Participating in Interviews

Upon Your Arrival
When you first meet the interviewer(s), make sure your hand is free so you can greet your interviewer with a good, firm handshake, make eye contact, and smile! Be diplomatic and professional, but don’t forget to be yourself. You’ve worked hard to get to this point in your career, and you have a lot to offer.

Your Elevator Speech, or Commercial
Your first question 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 tone for the whole interview. Prepare a 3-minute story that tells 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 an unexpected type of student, or something of value about your becoming a teacher. See Interview Questions for examples and more guidance.

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? The first 30 seconds and last 30 seconds are the most important parts of your “sales pitch,” or summary, about yourself. Make them memorable! Use a story and hook your interviewer. Leave that person thinking you are a perfect fit for their school. Show excitement, a willingness to try new things, passion for working with students, and a desire to collaborate and learn.

How will you end your interview? Tell a narrative that takes only a minute but shows the interviewer your passion for teaching and your desire to engage your students. Answer the question, “Why should we hire you instead of all the other people who applied for this job?”

Act Professional
Present yourself as a confident teacher—someone a parent would trust to teach their child.
  • Arrive early and be cordial and friendly to the office staff. Their opinion of how you’ll fit in 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.
  • Minimize fidgeting and using filler words like “um” and “uh.”
  • 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 to a group of teachers. This one 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.
  • Write an essay about any number of topics.
  • Watch a movie (e.g., 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 can be happy and thrive. Interviewers expect to be asked questions, so prepare a list beforehand. Although you should research 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 students who attend this school?” Also ask about:
  • Scheduling (i.e., 50-minute periods, 90-minute blocks, AB scheduling)
  • How many classes you will teach and the preps you will have
  • If you will be a “floater” or must give up your room to one during planning
  • The level of parental support
  • The school or district discipline policy
  • Extra-curricular activities—how are they assigned and if extra compensation is given
  • The support mechanisms in place for new teachers—assignment of a mentor or special help with the induction year
  • The anticipated teacher/student ratio
  • End-of-year or standardized testing in place

Read New School? 9 Questions You Should Ask by Maia Heyck-Merlin to get more ideas of questions you should ask either in your interview or before accepting the position.

Second-round interviews are common with a tight job market and an overabundance of quality candidates. If you receive a second interview, be grateful, review your notes and possible questions, dress for success, and feel confident!

Deal Breakers
A deal breaker is something you say or do that is so inexcusable that you are immediately eliminated as a candidate. This could mean not using common courtesy and politeness, being inappropriately attired, saying the wrong thing, or talking negatively 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 personality conflicts may occur during student teaching, such as when your co-operating teacher has negative opinions about your teaching. You can explain it diplomatically by noting a “conflict in style” and leave it at that, unless you are asked for details. Then, you could mention your respect for the individual in question but say there was a difference of opinion or style and leave it at that. You will get points for discretion.

For more deal breakers, read Twelve Ways to Blow a Job Interview. Some of these are more applicable to those applying for administrative positions.

Interview Do’s and Don’ts
The Do’s
  • Do arrive 10 minutes early, but not 15 or 20. Be gracious to the office staff persons who greet you. Often, their appraisal of you is taken into consideration.
  • Do limit the amount of “stuff” you bring to the interview (leave your purse at home). Carry your portfolio in your left hand so you can shake hands with your right.
  • Do practice a firm handshake.
  • Do compose a 60-second commercial about yourself and practice it repeatedly in front of the mirror or other people.
  • Do wear clothes that blend in. Look like you belong, yet a more formal.
  • 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 to familiarize yourself with the route and the time it will take. Allow extra time for traffic problems.

The Don’ts
  • Don’t be late. No excuses!
  • Don’t ramble. Answer a question in less than 2 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 piercing 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 doing your homework. Ignorance is not bliss. Before the interview, research the school and 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 a dual purpose: The interviewer is trying to assess whether you are the best fit for the job, and you are looking for an environment that fits your needs.