Let's just run over a few points about your performance

12th May 2006 at 01:00
Recently I endured a two-day interview for a school senior management post.

I was unsuccessful; the post went to an internal candidate. The following week I was offered "feedback on my interview performance", but instead sent the following letter to the school's head.

Dear Mr..., Thank you for offering me feedback on my interview performance. Feedback is so important for headteachers, isn't it? I imagine it's a useful method of gaining "closure" on what may have been an embarrassing, even farcical event. I do worry a little about the language though: performance is something I tend to attribute to circus animals, rock bands and Shakespearian actors. I was just me.

I did pity you and your governors having to sit through six PowerPoint presentations on the same subject. It must have been difficult to pretend interest. And those scribbled notes you made to keep yourselves awake... even upside down I could see some of the weekend shopping lists. As a veteran interviewee I have a pretty good idea of what parts of my interview and presentation techniques let me down. Apart from the fact that I did not have the useful insider knowledge that the successful candidate had, I think that your management of the interview process did not always make it easy for me to shine. I feel that you may benefit from some feedback on your own performance here and have noted some areas for improvement.

* Eye contact. I had had an early start, applying my subtle eye make-up at 6am, but I suspect you never noticed, preferring to look at your hands or your papers. We all know that eye contact enables a speaker to feel listened to and increases their confidence. I attributed your refusal to look at me to some embarrassment. Was there something wrong with my face? I checked it in the Ladies for a smudge or, worse, snot. But even on my third examination it still appeared clean, if a little tired.

* Names. At the end of the first day I got a bit of a clue that I wasn't going to get the job when you introduced me to the catering manager as Caroline. I gently corrected you, but you ignored it. Maybe you didn't hear me. Learning candidates' names makes them feel that they do have an equal chance and improves their confidence. It's also etiquette. Brian.

* Interview questions. Many of yours were those sort of trick questions that sound open-ended but are really closed and require a very precise answer (the sort that only people who know the school well can give). They were also long and rambling. If Ofsted spotted that sort of questioning in a classroom the teacher would fail.

* The final question. This is always "Do you have any questions or have you anything you want to add?" You never asked me that one. I had duly prepared a couple of questions that revealed my knowledge of the wider context and the school's place within this. But you just said "Thank you you may go now." It was obvious you had no real interest in me at all.

* The telling. You phoned me and said "I'm sorry to say that on this occasion you have been unsuccessful." Fair enough. But did you really have to follow it with your self-justifying: "There were two excellent candidates." Pause. "You were third." Was that really necessary?

Attending interviews is intellectually and emotionally gruelling. I suspect that you have not been interviewed yourself for more than a decade and have forgotten what it feels like. Your own behaviour at an interview is something that impacts on the candidate's performance. You need to improve your interviewing technique. Perhaps this could be a target in your next performance management review?

I do hope this feedback has been of help to you and will enable you to move forward. I wish you all the best in the future. It's not sour grapes.


Dawn Savage

Dawn Savage teaches in the north-east. She writes under a pseudonym

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