Money's never too hard to mention

12th January 1996 at 00:00
What can you ask at an interview? Too many shy away from discussing pay, says Peter Smith.

So you've sent in your form, you've been called for an interview, you've visited the school beforehand to prepare for the big day and now you are about to be grilled for your potential employer. What will your strategy be?

Unless you are unusually blase, you are bound to find the interview stressful - but those grilling you want to give you the chance to show yourself in the best possible light. They will try to look below the veneer of practised interview technique or to crack the shell of shyness. What should your strategy be?

Remind yourself what you said in your application, and be prepared to be questioned about that professional self-portrait - after all, it was your sales pitch not theirs.

A few hints. First, avoid jargon. Say what you have to say in straightforward, accessible language. Do not sound as if you are reciting chunks of the essay or dissertation on which you scored best in your course. Second, keep your answers structured and to the point. More people ramble themselves out of jobs than into them. Third, don't busk. If you don't understand a question or the reason behind it, or if you don't feel confident about the area being explored, say so. Experienced interviewers will spot long-winded evasiveness within seconds, and then politely switch off.

What questions should you ask, offered the opportunity or not? Do not invent a question simply for the sake of doing so. But don't be shy about seeking information you really want. There is nothing at all wrong or "unprofessional", for instance, about asking what they will pay you if you are offered the job.

The ground rules on pay are superficially fairly simple. You must be awarded two points on the 18-point statutory pay spine if you are a "good honours graduate" (that is have a first or second class honours degree).

Employers must, however, assess whether they can and wish to pay more - and if so, on what criteria. If you have previous satisfactory teaching experience in the maintained sector in England or Wales, you will be entitled to one pay point for each year to a maximum of seven for good honours graduates (and up to nine for others).

If your previous teaching experience has been in the independent sector, Scotland, Northern Ireland or overseas, then the entitlement is not automatic - and you should be prepared to drive a hard bargain. After all, your potential employers should have worked out from your CV your potential market value: if they thought you were out of their affordability range, they shouldn't be wasting their time by interviewing you.

The same goes for relevant non-teaching experience, paid or otherwise. In the past, employers had to award one point for every three years. Now they can decide what they wish to do, if anything, and many schools are strapped for cash. But schools can grant points for non-teaching experience. Admittedly you need to be prepared to swallow your humility and argue how the experience is relevant - but don't be too shy. You won't get a second chance to strike the deal.

Schools can also award up to five responsibility points to a teacher who "undertakes specified responsibilities beyond those common to the majority of teachers". Just because you are starting out in your career, do not think such payment is off the map, if it is clear from the interview that the schools wants you to do just that.

You will have to judge whether you risk pricing yourself out of an offer of a job you want. But there is another risk, that you take it on with no promise that now or in future your over-the-odds contribution will ever be acknowledged.

A booklet, Apply Yourself: practical information on applying for jobs and attending interviews, can be obtained from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, 7 Northumberland Street, London WC2N 5DA (free ATL members; Pounds 3 to others)

Peter Smith is general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers

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