Interview Strategy for Success
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This guide, which has been written by our Education Advisor who was a Secondary Head Teacher for 18 years, is intended to provide you with the advice and guidance needed to secure your first teaching post. We hope you will find it useful and would welcome any feedback on its content, design and layout.
Best wishes from all at Strategy Education
The purpose of an interview is to enable the school to select the best candidate for the post. It also helps you to decide if it is the right post for you. If you are offered the job only accept it if it is right for you. Also remember that the selection process begins from the moment you arrive in the school. Once again first impressions count.
There are two stages to this process:
- preparing for the interview and
- the interview itself.
Preparing for the interview – thorough preparation is vital. Here is some advice that will help you with your preparation:
- re-read your application and the information sent to you about the school and the post for which you are being interviewed
- research the school. Don’t just rely on the information sent to you.
- make sure that you have enough information to demonstrate that your knowledge, skills and experience match the criteria outlined in the job specification
- make sure that you are aware of and able to talk about recent developments in education e.g. 14-19 reforms and the new Diplomas and recent official reports in your subject area(s), the new National Curriculum, changes to SATs testing
- expect to answer questions that relate to the job in general e.g. classroom management and the post in particular e.g. requirements of the National curriculum
- as soon as you get an invitation to attend for interview, contact the school to let them know you will be attending. If you later change your mind about attending, let the school know. Remember Head Teachers do talk to each other!
- if appropriate, let the school know if you have any access or dietary requirements
- use the evening before to complete your preparations, including putting out the clothes/shoes you are going to wear and get a good night’s sleep. Make sure you have switched your alarm on!
The big day has arrived so:
- plan your journey in advance and arrive on time. If you are unavoidably delayed phone the school, apologise and explain why.
- dress appropriately including clean shoes, make-up and jewellery. You don’t have to wear designer clothes to look neat and tidy.
- switch off your mobile phone as soon as you arrive.
- throughout the day greet everyone you meet in an appropriate manner, speak clearly and confidently, try to maintain eye contact with anyone speaking to you and look interested and enthusiastic and demonstrate that you want the job – that is assuming you do!
- if you are in a group at any time, make sure you are noticed but do not dominate proceedings
- if you have been asked to bring examples of work with you, make sure you will be able to talk about it with confidence and that it demonstrates that you are the right person for the job. Prepare what you are going to say the night before. Keep your presentation brief, succinct and to the point and make sure the work is well presented
- if you have been asked to teach a lesson, make sure you know exactly what is required of you and plan carefully. If in doubt, phone the school in advance for further clarification
- make the most of any opportunities you are given to tour the school either before or on the day of interview. If the opportunity arises, talk to the children about the work they are doing and the school in general e.g. range of extra-curricular activities, their favourite subjects
And now for the formal interview – if you have followed all the advice given you cannot have prepared more thoroughly. So be pleased with a job well done so far and approach the interview with confidence about yourself and your ability and suitability for the post. Don’t expect all interviews to be the same. You can expect some to be formal, others to be more informal and for the interview panel to vary in composition and size. However, remember that the purpose of any
interview is to enable the school to select the best candidate for the post and to help you decide if it is the right post for you.
Listed below are some suggestions to help you through the formal interview process followed by some possible questions/themes that you may be asked to address:
- when you enter the room smile and say “Good morning/afternoon”. If appropriate and invited to do so shake each member of the panel by the hand
- don’t sit down until you are invited to do so but then sit comfortably, sit up straight and try to maintain as much eye contact with panel members
During the interview:
- try to remain calm, confident, enthusiastic and focused throughout. Whilst waiting to be called for interview, do not be intimidated or put off by other candidates especially the cocky ones!
- listen carefully to each question. Do not be afraid to ask for the question to be repeated if you did not hear it properly or you require clarification
- always try to give answers that are based on your own experience. So use phrases such as “When I was on teaching practice”, “I was responsible for”, “I experienced” etc.
- do not be afraid to repeat and then expand on what you have said in your application
- take a notebook into the interview with you and check that the panel are happy for you to use it. If the answer is yes use it to remind yourself of the key points you want to include (prepared in advance) and mention these at the end of the interview if you have not had another opportunity. Also make a summary note of the questions asked
- do not hesitate to pause and take a deep breath before answering the question.
- be positive and enthusiastic throughout and never be negative about yourself
- if you dry up do not worry. Stay calm, pause for a few moments and then continue
- do not worry about being nervous. Some members of the panel might be also!
- do not give just “Yes”, “No” or “I am not sure” answers but avoid long and complicated answers. If you are not sure if you have provided enough information do not hesitate to ask if further detail is required
- prepare one or two short questions which it might be appropriate to ask at the end of the interview that indicate your knowledge and understanding of the school and the job for which you are applying e.g.
- “What support can I expect to receive from my Head of Department/Faculty, school and LA during my Induction year?” “What opportunities are there for CPD as an NQT?”
