Arnold's world

25th September 1998 at 01:00
If you are still try-ing to climb education's greasy pole, you probably spend fruitless hours ago-nising over what it is exactly that interviewing panels look at when they come to assess candidates. The answer, in fact, is socks.

Sadly, too many promising careers have been blighted by a cavalier attitude to hosiery. If eyes (the subject of a future column) are indeed the windows to the soul, then socks are the tradesman's entrance: they reveal who really resides within the respectable veneer of your judiciously chosen Marks Spencer suit. Plaid, plain, Manchester United supporter, your socks speak louder than any of your honeyed words, however well they're marshalled, however impeccably delivered. And remember this: it is simply not good enough that the socks you choose to impress the interview panel with happen to be an identical pair, if they also clash with your tie.

Women (other than hockey players) are never judged by their socks, which is probably why so many of them are now being appointed to senior positions. But they shouldn't be too complacent: they, too, need to give serious thought to what they wear to an interview. If in doubt, a woman should bear in mind that she can't go wrong if she opts for her wedding dress. There is something about a bride that touches even the stoniest masculine heart. At the same time, it subtly conveys to the panel that she is already settled and so will not up-sticks and go the moment Mr Right hoves into view.

In an interview, it's that first impression that really counts, which is why it's always worth rehearsing your entry to the interview room. For example, the last time I was up for a job, I based my entrance on that of Michael Jackson in the "Billie Jean" video. I shimmied seductively through the half-open door, then froze defiantly, legs akimbo. I fixed the panel with a steely glare, slung my fedora carelessly across the room and moon-walked sinuously towards the interviewers. They proffered a chair. It's an old trick. If you want to show an interview panel that you are a "can-do" person, you will have organised your own seating arrangements and brought with you a bean bag, prayer mat, birthing stool or Edwardian commode.

Books on interview technique invariably advise you "to be yourself". This is always a bad mistake. I mean, be honest: would you ever give yourself a job? I always try to be as much like the headteacher as I possibly can. For example, I arrived at my last interview equipped with a variety of spectacle frames, a choice of ties, a selection of hair-pieces and a rather convincing clip-on moustache. If the head has any eccentricities - such as regional accent, speech impediment, peculiar mannerisms, or distinctive gait - do your best to copy them, especially during the mandatory tour of the school.

The most important thing to remember on "The Big Day" is that you are there to impress. You want the panel to remember exactly who you are. To this end, in answer to a question on what we have to learn from our European partners about the delivery of the curriculum at key stage 4, I did the Can-Can. I reckon I had the job in the bag until I hoisted my turn-ups - they saw my socks. I sensed that my goose was cooked. I brushed myself down, picked myself up, retrieved my fedora and wheeled out the commode with as much dignity as I could muster. Nobody said interviews are easy.

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