Ask no questions.

20th June 2014 at 01:00

When three teachers were recently promoted to posts without having to endure the traditional interview, there was a bit of an outcry from others who felt that the selection process, based on experience, achievement and recommendation, was unfair.

But some welcomed the change. For many, interviews are unpleasant, unfair, stressful and time-consuming, and should be ditched. Just ask the hapless candidate for a senior management post who was so unnerved by the experience that he vomited on the table separating him from his interrogators. (He didn't get the job.)

I remember an interview of my own, which I had been assured would be a short and friendly chat but turned out to be an hour-long grilling. It left me devoid of enthusiasm for the post: who wants to work with people intent on making themselves feel smart and superior at the expense of potential colleagues?

Some highly competent teachers, moreover, are forfeiting career progression because they are unwilling to discard personal opinions in order to spout the answers a successful interview seems to demand. Several candidates for a head of maths post recently admitted stating a preference for mixed-ability classes in the lower school, in line with the authority's policy, even though their true opinion is that the banding of students according to ability is a better strategy.

Formal interviews, in addition to their negative impact on a teacher's well-being, have a poor record when it comes to predicting future job performance. Many headteachers will testify that an impressive response to a set of challenging questions does not necessarily make for an effective team leader. Records of achievement, statements of intent and even the odd algorithm or two are much more effective indicators of suitable managers and leaders.

For interviewees, the problems even include attire. A grey tie, I was once counselled, indicates seriousness and good judgement. I wore red and failed to impress.

I have also had the misfortune to disappoint on the other side of the interview table. "What did you do in your existing school to make something positive happen?" I asked candidates for a head of department role. The question was unanticipated and resulted in much head-scratching, poor responses and damaged self-esteem.

Yet it was surely more pertinent than questions such as "Would you rather be an apple or a banana?" or "How many pencils do you think can be fitted inside a jumbo jet?"

Such conundrums are clearly a waste of time. Questions should ask what candidates would do in specific situations. That would be progress, but the biggest advance will be when the interview itself fails the selection process and becomes a thing of the past.

John Greenlees is a secondary school teacher in Scotland

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