- never criticise previous colleagues, employers or managers
- direct your answer to the person that asked the question but try to engage all panel members
- avoid waffle
What questions will I be asked?
Obviously these can vary from one interview to the next. However, the areas to be covered are likely to include:
- why you are applying for this post in this school
- your knowledge and understanding of your curriculum area
- teaching and learning including your educational philosophy, teaching style and approach to classroom and whole school discipline and how you monitor and assess pupil progress
- dealing with difficult and disruptive pupils
- strategies to cope with pupils with SEN and the more able
- dealing with difficult situations and people – effective behaviour management
- relationships with parents, teachers, Governors and other fellow professionals
- involvement with extra-curricular activities
- what you can offer the department/faculty and the school
- role of form tutor and your contribution to the care and welfare of pupils
- child protection issues
- what does an aspiring, outstanding teacher need to be/have
- strengths and weaknesses
- and what of the/your future?
Hopefully the first question you are asked will give you a chance to calm the nerves and settle down. After that the going gets harder. What follows is an example of possible interview questions and the order in which they could be asked. But don’t forget that no two interviews are the same, even in the same schools! So here goes the interview is about to get underway. Now see how you get on with these:
- why do you want to teach?
- why have you applied for this particular job?
- describe what I would see if I visited your classroom as the pupils were arriving and then stayed for most of the lesson?
- how would you teach a particular topic/theme in your specialist subject?
- in relation to the above how would you cater for the needs of the most/least able?
- how would you deal with an individual pupil/group of pupils who were disrupting your lesson?
- your lesson requires the use of a piece of equipment/technology that fails to work properly. What would you do?
- Who is the most important person in the classroom and why?
- describe your ideal lesson
- from the examples of work you have brought with you which is your favourite and why?
- how would you monitor the progress of pupils in a lesson and over a longer period of time?
- tell me about something that you did/achieved on teaching practice of which you are particularly proud
- tell me about a lesson that did not go particularly well. What did you do at the time? What lesson(s) have you learnt from that experience?
- what has been your most difficult classroom experience to date? What did you do at the time? What lesson(s) have you learnt from that experience?
- what has been your greatest achievement to date?
- are you at your best when working on your own or as a member of a team?
- things have not gone well and you have had a bad day (or the opposite). What do you do?
- if a more senior member of staff insists that you do something that you do not agree with what would you do?
- if a pupil approached you and said he/she was being physically/sexually abused at home but did not want you to tell anyone else what would you do?
- you are concerned that a 6th form student is getting too friendly/familiar what would you do?
- you receive a letter of complaint from a parent who is not satisfied with your standard of teaching/amount of homework being set etc. What would you do?
- what skills and qualities would you bring to the post/school?
- what is your greatest strength/weakness?
- if you were asked to be a form tutor in your induction year would you consider this to be an unreasonable request? If you took on the role what do you think your responsibilities would be?
- how are you going to cope with all the additional administrative duties expected of a teacher these days?
- what contribution would you be willing to make to the extra-curricular activities of this school?
- what help and support would you expect from the school during both your induction year and later on in your career?
- let us assume that in a few years’ time you leave the school in order to further your career. After you have left how do you hope the pupils, staff and parents will remember you?
- if you are offered this post would you accept?
- and finally is there anything you would like to ask us? This is your opportunity to ask the interview panel about opportunities for NQT support and development, and how the programme of support will work for you during your first year in teaching. You may also wish to ask about opportunities for career development following your Induction year.
Don’t worry you will not be expected to answer all of these questions in one interview!
Remember that whilst there are no perfect responses you want to create the best possible impression. Your answers should demonstrate your common sense approach and illustrate that you are willing to:
- face up to problems
- be prepared for all eventualities in order to keep difficulties to a minimum
- work hard to create the best possible learning environment for your pupils
- learn from and build on the experiences you have had and the mistakes you have made. Be positive so that even if you are asked about weaknesses or something that did not go well you turn it to your advantage! For example on teaching practice. I was told that sometimes I demand too much of my pupils. Obviously it is important to get to know your pupils properly and to understand what they are capable of. Therefore, perhaps there have been times when I have been a little unrealistic but I always shall expect the very highest standards of behaviour and attainment from all my pupils
- contribute to the life of the school and not just focus on your classroom
The wait is over. This is the moment of truth!!
After all that hard work let’s hope you have been successful, have been offered the job, usually subject to such things as medical clearance, an enhanced DBS check and satisfactory references, and after seeking any final clarification e.g. what you will be paid and the nature of the contract, have been very happy to accept. Even though you feel exhausted make sure that last part of the day goes well and leave the panel in no doubt that you are delighted to have been offered the job.
Hopefully whether you were successful or not you will be given/offered feedback on your interview. Always take up such an offer regardless of how tired and disappointed you may feel.
At the end of the day keep smiling and thank everyone for their time and trouble. When you get home reflect on your day and how you can make sure that next time things go even better.