Participating in Interviews
Your Elevator Speech, or Commercial
Your first 30 seconds and your last 30 seconds are the most important. Make them memorable! Use a story and hook your interviewer. Leave that person thinking you are unique and a perfect fit for their school. Show excitement, willingness to try new things, passion for working with students, and a desire to collaborate and learn.
The first question you get may be something like, “Tell me about yourself” or, “What should I know that is not apparent on your résumé?” Open the interview with a hook that will remain in the interviewer’s mind and set the right tone. Prepare a 3-minute story that describes something significant about why you went into teaching, why you changed jobs and how that will make you a better teacher, how you relate to students you might not be expected to relate to, or something of value about your becoming a teacher.
What is your story? Think about what sets you apart. What makes you unique? What experiences have shaped your thoughts and feelings? How will these help you be a better teacher?
How should you end your interview? Tell a narrative that takes about a minute but shows the interviewer your passion for teaching and your desire to engage your students no matter what it takes. Answer the question, “Why should we hire you over everyone else who applied?”
Present yourself as a confident teacher—someone a parent would trust to teach their child.
- Arrive early and treat the office staff well. Their opinion of how you’ll fit the system is considered.
- Start with a firm handshake and smile! Introduce yourself and thank the interviewer for taking time to interview you. Don’t gush, but show excitement for teaching.
- Project confidence and enthusiasm.
- Lose the fidgets and um’s and uh’s.
- Sit up straight but relaxed with your hands on the table in front of you or in your lap.
- Listen carefully, meet the eyes of the interviewer, and smile before answering each question.
Things You May Be Asked to Do
- Teach a lesson for the panel or in a classroom of students you don’t know or a group of teachers. This happens often!
- Read and correct a book report—focus on English grammar and punctuation, not opinions expressed.
- Give your opinion of current state policy or other legislation. Be careful on this one!
- Take a basic skills test or another type of test. (Some of these are quite lengthy.)
- Write an essay—a variety of topics is possible.
- Watch a movie (for example, Field of Dreams) or read a book prior to the interview and be prepared to discuss it.
Questions You Should Ask
The main purpose of the interview is to find a good fit. You may want a job, but you also want one at a school where you’ll be happy and thrive. Interviewers expect to be asked questions, so prepare a list beforehand. Although you should review available material about any district or school at which you interview, it would be appropriate to ask, “Although I have looked at your website, could you tell me about the student and faculty culture at this school?” Also ask about the following:
- Scheduling (50-minute periods, 90-minute blocks, AB scheduling?)
- How many classes you will teach and preps you will have
- If you will be a “floater” or must give up your room to one during planning
- What parental support is like
- The school or district discipline policy
- Extra-curricular activities—how they are assigned and if there’s extra compensation
- What support mechanisms are in place for new teachers—will you get a mentor or any special help with the induction year?
- What teacher/student ratio you can expect
- What end-of-year (high stakes standardized) testing or other testing is in place
Second-round interviews are common with a tight job market and an overabundance of good candidates. If you get called for a second interview, be grateful, review all your notes and possible questions, dress for success, and be confident.
You may find yourself scheduled for an interview in a virtual format, which can be a unique challenge. How to Shine Online: Tips for Virtual Interviews offers advice on how you can make a great impression in that context.
A deal breaker is something you do that is so wrong that you are immediately crossed off the list of possibilities. Some of these are missing common courtesy and politeness, others are faux pas in how you are attired, and others are saying the wrong thing or talking badly about someone. Here are a few deal breakers that principals have mentioned:
- No visible enthusiasm or passion for teaching
- Inappropriate dress
- Refusal to consider leadership of any extra-curricular activities
- Bad-mouthing your teacher education program or school placement
- Bad-mouthing your cooperating teacher, principal, or colleagues
- Consistently poor student teaching evaluations
Most principals like to make up their own minds. They understand that personality conflicts may occur during student teaching. If your university supervisor has good things to say but your cooperating teacher does not, or vice-versa, you should be able to explain it, diplomatically, by saying that there was a “conflict in style.” Leave it at that unless you are asked for details, in which case you say that you respect the individual in question, and it was a matter of a difference of opinion or style and leave it at that. You will get points for discretion.
Interview Do’s and Don’ts
- Do arrive 10 minutes early, but not 15 or 20. Be nice to the person who greets you—a receptionist or secretary or administrative assistant. Often, their appraisal of you is also taken into consideration.
- Do limit the amount of stuff you bring to the interview. Leave your purse at home (but take your wallet and keys). Carry your portfolio in your left hand to be ready to shake hands with your right.
- Do practice a firm handshake.
- Do compose a 60-second commercial about yourself and practice it over and over in front of the mirror or your friends and family.
- Do wear clothes that blend in with the environment. Look like you belong, yet a bit more formal for this occasion.
- Do ask when a selection decision will be made.
- Do locate the school where you are to interview. Drive there a day or two ahead of time—you’ll avoid getting lost, and you’ll be better able to judge how much time to give yourself. Anticipate differences in traffic.
- Don’t be late. No excuses!
- Don’t ramble. Answer a question in less than two minutes and wait for a response.
- Don’t rush your answers. After you hear the question, pause to formulate your answer before speaking. If the silence seems uncomfortable, say something like, “That’s a really good question. Give me a minute so I can give you my best answer.”
- Don’t go to an interview with wet hair! If you wear comfortable shoes to drive, don’t forget to change before going into the building.
- Don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself. Downplay body piercings and cover tattoos. Remove extraneous and possibly distracting jewelry. You may believe that your body art is beautiful, but interviewers may have quite different opinions.
- Don’t skip your homework. Ignorance is not bliss. Before the interview, research the school or people with whom you are meeting. Have questions ready that show you’ve done your homework.
- Don’t forget about you! Think about what you need in a school and teaching position and be ready with questions. The interview has dual purpose: The interviewer is trying to assess whether you are the best fit for the job, and you are looking for an environment where you think you will be comfortable.