Look the part and land that job

18th May 2007 at 01:00
First impressions, even before you sit down in the interview room, could doom you to failure. Nick Morrison reveals how to maximise your chances of success

You have beaten the odds and made it to the last half dozen, but now is the most daunting part of the process: the interview. You have impressed on paper, but how do you make sure you live up to that promise? What are interviewers looking for? And how do you convert an interview into a job offer?

There is a general consensus among heads and recruitment experts on one of the keys to success. Like it or not, first impressions count, and they probably begin much earlier than you think.

"You are on interview from the moment you get to the school, not just in the interview but the way you behave the whole time," says Richard Fawcett, a former head and now a recruitment consultant for the Association of School and College Leaders.

"It is important to be polite to the receptionist and behave with the pupils as you would expect a teacher to behave."

Richard says he has known candidates for senior positions lose out because they have walked into the school with their hands in their pockets and their tie at half mast.

Once in the interview room, your interviewers will almost certainly have formed their judgment on you before you have answered their first question, says John Howson, visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University and TES Magazine columnist. He argues that the rest of the interview represents the search for information to endorse this judgment.

"It's a bit like an iceberg, where the words are above the surface but the non-verbal information is the two-thirds below the surface and that is what you make judgments on," he says.

One tip is to move your chair to a position you feel is more comfortable.

This shows you are in authority, although it is more likely to give the right impression if you are applying to be head of department rather than a new teacher applying for a local authority pool.

Once first impressions are out of the way, body language is important during the rest of the interview, particularly eye contact, according to David Tuck, president of the National Association of Head Teachers.

"You want to know whether they look at people, but if someone spends all their time apparently checking they've got the right colour shoes on, that doesn't inspire confidence," he says.

A neatly ironed shirt, plenty of eye contact and a firm handshake are not always enough, however.

To stand out from the crowd, candidates need something else. "Presence,"

says David. "It is hard to define, but it's that ability to communicate and inspire confidence that people can trust you."

There is a fine line between bragging and promoting yourself, but he says he is looking for someone who can talk about what they have done and can command attention.

Heads are also often keen to see how teachers relate to children. Some schools ask candidates to teach a practice lesson, while David, a primary head, says he has asked prospective employees to read a story to a class, so he can see how the pupils respond. "The relationship between the teacher and the child is the most important thing in education," he says.

Lindsay Roy, rector of Inverkeithing High School in Fife, says he refines his search for child-centred teachers by asking not what they would do in theoretical situations, but what they have done. This also has the advantage of discovering whether candidates are able to reflect on their own practice.

"We might ask them to tell us about a lesson that went really well and what they did as a teacher that made it a good lesson," he says.

Qualities he looks for include presence, judgment, the ability to communicate, and getting to the point without waffling. A sense of humour is good; flippancy is not. Interviewees should be passionate about what they do.

"I'm looking for somebody who is enthusiastic and inspiring, someone who can engage with young adults and who can be a leader: every teacher is a leader in the classroom," he says.

Although the key to success is hard to pin down, it is important to try to build a relationship with the interview panel, says Richard Fawcett.

Humour and smiling play a role here, as does giving answers of the right length. Long enough to show that you know what you are talking about, but not so long that you lose the panel's attention.

"You need to show you are up to date with the various initiatives and where your subject is going, but the panel wants to appoint a person, not a bundle of knowledge," he says.

"The best thing is to establish a dialogue," agrees John Howson. "The worst sort of interview is one where somebody asks a question, you answer it and then they move on to the next question. It's better to get some sort of conversation going."

And if you look smart, have presence, get on with the panel and still do not get the job? Do not despair, John counsels.

"It might not be that you're not the best candidate, it might be that you just didn't fit what the school is looking for," he says.

"You should give yourself a pat on the back that you got through to interview. It's only when you've been to 10 interviews and always came second that you should be seeking advice. That is when there's clearly something you need to tweak."

For more advice on applying for jobs, go to www.tes.co.uk2334504


Look smart without overdoing the snappy dressing (art teachers may have more leeway to be creative in their attire).

Arrive in plenty of time so you do not appear flustered.

Do not lie, particularly about criminal convictions, but always try to follow them with a positive. For example, "I've got a drugs conviction, but I successfully completed a teaching practice in X school."

If you do not understand a question, ask for clarification, try not to waffle, and if you do not know the answer, say so.

Be honest about your weaknesses. It shows you have thought about what sort of person you are. But always try to match each negative with a positive.

For example, for a first middle management job, you could say you have never managed other professionals, but you have learnt a lot from your own head of department.

Remember that an interview is also a chance for you to find out if you want to work at that school and with those people - it is not a one-way process.


It probably causes more racking of brains than any other part of the interview - what to say when you are asked if you have any questions.

Asking questions can demonstrate that you have done your research and are taking a real interest in the job, or it can show that you have not been listening and your homework was slapdash.

It is better to have a list of questions ready rather than trying to think them up during the interview, unless they arise out of something that comes up on the day. And remember, you are the one being interviewed, so limit your questions - two is sufficient - rather than trying to turn the tables.

If you have been shown around the school before the interview, do not ask questions you could have asked then. And do not reveal your ignorance by asking questions such as, "How many pupils do you have?"

Pay is a tricky subject. If you are a new teacher with non-teaching experience that you think entitles you to move up the pay scale a couple of points, you could raise it at the interview, or ask to discuss it later. If you do bring it up, you could ask if the governing body has a policy on this issue, rather than saying you think you deserve more.

Finally, do not think up questions just for the sake of it. It is better to say your questions have been dealt with than to ask them to repeat things you have already been told. You are not likely to miss out on the job because you did not ask a question.

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