Dear Ted

9th May 2003 at 01:00
At a recent interview, I got the feeling that someone was already earmarked for the job. My own interview was perfunctory, as was the feedback. What can I do?

Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own - by writing to: Dear Ted, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. Or email:

Ted says

Your intuition might be correct, but it could also be wrong, so beware of accusing anyone when you do not know all the background facts. Disappointed interviewees will inevitably mull over the whole event afterwards and may want to believe it was a fix when it wasn't, or even query the parentage of the interviewing panel.

You could be right, however, for various reasons. The panel may have looked at the shortlist and decided one candidate was outstanding. Alternatively, there may be an internal applicant, perhaps someone on a temporary contract, who is successful and well regarded, and the school may be testing this person out against an external field.

Nowadays, employment protection legislation puts temporary appointees of longer standing in a similar position to so-called "permanent" staff. This obliges the employer to give them priority if a permanent vacancy comes up for which they have the necessary qualifications. The interviewers should still, of course, give everyone else a fair chance, not just regard them as interview fodder, making up the numbers.

You are perfectly entitled to have proper feedback after an interview, whatever the outcome, and some heads are good at giving thoughtful advice, though the odd lay person has sometimes been known to foul up debriefing.

Why not ring the head and explain that you were disappointed with the process and the feedback, and would welcome more advice? Something useful might come out of this conversation.

As for your bruised confidence, just remember that it is horses for courses and you may not have been quite right for this particular job. The world is full of teachers who got knocked back in one interview and then landed a better and more suitable job later. I even know of cases where unsuccessful candidates subsequently became the boss of the person who had turned them down - there's something to look forward to.

You say

Take strength from it

I once went to an interview where, after reading the list of candidates, I discovered that two were internal candidates (from a department of three).

So there I was, with another woman, waiting in the corridor, confused as to what to do. I felt annoyed at having wasted my day - I'd also spent a lot of time preparing cover lessons. I was tempted to pull out, but I convinced myself that the process would be good for my interviewing technique and confidence.

While we were shown round the school, various staff members wished one of the internal candidates good luck - a real indication of the outcome. The interview questions were also unfair as they often referred to how one would deal with the reorganisation of the Year 9 languages schedule, a matter specific to that school and which the internal candidates would have known about.

When the head phoned for the debrief and announced what I had suspected all along, I told her that I felt used and that the interviews hadn't given me the opportunity to show what I was capable of achieving. Instead of losing confidence in myself and my professional abilities, this "bad" experience gave me more strength for the next job interview, which I got.

Nathalie Quigley, email

It's their loss

We should be able to expect interviews to be fair and open, but it seems to be a fact of life these days that many are not. The only way forward is to think positively and use it as a learning experience. Any interview gives you good practice and confidence in answering a range of questions. You may also have made a good impression on someone from the LEA who may interview you for a post elsewhere. If you think about it, did you really want that job or is there another which would suit you better? Can you gain additional professional development either inside or outside your current post in the interim? Don't let it knock your confidence. Think of it as their loss, not yours, and move forward.

Primary head, Nottinghamshire

Don't be deterred

This kind of experience can really dent your pride. But carry on applying for jobs, taking into serious consideration any feedback you are given and working on any weaknesses. Sometimes internal candidates have a better understanding of what may be required for the advertised post, but you shouldn't let this deter you. Learn from it, then move on to your next application.

V Kelly, teacher trainer

Play the system

If a teacher has performed well on teaching practice, or as a supply teacher at the school, or there is some other prior knowledge of that candidate, then he or she has a huge advantage. But schools have no option.

They cannot just employ someone who has been tried and tested; they have to go through the due process. In theory, they are supposed to do this in an impartial manner, but it is almost impossible for even the most well-intentioned head to do this. You will just have to play the system, and not be too downhearted after unsuccessful interviews.

Chris Bluemel, Hereford

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