I’ve sat on countless interview panels and seen some sparkling, knockout performances. I’ve also seen good applicants make a real hash of it – and rule themselves out of the job. Here’s my list of dos and don’ts for interviewees…
The best candidates are nervous. Nervous because it’s clear that they really want the job, and they are keen to demonstrate this to you. The nerves feed the performance at interview, translating into a candidate who is alert, wide-eyed and enthusiastic. This is only possible when the nerves sit on top of confidence in your ability and a self-assurance which inspires belief in the panel as well. When nerves sit on top of a lack of confidence, it is destructive – I’ve seen interviewees forget the lesson they taught that morning, forget the name of their current school, all but forget their own name. On the other hand, a lack of nerves is not natural and interviewees who come across as too relaxed and at ease are usually over-confident, may be arrogant, and that doesn’t bode well for them as a contributor to a team…
Try to enjoy the interview. The panel wants to set you at ease, wants you to open up. Smile!
Take your time – if you need it
It’s not a problem to pause to gather your thoughts. Don’t babble or fill dead air with nonsense. Take a couple of breaths and then answer.
Nobody is perfect. The panel will have discussed any concerns about the candidates – shortcomings in their experience, the example lesson taught, gaps in the letter and so on. Nothing inspires confidence more than hearing the candidate articulate those concerns themselves, unprompted, in the interview. This is the sign of a truly reflective professional. It may not completely overcome the concerns but, in most cases, it will go some way to cancelling them out.
Back up what you say
Ground your answers in your experience. “When I taught this..” or “when I led this project at my current school…” are foundations for good answers, especially when followed up with reflection about what went well and what could have gone better. Baseless assertions don’t wash!
Do you have any questions?
If I’m honest, the best answer here is “I’ve had so many opportunities to ask questions during the day that I think everything I wanted to know has been covered”. This shows me that the candidate has come prepared with a list of “need to knows” and taken the opportunities that our well-planned day has afforded. One or two questions are fine – it may be that there are a couple of procedural or practical points that need clarifying. I don’t mind a good table-turner either: “what do you think the best thing about this school is?” has been posed back to the panel half-a-dozen times in my career, although it’s a bit showy and there will have been opportunities to ask this before the formal interview. However, on two very memorable occasions candidates who have come into the interview as front-runners have talked themselves out of a job offer with a barrage of questions to the panel ranging from the self-aggrandising to the irrelevant, clearly saved up in an effort to impress us. It doesn’t.
The X-Factor in interview comes from the candidates who sparkle from a love of teaching and an unabashed enthusiasm for the privilege of working with young people. You can’t fake it. I wish I could bottle it.
If you want advice about any aspect of teaching careers I am on the panel for a live online Q&A with the Guardian’s Teacher Network on Tuesday 15th January between 6 and 8 pm – details here.