In the hot seat

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
You don't have to be a Mastermind to shine. Phil Revell has a few tips to guide you through the final round

You can remove the sleeping bag from the hall. The letter has arrived, you have an interview. But there are still a few hurdles to clear before you cartwheel down the drive in celebration. You're through stage one, but now you have to ensure that you get the job.

The Five Ps

Proper preparation prevents poor performance. Treat this like a military campaign or an athlete's training schedule. Aim to arrive in front of the interview panel in the best frame of mind and with all the answers to hand.

Start by finding out as much about the school and the job that you can.

Don't leave it to the day to discover that it is a split site school and you've turned up at the wrong site. Don't leave your school in the lurch; set plenty of work for your classes. This avoids the embarrassing phone call halfway through the interview on the lines of "What are 3B supposed to be doing next?"

Arrive on time

Find out where the school is and how to get there. Unless the school is within walking distance allow at least an hour's leeway. Fashionably late is a phrase that holds no meaning for interview panels. If trains are involved allow even more time. If it's a long journey, consider travelling the night before and finding a local BB. Fighting your way through rush hour traffic is not recommended.

Dress to impress

Classrooms are unforgiving places and few teachers risk wearing anything interesting at work. Clothes come into contact with a variety of unpleasant substances; they get snagged on desks, caught in doors, smeared in the dinner queue and sneered at by the kids. But an interview - isn't that a reason to dig out the designer labels? Yes and no.

Men are safe in a suit, but it's more important that the ensemble is clean and co-ordinated. There are advantages in standing out from the crowd, but don't risk the yuk factor. Wear clean shoes before and have a cloth handy in case you step in something nasty en route.

For women, the safe option is to dress down. Two-piece business suit, gold earrings and sensible shoes. No cleavage or thigh, and go easy on the make up. The idea of an interview is to impress and the high-risk option is to go for an outfit that is a little flamboyant. Be confident that you can bend over without becoming the centre of attention.

The tour

Most schools will offer candidates a tour. Confident schools ask older pupils to do this, and you should grab the opportunity to ask questions that might be skated around in the interview. If the guide is a member of staff, assume the tour is part of the process. It shouldn't be, but you will find the other candidates asking questions designed to boost their chances.

The competition

What is your strategy towards the other hopefuls? Some people seem to think that they have to impress the candidates as well as the panel. These folks are never off duty and will keep up a steady stream of self-aggrandisement the whole day. Others imitate bookies and maintain a running commentary about the latest odds. "I've just heard that the internal candidate is 3 to 1 on," they'll say. This is not what you need to hear. I recommend a book or a serious broadsheet newspaper to hide behind.

Panel beaters

In many schools the interview no longer consists of half an hour in the head's office followed by an interminable wait for the results. A lot of heads are asking people to teach, and setting in-tray exercises, where candidates are expected to deal with some typical problems - such as a letter from a complaining parent or a report on a poorly performing colleague. But the core of the day is still the panel; this is your chance to shine. There's no shortage of advice as to how people should handle this. Be confident, the books say. Make the interview a dialogue.

Being the focus of attention for 30 minutes or more isn't easy. Don't bite your nails or crack your knuckles; avoid tossing your hair or scratching your nose. Tony Blair uses the steeple - hands together, fingertips joined - to avoid distracting hand movements.

Maintain eye contact. Look people in the eye for long enough to impress them with your "straightforward gaze", but not so long that they become uncomfortable.

Take care when answering questions. If you are asked about your biggest challenge or the biggest problem you have had to overcome in a lesson don't tell them about Terri and Lulu setting fire to the stock cupboard. A safer approach is the story about the difficult lesson plan that you had to work on several times before you were happy with the outcome.

Give positive answers. Don't slag off your previous school. Ask questions.

What scale point is the job being offered at? What's the departmental budget? Are there any plans to upgrade the teaching accommodation you will be based in?

If you don't get the job, there should be some feedback to let you know where you went wrong. Usually, the commiserations are either bland or unwelcome. "We felt that you weren't the right person for us."

If you do get the job? Assuming you still want it, accept graciously and start learning to cartwheel.

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