Dare to dream...

14th January 2000 at 00:00
It's interview time. Be confident, know your competition, do your homework - and make sure you get enough sleep, says Carol Taylor.

Getting an interview is a cause for celebration. It means your application was half decent and the school wants to know more about you. As references are normally used for short-listing, it means that the people you have asked to support you have said good things. Take confidence from that. But, as old hands will point out, there's many a slip between invitation and appointment.

Some factors in the interview will be beyond your control. There may be an extremely strong field - you could be unlucky enough to be pipped at the post by a better candidate. When you get to the school, you may find that the match between your skills and what the school wants is not as close as you thought. The school may not be what you expected. An even worse case is if they invite you along to make up the numbers and have their eye on a candidate from the beginning. This is very bad practice and you are probably well out of a school that approaches its recruitment in such a cavalier fashion.

But let's look on the positive side - you get to the school, you like it and you want the job. How can you take the day by the scruff of the neck and make it yours?

Before the day Remember the five Ps - Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Re-read any information provided by the school. Highlight any points that are signalled as important and try to relate these to what you say and ask.

Note also the points that you are not clear about. These can form the basis of questions on the day.

* Re-read your application letter. The comment: "I see in your letter of applicationI" has thrown many a candidate into a panic.

* Write out bullet points of your strengths and use them to give yourself a pep talk * Ask for help in compiling a list of likely interview questions, prepare answers to them and say them out loud. Ask someone to give you a practice interview - your tutor, a mentor or senior manager at your placement school. They are often generous with their help. Ask them to be blunt about bad habits, including body language.

* Plan how to get to the school, work out how long it will take you to get there - then add half an hour. If not too far away, do a dummy run. If it's a long way, invest in overnight accommodation, rather than arrive late and flustered - even the smallest towns can have rush hours for the school run! If you stay overnight, have a look around the catchment area, go to the local shops and pub, talk to people to see how the school is judged in the community.

* Decide what to wear and try it out. Make sure you feel comfortable, as you will have a long day. Don't wear new shoes or the "if only I could lose half a stone" suit. Whatever your views on individuality, don't be too outrageous.

* Get a good night's sleep. Choose a cut-off point in the day beyond which you will not worry, and will not do anypreparation. Do something relaxing (but not drinking).

On the day * Having arrived on time, well-rested, well-dressed and full of quiet confidence, remember you are making an impression the minute you walk through the door. Be polite and friendly to the receptionist, try to remember her name. Although support staff may not be involved in the formal interview, their views are often canvassed and they are important people in the school.

l You will be introduced to a lot of people. You should be greeted by at least a representative of the senior management team and other key staff. If you have done your preparation, you should be able to relate names, faces and roles. The more you learn before you go, the more the school will "make sense" to you on the day. Tours by pupils are a common feature. You can relax a little here - you understand children and relate to them. Be friendly but not over-pally - they don't want teachers to be their mates. Children are also remarkably honest, so ask them what they like about the school, what they would like to see improved, what their aspirations are, how involved they feel in school life. Don't forget to ask their names and to thank them. Again, they may be canvassed for their views and they are very astute.

* Teaching a lesson or leading a pupil activity is becoming more common. You should have had the details of what is expected and time to prepare. Don't be afraid to ask for help and don't be too ambitious. Stick with your normal style - don't try something new on the day.

* If you have prepared well, you should find the interview a tough but rewarding experience. Have some questions of your own, for example about induction for NQTs and professional development in general. You may find that a lot of questions are answered during the day, so keep alert for opportunities for new ones. Last but not least, you are entitled to clarify what your starting salary would be.

* Be sure that this is the job you want. Accepting a job in the wrong school can be as disastrous as marrying the wrong person, resulting in years of mutual unhappiness. If you are not sure, you can ask for 24 hours to consider. This is reasonable, although the culture in education is still to make on-the-spot decisions and expect immediate answers. This far in the process you should have a fairly clear view of whether or not this is the place for you.

* If you are successful, a written job offer should follow immediately and you should accept formally. A contract may take longer, but don't be afraid to chase the school and the personnel department at the LEA if appropriate.

* Take every opportunity you can to spend time in the school before you start officially. That way, by September you will feel part of the team.

* If unsuccessful, make sure that you take advantage of a debriefing. It will be invaluable for future interviews.

Carol Taylor is recruitment strategy manager for West Sussex County Council.

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