Interviews can often feel quite one-sided, but in reality the school is being judged just as much as those being interviewed. I remember how, when I was looking for my first teaching role, I would have taken anything – after all, a job is better than no job – but what about now?
Like many experienced teachers, I’m happy with where I currently work, but also open to new opportunities should anything interesting come along. What this means is that schools and colleges have to do more than simply advertise their posts if they want the very best staff to consider applying. These, then, would be my tips – beginning with…
Craft the advert
I recently became aware of a Grade 1 college that advertised for a member of staff by detailing the area of expertise the outgoing person had, since they wanted a close fit replacement, plus their responsibilities. The end result was a hyper-focused job advert that served to put many off applying. Would-be applicants evidently interpreted the advert as a ‘must-have’ list, rather than a series of preferences.
When the college found itself with a meagre collection of applications to choose from, a second advertising approach was conceived (with accompanying costs), but this time with a few changes. First, the detailed skill set requirements were condensed into a much more concise expression of preference. Second, they rethought the role and put out two adverts – one advertising a teaching role with additional management responsibilities, and another for a role focusing just on teaching.
This netted the college a much larger pool of applicants to choose from, enabling them to interview those who embraced the management aspects of the role and those who didn’t. They then examined how the department could be run with the new team in place. By being less prescriptive they were able to give themselves more options, and thus succeed in filling the post.
Inform your candidates
Make sure that anyone selected for interview is provided with all the information they’ll need. What will the mini-teach component focus on? Where will they park? What’s the outline of the day? The more you tell them, the more they can prepare. At the same time, you’ll look more organised and help the candidates feel more confident about your institution.
Welcome your candidates
Interviews are nerve-racking affairs, so make sure your candidates are welcomed appropriately. The best interviews I’ve had are those when I’ve been meet by a member of SLT or the principal, and they’ve been willing to talk me through key elements of the standard school day. It looks professional, and can help answer many questions that candidates will have, without them having to ask – not least, ‘What is this institution really like, and do I want to work here?’ An efficient start will make it more likely that they’ll answer that question with ‘yes’.
It also demonstrates a school-wide interest in the appointment. Managers are busy people, so seeing one take time out of their schedule shows that the process is important to them – and by extension, that we, the interviewees, are too.
If I’m going to leave my job, then I want to know what I’m leaving it for. I need to have a look round and get to know the place. While this has typically been the case at interviews I’ve attended, I know of people for whom the entire interview processes took place in one small section of the building. Their impressions were of institutions trying to hide what they were really like, resulting in them not accepting the jobs being offered. That may have simply been an oversight on the part of the schools, but without being shown around, how can candidates confidently accept the job and all the major changes it will entail for their personal and professional lives? Tours aren’t just there to show candidates where the staff room and canteen are – they also show how staff and students interact with each other, how well kept the school is and its general behaviour and culture. All are vital pieces of information that candidates will be eager to glean.
Devise a timetable
Make sure you’ve carefully planned out the day on which you’ll be conducting interviews, issued clearly laid out schedules to all interviewees and organised everything you’ll need ahead of time. I was once left sitting in an empty corridor for 20 minutes before having to go and find someone. I’d been delivered to the ‘student panel’, but no one had thought to organise any students to actually interview me. Needless to say, as a result of their disorganization I didn’t want to work at that particular school.
Re-jig if needed
Equally, you may wish to start with a wide range of candidates and edit down the shortlist at lunchtime. That’s fine, if done efficiently and politely. Don’t tell unsuccessful candidates in front of the successful ones that they’ll be going home. Separating them will spare those who are not right for the post time otherwise spent in formal interview, while speeding up the day for everyone else. Re-organise and re-print the timetables, then continue in a professional manner.
Find out what they want
Experienced staff are likely to be confident in their teaching and/or management abilities and clear as to their basic expectations of what a school environment should be, but what about their long-term goals? Are there any aspects of their career they want to develop that you could support them with? You’ll never know without asking. During the application process, ask applicants to consider any additional elements of their career they’d like to discuss and set aside time for this at the end of the interview. That way, they can come prepared with a considered answer. It’s best to avoid asking them for responses during the application process itself, as it may put off those who love to teach and want to focus on the classroom.
Ending the day
Be sure to thank each candidate as they leave and let them know when they can expect an answer. It’s always best to a state a period that’s longer than what you think will be needed. ‘This evening’ might be doable, but telling candidates that you won’t be letting them know until the end of the following day will give you time to mull over decisions if there are any differences of opinions and make an offer, while giving the candidate space to accept or decline.
Don’t put off a potentially great member of staff because your school failed to shine on interview day. Make sure you’re as prepped as your candidates
How did it go?
If asked, give feedback. It can be helpful for unsuccessful candidates to reflect on the day and draw on the experience to set them up for success next time. Job interviews aren’t just about securing jobs; they also present opportunities for education professionals to reflect on where they are in their careers, where they’d like to be and what they need to do to get there, for which interview feedback can be invaluable.
Hannah Day is head of visual arts, media and film at Ludlow College, and interviewed for a new post just last month