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When it comes to interviews Mike Hardacre believes it's the commitment you show - not the jewellery - that really counts.

Following one of my more interesting interviews, the chief inspector came to debrief me. He told me there was nothing professionally wrong with anything I'd done or said, it was just that the vice-chair of the education committee didn't like men who wore bracelets.

It was a shock, and it taught me a useful lesson - that judgments are made within 30 seconds of anyone arriving in the room. It's a poor commentary on the way we perceive people. After all, we're supposed to be in a job where appearances shouldn't count.

What the panel should be looking for is the quality of the brain, the ability to do the job. Yet we make instant assessments on the basis of what people look like.

When I came into teaching, in the Home Counties and London, as long as you were standing up and breathing you could get a job. So it wasn't much of an interview process.

I started in a secondary modern in Bedfordshire. The school had a vacancy and I was the applicant. I was interviewed at county hall, then I went to see the head and got the job.

I also remember being interviewed for a senior teacher position in Bury. I was asked if I had any questions. I asked the interviewer why the children weren't all in uniform, and apparently it was a huge bone of contention. The chair didn't like uniform, the head did, and a huge political battle was being fought behind the scenes. So it touched a nerve. I'd recommend that people never ask any questions at that point - it's too easy to put your foot in it.

When I interview job applicants, I like to make sure the school's philosophy is crystal clear in the details that go out. I tell people that if they're unhappy or they feel that this is not right for them, there's no disgrace in walking away - you should never let yourself get into a job that you don't want.

I then look for people who have reflected a clear commitment to the philosophy of the school in their application, through the evidence of what they've done in the past. Then we tailor questions to try to get them to tell us how they have done that individually, or as part of a team.

So there's a definite process in which the interview questions are tailored to bring out the candidate's achievements. That's not always recognised by the person sitting on the other side of table.

Mike Hardacre is acting headteacher of the Northicote school, Wolverhampton. Interview by Martin Whittaker

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