) can be asked in the staff room and you can pick up on the atmosphere of the school. Be chatty and friendly. If you get the job, you want your colleagues to have good impressions too.
6. Be yourself
Demonstration lessons at interview are artificial. The children won't behave as they do normally with a senior teacher in the room and you will probably be teaching an ad hoc lesson. But the teachers observing want to see your lesson ideas and your manner, so try to be imaginative, enthusiastic and friendly towards the class. Make sure you devise opportunities to talk to pupils individually as well as the whole class and remember to smile. Firm control is an asset, but so is human warmth.
7. Show off
One of the trickiest aspects of the interview process is the fine line between selling yourself and sounding arrogant. Now is no time for bashfulness. You need to be confident and precise. When talking about your skills and achievements, give specific examples of your successes when answering questions. Don't just say: 'I can do that', say when and how you did it.
8. Show interest
You should have an opportunity to ask questions, so make sure you have a few in hand. It's not advisable to discuss sensitive issues like pay at this stage, unless it's already been brought up. Questions like: 'Would it be possible to set up photographychessorigami club?' go down well, but remember you will have to go through with this if you get the job so don't suggest extra-curricular activities that you later want to wriggle out of.
9. The debrief
With luck you will get the job you want, but if you don't, you're entitled to feedback on how to improve for the next application.
It's not a good idea to catalogue all the reasons why the school is rubbish and tell the head you didn't want the job anyway. The world of teaching is surprisingly small and word can get round. Take it on the chin, be polite and respond positively. You never know when another vacancy may arise and a good interview will be remembered.
10. Consider options
Be prepared to decline a job if offered it - the school is on trial as much as you. If the ethos, or the management or, let's face it, the kids don't appeal to you, don't commit yourself. You can ask to think about an offer over night (although you should only do this if you have strong reservations as it may go to another candidate). If you accept, you then only have to worry about how to learn origami by September...