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.
Often, your first question will be something like, “tell me about yourself” or “what should I know that is not apparent on your résumé?” That is your chance to open the interview with a bomb or a hook that will remain in the interviewer’s mind and set the tone for the whole interview. Prepare a 3-minute (or 5-minute) speech 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 students the interviewer might not think you would relate to, or something of value about your becoming a teacher. Read the story in Preparing for the Interview.
You do have your own 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?
Think about how you’ll end your interview. Tell a narrative that takes about a minute but shows your interviewer your passion for teaching and your desire to engage your students no matter what it takes. Answer “why should we hire you instead of all the other people who applied for this job.”
You may think this should not even have to be said, but you’d be surprised how many teacher interviewees do not act like a confident teacher someone would trust to teach their child. Think about that.
- Arrive early and treat the office staff well. Their opinion of how you’ll fit the system is often asked.
- 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 uhm’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 one happens often.
- Read and correct a book report – focus on English grammar and punctuation, not opinions expressed.
- Give your opinion of No Child Left Behind, Common Core State Standards, 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 are 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
Remember that 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 at which you can be happy and thrive. Interviewers expect to be asked some questions and will feel it is a bad sign if you do not have any. 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 web site, could you tell me about the students who attend this school?” Also ask about:
- scheduling (50 minute periods, 90 minute blocks, AB scheduling?)
- how many classes you will teach and preps you will have
- if there is any chance you will be a “floater” or have to give up your room to one during planning
- what parental support is like
- the school or district discipline policy
- extra-curricular activities—how are they assigned and is there 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
Read New School? 9 Questions You Should Ask by Maia Heyck-Merlin for more ideas of questions you need to ask either in your interview or later before accepting the position. This is a great resource.
Second round interviews are becoming more common with the 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.
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 co-operating teacher, principal, or colleagues
- consistently poor student teaching evaluations
About that last deal breaker: most principals like to make up their own minds. They understand about personality conflicts that may occur during student teaching. If your university supervisor has good things to say but your co-operating teacher does not, or vice-versa, you will be able to explain it, diplomatically, by saying that there was a ‘conflict in style.’ It is best to 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.
For more deal breakers, read Twelve Ways to Blow a Job Interview. Some of these are more applicable to those applying for higher level jobs like department chair, assistant principal, or principal.
Interview Do’s and Don’ts
- Do arrive 10 minutes early, but not 15 or 20. And be very 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 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—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! (Yes, it’s happened!) And 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 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.