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12 Tips to Ace Your Interview

28/04/15

If you are looking for a new role in September chances are you will be having an interview during the course of the Summer Term. How do you prepare? Giles gives his best tips that will put your ease. 

Ah teaching interviews. What fresh circle of hell is this? Lasts all day? Spend all that time with your competition? Check. Get kicked out mid-way through without so much as an interview with Davina McCall? Check. As I started writing this I was currently on interview, having done my lesson and waiting to find out if I got through to the next round. I don’t pretend to be an expert at interview technique, and I’ve gone to plenty and failed. But no-one learns anything from success. As I looked out at the listless faces in front of me, some hiding their anxiety, some with a practised calm, I wondered what practical tips would have helped me at the beginning of my career. I narrowed it down to just 12 points, and that was a battle! Here we go:

1. Public transport is not your friend.

I love my Gilesmobile. I go everywhere on my Gilesmobile. And yet I see some people who lose jobs because they’re late due to trains or buses and through no fault of their own, they’re on the back-foot before they get started. Splash out on a taxi or call in a favour if your own wheels are not an option.

2. No to coffee, yes to water.

You are a performer, you are about to go on stage and your voice is still your greatest tool. Save the coffee until after the lesson is done.

3. Look fly

Not to sound all Barney Stinson but your best suit, is your best friend on this occasion. Look sharp! Polish those shoes! Dry clean that suit and iron that shirt! Accessories; cufflinks and tie clips are fine, hell I even wore a pocket watch to an interview! How are you going to say you expect the highest standards from your students when you aren’t even showing that in your threads?

4. Don’t rely on anything they tell you.

I freely admit this is tricky. There has been more than one occasion when I’ve been tripped up by what the school have asked for not being what they need. I once had an interview for a school that described it’s Year 9 class as Levels 6-8 in ability. (Level 8. It truly is the “this one goes upto 11” of teaching). I was expecting a class of academic wunderkinds, what I got fell terribly short of that expectation. In a sense, it’s not easy to avoid this one, all I’m saying is: have contingencies.   

5. Keep it simple for the lesson, go nuts on extension activities.

Has anyone ever had the thing where they want you to deal with complex concepts, show challenge and progression, and manage to sneak it all into 20 minutes? Stick to one basic concept, a little off the beaten track so for example, if it they ask for poetic techniques avoid metaphors and go for something like pathetic fallacy. The kids have no idea what it is at the start but by the end when the kids can say “It means when the character’s sad it rains, when they’re happy it’s sunny” then BOOM! There’s your progression right there. Don’t try and pack too much in, it won’t work. Simply stick it down as an extension activity on your lesson plan. This is one area where showing your workings out can pay dividends.

6. Work out if you want it and fix the answer in your head.

I’m not kidding, this has been a problem for me in the past. If you’ve not got a permanent job to go back to, you might be desperate to jump at anything. The best time to decide this is on the tour, are the classrooms loud and obnoxious or deathly quiet? Does the head of department appear warm and friendly or did they sell their soul for a TLR? One school kept me waiting for 40 minutes before anyone even bothered to talk to me, students were poorly behaved in the observation lesson and why wouldn’t they be? The teachers observing me were talking during the lesson as well. If they can’t afford you basic respect then they don’t deserve you.

7. Keep your mouth shut and your eyes open.

Well, OK, I might be being a bit harsh on this point. What I mean is, when you’re going on the tour, be it with a member of staff or a pupil, you are still being assessed. Make the necessary “Ooohs” and “Aaahs” at their new sports facility, ask a thoughtful question or two. But this is just as much a part of the process as the interview itself. 

8. Stay away from the pastries.

If their interview process is lengthy and inefficient, or if they like to lord it over you with the power they have to make you wait, you will be there a long time. If you start on the pastries it will be a slippery slope and you’ll be munching them out of boredom more than anything else!

9. Just be yourself.

Easier said than done but what I mean is, be the best version of YOU that there is. My sister told me once, that they’re not looking for the perfect teacher, they are there to get a sense of who YOU are as a teacher. Relate everything back to personal experience, think of a time when you handled a situation. If nothing else, it’s easier than trying to memorise the perfect answer.

10. Pause.

They’ve asked you a question; “How would you handle blah blah blah?” You are going to want to fill the awkward silence as quickly as possible. Don’t. Instead, pause for a minute, look off into middle distance and when your answer is fully formed in your head, then reply. (Don’t wait too long, nobody wants it to get weird).

11. Sips to stop

Ah you’re talking. Talky talk, McTalkson. You want to stop. You need to stop. But the cold dead eyes staring at you from across the table are giving you nothing. No hope of chipping in or helping you out. Just the undead in business wear. So, when your point is made, round it off, and reach for that glass of water on the table. This punctuates your speech and says “I am done, now it’s your turn”. I guarantee this stops me from waffling every time.

12. Bring a book

You’re gonna be bored. You also don’t want to spend all your time worrying about the process. Did you get through or didn’t you? What was your lesson like? When all’s said and done, those questions are just there to pass the time in a day that insists on dragging. Bring a book, do some marking, or if you’re anything like me, start writing!

In the end, you could do all these things and still not get the job. On this occasion I got a very complimentary phonecall from the deputy head saying they were really impressed and if there was a second in department post they would have gladly offered it to me, but the other guy had more experience. Point is: it’s not the end of world, the right job is rare, and it’s better to have no job at all than the wrong one.

Have you got some tips to offer your fellow teachers and support workers on mastering an interview? Email them through to teacherservices@protocol-education.com.

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