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How School Leaders Can Ensure a Successful Staff Interview

May 3, 2019, 7:39 GMT+1
Read in 4 minutes
  • Imogen Rowley lays out some advice for navigating the interview process – including how to avoid falling foul of anti-discrimination law...
How School Leaders Can Ensure a Successful Staff Interview

Perfecting the interview process will help you not only find the right talent for your school, but also convey a positive impression of the school to potential candidates. When you’re next recruiting, look to do the following:

Arrange interviews for a convenient time

Get in touch with your shortlisted candidates as soon as possible to arrange an interview for whenever works best for you. Try to be flexible though, and make allowances for those candidates with childcare responsibilities, who practice religious observance or will need to fit the interview around their current working hours. For candidates living far away, you could potentially conduct the interview via an internet call using a service such as Skype.

Decide on your panel

It’s good practice to have three people on the interview panel – five for more senior roles – and for it to include the role’s line manager. An odd number will allow a split decision if not everyone can agree on who should get the job. Make sure at least one member of the panel has undertaken safer recruitment training (see This is a requirement in maintained schools, but also good practice for academies.

The panel membership is only subject to legislation when interviewing for a headteacher or deputy headteacher at a maintained school. In this case, it’s up to your governing board to select at least three of its members to take part. These cannot include the current headteacher or deputy headteacher.

Prepare your questions in advance

You’ll usually want no more than 10 main questions for an hour-long interview. When preparing them, use the person specification as your basis for competency-based questions, and weight these competencies to help you decide which are the most important.

Try to keep your questions open-ended – avoid anything that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Assign ‘evidence scores’ to the candidate’s answers. This can help you to prevent bias and avoid making snap judgements based on ‘gut feeling’. Keeping a record also means you have evidence of your decisionmaking, should a candidate challenge your final decision. Bear in mind that they can now make a request under GDPR legislation to see the contents of the form, so be careful what you write.

Don’t ask about personal views irrelevant to the job, or topics related to the candidate’s gender, age, sexuality or other ‘protected characteristics’. For example, avoid questions about childcare and living arrangements, or plans to get married, to have children, retire, etc.

Furthermore, don’t ask anything about a candidate’s disability or health and how it relates to their ability to do the role. Equality law stipulates that you can’t ask about this until you make a conditional job offer.

If you want to see how the candidate performs in practice, set them a task to do before or after the interview. You might like to see how the candidate engages with pupils or, depending on the role, ask them to give a presentation on a particular topic.

Notify candidates as soon as possible

Call your preferred candidate and offer the job as soon as possible, then follow this up with a written confirmation. If they accept, you can proceed to the necessary preappointment checks, in line with statutory safeguarding guidance.

Once an offer has been accepted, call your unsuccessful candidates. This is more personal, and good for your reputation as an employer. Let them know the outcome immediately and move quickly on to giving them positive feedback, before explaining the reasons why another candidate was successful.

Imogen Rowley is a lead content producer at The Key – the country’s most trusted provider of knowledge and know-how to education leaders determined to make a difference; visit or follow @TheKeySupport.

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