What they really, really want

15th January 2010 at 00:00
Georgia Laird probes headteachers for the qualities they're looking for in their ideal NQT candidate

We've all been there - sweaty palms, dry mouth, butterflies in the stomach. Going for an interview is always nerve-racking. But for teachers, it is not a sit-down session of questions and answers, it is a performance. Ask too many questions, and you can be seen as monopolising; don't ask enough and you can appear to lack interest.

"It's all about preparation," says Peter Monk, head of Friesland School, a secondary in semi-rural Derbyshire. "The whole interview experience is unusual - you find yourself in a very formal environment."

He believes preparation is the key and that the job specification gives you the best idea of the candidate and person the school are looking for.

"What I do," he says, "is take a long bath the night before and think about all the possible questions (I might be asked). Sometimes you have candidates who aren't prepared and it's embarrassing.

"The worst interview I ever had was an English NQT. She had no idea how the interview process worked and had nothing to say. We tried to prompt her but she gave one-word answers."

Katie Jenkins, who was headteacher of Hillyfield Primary School before joining neighbouring Ainslie Wood Primary School in Walthamstow this year, says that if you are nervous and distracted, it will show.

"The key is keeping calm and keeping focused. Don't be afraid to ask for the questions to be repeated," she says.

She also suggests that while paperwork, planning and worksheets are a part of the job as a teacher, the interview is not the place to boast about it.

"I was observing a lesson and the candidate said: 'Right, we're going to have some fun now'. I got really excited," she recalls. "I thought she was going to inspire me. Instead, she took out some worksheets. I completely switched off after that."

It is always helpful to show enthusiasm and interest. A good way to do this is to look at the school's website. Dropping the odd piece of school information or data into conversation can be a great way to impress the panel. Even better, visiting the school beforehand is a sure way to impress.

Peter Monk says: "When a candidate visits a school before their interview it shows an active interest in the school and I look on it favourably when making my decision."

Remember to be aware of the school's style. For example, a traditional school may dress more formally. As general guidance, men should wear a shirt, tie and suit jacket and women should be smart and businesslike.

"A school is looking for a professional," says Ms Jenkins. "How one dresses and comes across is important."

"One thing that is offputting is someone who wears lots of jewellery. One candidate I interviewed was wearing bangles on her arm. She was very creative with her hand when talking. I spent the whole time watching and listening to the bangles."

Beyond the first impressions, the interviewing process can prove a tiring and very time-consuming one for the school. But an outgoing interviewee can provide a gratifying break in the tedium.

Mr Monk says: "I enjoy interviewing when a bright, positive and bubbly person applies for the role. You feel satisfied as a panel."

Experts on body language and human relationships suggest that our liking for a person is determined through three elements of their non-verbal communication: words, tone of voice and facial expression.

They believe words account for 7 per cent, tone of voice 38 per cent and facial expression and body language 55 per cent of the liking.

"The way people conduct themselves really stands out," agrees Mr Monk. "Not many people smile because they are too nervous but something as simple as a smile can make a difference."

In recent years the teacher interviews have changed. To get the job it isn't just the interviewers you have to win over; there's often a pupil panel, too.

"Put it this way," explains Mr Monk, "the school is a business and the students are your clients. Therefore, their involvement and view on the candidate is crucial."

Ms Jenkins can relate to these experiences. She recalls the interview for her current headship: "I found meeting the children council more nerve-racking than the interview.

"It's good to be prepared and ask the children questions because they'll be more honest than the staff in their response. I hadn't thought of questions in my interview and wish I had."

Impressing the students is much easier now candidates have the opportunity to deliver the lesson. This is a chance for you to really impress the panel. You have to create that spark and engage the children.

"I once observed a lesson where the candidate did a magical journey with the children," says Ms Jenkins, "she did bubbles and music and really thought about the process using lots of props. It was great."

Ms Jenkins suggests that those looking for unusual and attention-grabbing interview ideas scour the www.teachernet.gov.uk website or TES Connect (see page 22).

But, ultimately, the interviewing process is an insight; is the school right for you and are you right for the school?

"It's about being yourself," says Ms Jenkins. "Don't be afraid to sell yourself and know your strengths."

The most important thing to remember is to be honest to yourself. Don't forget it's as much a chance for you, the candidate, to interview the school as the school to interview you.


A recent TES survey asked headteachers about their NQT interviewing experiences.

- 70 per cent said the top quality they look for in a good candidate is enthusiasm, closely followed by initiative (50 per cent) and an ability to learn (40 per cent).

- 37 per cent believed vocal style is the most effect behaviour management tool.

- 26 per cent believed most interviewees fall down in their lack of response they give to questions and their lack of knowledge about the role.

- Personality and motivation are your biggest assets, according to the our survey respondents. This includes your goals and progression, your reason for applying, and your management of classroom behaviour.

But what advice do those headteachers surveyed have for you?

- Preparation is ultra-important. Over 75 per cent of them advise you to prepare as much as possible, including a visit to the school before an interview.

- 15 per cent of heads say you must make your application personal to the school.

- 15 per cent advise you to communicate clearly.

- Another 15 per cent of heads agree you must be yourself on the day.

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