You're the one that they want

13th January 2006 at 00:00
Be calm, but not too laid back. Be outstanding, but a team player.

Above all, be yourself. Chris Green looks at what a trainee can do to get that job

Katy Smith pensively chews her bottom lip beneath the smiling faces of staff photos pinned to the wall at Lyppard Grange primary school in Worcester. She wonders if she has what it takes to join them.

In a few moments, the 24-year-old PGCE student at University College Worcester will experience her first teaching interview. She has ditched a career in publishing and hopes to become a Later YearsKey Stage 2 teacher at a primary school such as this next summer.

In an adjacent office, headteacher Sian Williams and chair of governors Vicky Lee describe "the Lyppard feel" they want from Katy.

"A smiling, outgoing, bubbly, confident person, who has a buzz about them,"

says Sian. "The ability to fit into a team," adds Vicky. "Someone who genuinely wants to teach, who likes children and wants to see them grow."

They expect these credentials to fizz through, not just in Katy's answers but in her dress, demeanour, poise and posture - which are difficult characteristics to portray under pressure.

Creating a good first impression is a balancing act. Dress conservatively and you won't stand out, too fashionably and you could be marked out as a maverick. Lean back and you risk looking laid back, sit forward and you seem too pushy.

Katy has opted for a smart, casual look: pink V-necked top, three-quarter length black skirt, and knee-high boots. As she enters the room, she smiles warmly and shakes hands with her interviewers. A low coffee table sits between them. Katy sits back in her chair and a 20-minute mock interview begins.

THE INTERVIEW

This isn't a frosty, hostile interrogation intended to trip Katy up, but a delve for detail. She soon settles into the tone and feel of the interview.

Her body language looks relaxed throughout ("I was shaking inwardly," she says later) and she maintains good posture - neither too stiff nor too relaxed. She doesn't slouch, shift or squirm in her seat - even when responding to searching questions.

Katy is occasionally caught out: in response to a question about the skills she would like to develop, she mentions a specific subject - music - rather than general teaching attributes. But she gives direct answers to most of the 15-or-so questions that are posed, and doesn't appear unduly fazed when asked to amplify her responses.

She has clearly thought out the main messages she wants to convey: teaching is important - "Every child deserves a good education"; she enjoys it and has extra-curricular skills to offer (an athletics coaching badge); and is a proven team player from her previous job in publishing.

However, Katy is softly spoken and not particularly expressive. She doesn't appear to sell herself, doesn't raise her voice or get animated, and frequently hedges her bets.

Asked to say how she sees her career developing, she answers pragmatically:

"I would like to be a deputy head by my thirties but still in the classroom."

She smiles and giggles at the occasional light-hearted comment, conveying warmth and ease. Although she later admits the interview is a challenge - having a journalist and photographer present doesn't help - she gives away few detectable signs of stress, other than the pitch of her voice.

THE FEEDBACK

Katy won't be looking for teaching posts until next summer, so it would unfair to deduce too much from the content of her answers. But what impression does she make?

Overall, both panellists are impressed. "I don't expect candidates to be suited and booted," says Sian Williams, the head. "A professional appearance appropriate to the job is fine. That is exactly how Katy came across."

Her demeanour is a big hit.

"Your smile and face say 'This is a nice person'," says Ms Williams. "You let your personality show though. There is a tendency for interviewees to be too reserved."

Vicky Lee, the governor, feels Katy maintains a positive, upright posture throughout. She also keeps eye contact and doesn't fidget. Unlike many interviewees, she keeps her hand movements to a minimum.

On the downside, the panel feels Katy's voice is shaky. Although she talks about her passion for teaching, Ms Lee would like to see her "up her enthusiasm levels".

Early on, Katy mentions that she feels she needs to be more assertive. This could be deemed a negative image - but Ms Williams sees it as a potential strong point: recognition of your weaknesses can be a strength, she says.

It says something about your character. "But remember to mention your good points first."

They also think Katy could be more explicit in her answers. Their advice is to exude confidence. "Give a statement. Back it up with evidence. Then stop. Don't waffle."

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Dr Martin Skinner, a behavioural psychologist at the Warwick university, and Angela Barron, a recruitment adviser with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, provide tips on making a good impression at interview.

* Be prepared Think about how you want to present yourself.

* Note your strengths and weaknesses "If you have a clear mind, you will approach the interview with confidence and your posture will be better,"

says Dr Skinner.

* Suss out the school Lyppard Grange encourages visits.

* Look the part "Dress for the job you'll be doing," says Angela Barron.

"But make sure you feel comfortable."Dr Skinner urges caution. "Wear a suit if in doubt. If you worry about how you look, you won't perform as well."

* At an inner city school, jewellery or body art may be acceptable; elsewhere, maybe not. If in doubt, cover up.

* Sound and look like you mean what you say Maintain eye contact with the questioner. Avoid furtive glances at the wall. Smile when appropriate.

"Think about the positive statements you want to make and anticipate any awkward questions," says Angela Barron.

* Be interested Have a few questions ready to avoid an embarrassing silence when they ask if you have any questions.

* Don't act "Be yourself," says Dr Skinner. "Don't try to be someone you aren't. You will be found out. These people want a colleague who'll fit in, so let them meet the real you."

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