Answers that count

12th May 2006 at 01:00
Advice for seasoned practitioners

There you are in an interview for a senior post - maybe even a headship - and your heart is sinking. Why? Are the questions too hard? Not at all. On the contrary, they're are so unfocused and inconsequential that you feel as if you're fighting through a treacly sea of waffle. At this rate the panel won't end up with the information to make a decision about who to appoint.

What this panel has done is produce a list of pre-arranged questions, then farm them out in a fairly random way . The idea is to make sure that each candidate hears the same questions, and also that every panel member gets a turn at asking them. But they haven't thought hard enough about the questions, or discussed them in any depth beforehand, so you're hearing vague probings such as, "What do you think of the national curriculum?"

That wouldn't be so bad, but they also lack the experience and skill to to come up with good supplementaries, and the person in the chair seems unable to tighten the screw where necessary - "Jack, you're chair of finance, I guess you'd like to press Mrs Jones further about what she's just said wouldn't you?" (That's me, as chair of governors, by the way: be very afraid.) So, if you end up in a poor interview, how can you make the best of yourself?

The advice given to me for preparing for one was: don't start by thinking of possible questions. Instead, start from the answers you want to give.

Write down the ones that will show your qualities. Then look at each one and think of possible questions, from vague to precise, that you can hang your answers on.

So imagine you've decided you want to say, during your interview: "My work with our autistic pupils has led to my being asked to advise the authority.

I've spoken on the subject to three courses for headteachers."

You could wait for ever to be asked specifically about special needs, or autism - or you could pick up on that apparently lack-lustre "What do you think of the national curriculum?" and say:

"It's doing a good job overall, but of course there are some children for whom it poses a challenge, and I have actually developed a special understanding"

The governors won't stop you - in fact, they'll be relieved and grateful.

So that's one good answer you've got in under the radar. Good luck with the others.

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