Do your homework, don’t be afraid to brag a little, be prepared for questions about racial competency, show your confidence, and smile. That is what I would say to anyone preparing for a job interview today; especially any of those applying for the positions that schools have today. By following my advice, you’ll put yourself high up on the list of hopefuls vying for new employment.
I recently was on an interviewing committee for one of several positions in the school at which I work. We had some particular qualities, experiences, wisdom, and enthusiasm that we were looking for. I know that there are many of you out there that are looking for a new job, so I thought I would share my behind the scenes insight.
Do Your Homework: Take the time to learn about the place in which you might be working. Get on-line, and/or ask colleagues what they might know about the new place. Most schools have a web page with data and information. You might even be able to find links to specific teacher web pages of those you might be working with closely. If you haven’t at least looked at the school web page, you haven’t begun to do your homework.
Another part of your homework is to find the answers to the following questions: Is the school in a low-income, rural, affluent, or suburban area? About how many students does it serve? What curriculum do they use? How have they done on the past state tests? What does the data say? What type of teacher evaluation system do they use? These are just some of the questions you should answer for yourself before you walk in to the interview. By doing so, you get a sense of how you might answer some of the questions the committee might pose to you.
Don’t be like “Ida Nough”. When asked about how she might teach a math lesson, Ida spoke about the greatness of the curriculum that her past school district used. Unfortunately, that curriculum was dropped the year before by the interviewing school district due to its lack of lessons that met the state standards. The fact that she was unaware of the change, and reasons for the change, lost her “points”. Then, at the end of the interview, Ida was asked if she had any questions. She proceeded to ask about how many kids were in the school and if a lot of teachers leave after a few years. Ouch! She could have talked about what she had done in the past, followed by an openness to learn more about the curriculum that would be new to her; perhaps by taking additional training. She was not one of their top contenders.
Don’t be afraid to brag a little: If you have earned an award, if your past students made significant gains on standardized tests due to your teaching, if you have planned/organized special events for your past schools or if there are other such important pieces to your resume; tell the interview team. Do not assume that everyone on the interview team has had the opportunity to read your resume. In some situations, the administrator prescreens all the candidates prior to setting up an interview. Members of the interviewing team may not get to look at a resume until after the interview when the team has a bit more time in discussion. So brag on yourself. Tell them the things that you especially want them to know about.
Let me tell you about “Cheyenne Coy”. Cheyenne knew much about the school and its demographics. She smiled and answered the questions quietly, but thoroughly. Just before the interview team was about to dismiss her, Cheyenne shyly brought up the fact that her previous school was a struggling one, but that her students scores on the state standardized test improved by 27%. That is a significant jump. This caused the team to look more closely at her skills and potential. When they called one of her references, the team was told that her previous principal actually considered nominating her for a significant award in their district. She was one of the interviewing team’s top contenders.
Be prepared for questions about racial competency. These days, every interview that I have been a part of has asked some sort of question regarding racial competency. Often the candidate is asked to rate themselves in regards to their racial aptitude and tell why they scored themselves that way. Administrators are looking for understanding about how race impacts students. You are encouraged to speak through your own personal, racial experiences, beliefs, and perspectives. Yet understand that there are historical and contemporary issues that we should be respectful of. Ask yourself, “To what degree am I conscious of how race impacts my life?”
So with that, how do you think “Mr. E. Quity” did in his interview? When posed with the question about his racial competency, he gave himself a score of 7. He qualified that by stating that he had grown up in a neighborhood that was full of families of various nationalities and cultures. There was a polish family across the street, an African American family to the right and a Hispanic family just a ways down the road. He was German. He never thought anything about the differences, as child, until he found that the Hispanic family was being ostracized by some of the neighbors due to their culture and faith. It didn’t sit right with him, so he decided that he would purposely become better friends with the family’s son who was about his age. It didn’t turn out to be best friendship of his life, but he learned a lot about treating each other kindly and learning more about those that aren’t like you. He went on to tell the interviewing team that he has since been a part of many other communities, some more culturally diverse than others. He’d taught in schools that were in middle class white neighborhoods and in Title One schools that were filled with students of varying income and races; in fact, his last class has 10 different languages represented through his students. He stated that race affects us personally and professionally. He felt very comfortable about talking about race and cultures, but wasn’t about to say that he knew it all. His welcomed the opportunities to learn more.
So how do you think he did? He didn’t use the current buzz words or quote statistics that some might have been listening for. He didn’t say that he was more privileged than others. He didn’t even talk about how race is both positive and negative. He spoke his truth and acknowledged that he was open to learning more. That served him well. The committee appreciated his candor and his openness to growth. They placed him in the running for the position.
Show your confidence: You may feel confident, but your body language may say otherwise. Eye contact is a familiar sign of confidence, but what if you are being interviewed by a team of people? Give each person some eye contact throughout the interview, but not so much that you creep them out. Some teams will make notes while they listen to your questions. Don’t worry, just keep talking and look for opportunities to connect visually. Also, sit up straight, but relax your shoulders. Don’t touch your face. This might make you seem nervous or as if you are hiding something.
Let me tell you about “Diane Tooleve”. She had done her homework, answered the questions thoroughly, and even bragged a bit. But there was something that just didn’t feel comfortable to the team. In the team’s discussion after her interview it was noted that she looked at her watch at least two or three times. Was she just keeping track of the time for good management or was she concerned about the time? That wasn’t clear. She could have taken her watch off and placed it in front of her in order to keep an eye on how much time she was using for each question and to manage that time efficiently. It was also noted that she often scratched her nose or rubbed her chin. Several of the interviewers felt uncomfortable or distracted by that. But what bothered the team the most was that Diane slouched in her chair and didn’t seem very enthusiastic about her career choice. Her answers were complete, but lacked the passion and uniqueness that others had given. Diane was placed on the bottom of the team’s list.
Smile: Just because you have done your homework, you’ve exuded confidence, shared all your expertise, hold a Masters Degree, and have 15 years experience, that doesn’t make you the best candidate. Most likely, the team is looking for a good fit personally as well. Remember to smile. People are more inclined to listen to you and want to know more about you if you are a positive person. Also, if you are prepared and confident a smile is easier to share. We all know how nerve racking an interview can be. When you haven’t done your homework, and you’re not sure about your own abilities, you’re definitely going to up the stress level. A stressful smile may look like a fake smile. None of that will help you.
“I.V. League” came to an interview fully prepared to blow their socks off with his resume. He had been to several important colleges achieving his Bachelors and his Masters degrees as well as completing numerous classes to maintain his teaching certificate. He had been in several schools over his 20+ year career, so he had been involved in many types of curricula. On his own, he designed a program to help students improve their writing skills while participating in charitable situations. The administrator was looking forward to meeting the man with the impressive portfolio. When Mr. League entered the room he greeted everyone politely and took a seat. As he answered the same questions that all the candidates had been asked, he never smiled. His answers showed his knowledge, but he just didn’t fully connect with the interview team. When the team later discussed his candidacy most were put off by his stoic manner. The administrator was surprised that I.V. League was not one of the more popular contenders. He had high hopes, but agreed with the other team members after the interview. Mr. League was not asked to join the staff.
As of this posting, we have hired someone to fill the position that we were interviewing for. It took several weeks. We looked for someone that was skilled, experienced, a life-long learner, enthusiastic, motivated, had done his/her homework, understood that race impacts our students 100%, and was confident and positive. We had nearly 200 people that have applied for one spot. When we met the candidate that showed us the most of what we look for, we placed her on the top of the list; and after being thoroughly vetted, we offered her the job.
To those of you still seeking a position: Good luck and be wise.