17 December 2013

...Interview Strategy

We held UEL's Recruitment Fair yesterday. The day was organised to provide trainee teachers with all the information they needed to secure an NQT post by the end of their PGCE/School Direct programme. Having interviewed many candidates for training places and teaching posts, I was asked to contribute to a session entitled 'Answering Interview Questions'. This post shares a summary of the guidance I gave, a copy of the presentation I displayed (using Prezi), and a video I used to emphasize the need for decent preparation.

Rather than just dwelling on the questions that potential employers were likely to ask, I decided to discuss the interview process in broader terms and to provide trainees with a strategy for success. Apologies if some of the advice seems fairly obvious, but I've seen first hand the effect that a lack of forward planning can have on interview day... Get to work!

1. Preparation

  • Make sure you know when and where your interview is. Plan your journey.
  • Find out who will be interviewing you. Consider phoning the school to ask.
  • Use online sources, including school websites, Google and LinkedIn to gather as much information as you can. Having a few choice statistics to add to the conversation is likely to impress. 
  • Review the person specification for the role, so you know precisely what it is they'll be looking for.
  • Re-read the personal statement you wrote in support of your application. Be prepared to discuss the content further.
  • Consider preparing physical examples of the work you have done in schools, to support your case for employment.

2. Presentation

  • Decide what you'll wear the day before. Dress for success. Be smart.
  • Attend to your personal hygiene. This includes getting plenty of sleep the night before.
  • Make a good first impression. Give a confident handshake, if appropriate. Think about positive body language. Smile.
  • Accept water if you're offered it. You may be grateful of it.

3. Questions

  • Make a list of the topics you're likely to be asked about beforehand. Read the examples of subjects on the Prezi, below.
  • Make sure you've rehearsed some of your answers.
  • Be prepared for more abstract questions, such as 'What's your philosophy on education?' 
  • Remember that as there are good and bad candidates, there are also good and bad interviewers.
  • Consider each question in terms of TED (see the Prezi). Imagine you're being asked to Tell... Explain... and Describe...

3. Answering

  • Listen, pause before answering, and think about what is being asked.
  • Determine what knowledge or understanding the question is searching for, then answer succinctly.
  • Don't be afraid of silence. Take your time. If an interviewer remains silent when you've finished your answer, perhaps they're waiting for more. Ask 'does that answer your question?'
  • Remember to talk about what you know and do that makes a difference to learners. Talk about the pupils you've taught, and the progress they've made. Give examples.
  • Tell the truth.

4. Asking

  • Expect to be invited to ask questions. This is your chance to clarify queries, but also to finally determine whether you'll accept the job should you be offered it.
  • Avoid asking about something that's obviously on the website. Or about out-dated, inappropriate initiatives.
  • Saying 'I think we've covered everything I wanted to ask' is fine, but...
  • There are some sample questions on the Prezi, below.

6. Perspective

  • If you're invited to interview someone is interested in you. They are considering employing you. It's an opportunity.
  • Interviewing takes time and resources, and there's a lot at stake for a head teacher. The interviewer is likely to feel under pressure too.
  • Think positively. Visualize a positive outcome.

7a. Success!

  • You're likely to be called on a telephone number you provided. Be available.
  • Give yourself time, if you need it, to discuss the news with your family or decide on your answer before accepting. Promise to return the call by the end of the day/first thing in the morning.
  • A verbal acceptance is meaningful. Say 'yes' only when you're certain you'll take up the post.
  • Be prepared to ask for clarification on details not covered during the interview: salary/pay point; start of the contract; term of the contract; year group/teaching workload etc.
  • Thank the caller for the excellent news.

7b. Rejection!

  • You're likely to be called on a telephone number you provided. Be available.
  • Thank the caller for letting you know. 
  • Ask for feedback on your interview.
  • Don't take it personally. Sometimes head teachers are looking for specific qualities or experience.
  • Learn from the experience. Reflect, and consider whether you'd change your approach. If any questions threw you at interview, make sure they never will again.
  • Finally, remember that around 35 thousand teachers are trained in this country every year! The majority will want an NQT post. And there should always be competition for teaching jobs... 

References and further reading

The Prezi:

Here's the video, complete with 'awkward moment' 2:08-2:30. Makes my point about being prepared...

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Regards, DJA