Very testing times;Career development

24th April 1998 at 01:00
Teachers applying for jobs are now likely to encounter more than just an interview, says John Caunt

Questioning half a dozen people about hypothetical situations or past experience is a notoriously unreliable way of determining who will be the most effective in a job.

Selection tools to supplement the interview have been around for a long time and their use is increasing in education, particularly for senior posts. If you are on the promotion trail, it is worth giving them a little attention.

PERSONALITY PROFILES will typically require you to respond to a bank of statements. They do not aim to tease out every nuance of personality, but to provide broad-brush assessments of such characteristics as creativity and leadership.

They are generally complementary to assessments gained by other means, and the assessor will concentrate only on scores outside the normal range.

VERBALNUMERICAL REASONING TESTS deal with ability to interpret information presented in a variety of formats. Their use is often unpopular with candidates who regard them as an affront to professionalism: "I have demonstrated my ability through my qualifications and x years of successful experience. Why on earth are you requiring me to sit this wretched test?" However, tests do give another angle on capability - often in contrast to interview performance - so swallow any pride and give them your best shot. Whingeing may be interpreted as insecurity.

GROUP EXERCISES seek to reveal leadership, influencing and communication skills. Typically, a scenario will be set up in which candidates meet to discuss a proposal. Roles may be assigned or left open. Take care not to go over the top in this type of exercise.

Candidates often arrive hyped up and combative. They proceed to dominate their colleagues and to display aggression and inconsistency. At the other end of the scale, make sure that you doparticipate. The candidate who simply listens and nods will not get very far.

PRESENTATIONS are our stock-in-trade, and we ought to be good at them. Unfortunately, many candidates ignore the differences between an interview presentation and a normal teaching situation.

In a presentation, time is more severely constrained, and you do not have the same opportunity to check understanding. Clarity of structure and practice with timing are therefore essential.

TEN TIPS TO ENHANCE YOUR PERFORMANCE

1 Approach personality profiles honestly. Do not be tempted to present answers that you feel match the "ideal personality". You will be unlikely to achieve the consistency of response to fool the assessment structure.

2 There are several books available that familiarise the reader with job selection profiles and tests. They may provide some assistance in building confidence and mental sharpening.

3 Keep to a consistent line in group exercises, but do not be afraid of acknowledging valuable points made by others.

4 Ensure your interventions are timed appropriately. Refrain from constantly interrupting or talking to the exclusion of others.

5 Demonstrate leadership and interpersonal skill by reconciling the positions of others or bringing more reticent people into group discussions.

6 Beware of oversimplifying issues in presentations or group discussions.

7 Recognise that some members of a panel may have greater technical knowledge than others, but do not address presentations solely to them.

8 Leave the preparation of any visual aids until you are happy about presentation structure. Too often, people under pressure of time rush to prepare slides around which they hang an inadequately structured presentation.

9 It is better to make a limited number of good points well, and leave your audience knowing that you could have included more, than to engage in a record-breaking attempt to cram all you know into a tiny time slot.

10 Finally, remember that each of these tools contributes to an overall picture of you, but the face-to-face impression you give at interview remains the most powerful.

John Caunt was formerly director of personnel and student services at Southampton City College

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