Attend: The Job Interview

My recent blog post around succinct job applications here seemed to be helpful, so this is a post to support with the interview process itself. I will try to write both within a ‘normal’ framework and within the current context, so that the post has some longevity.

Firstly, congratulations for securing an interview! Having interviewed for several years within the role I fulfilled prior to coming to teaching, I can tell you with some certainty, that this is not a fluke. I did not interview flippantly, and the interview process can be an expensive one: the preparation, interview day itself and feedback following interviews all need staff time, and so interviews need to carry some promise of being a valuable experience for the interviewer as well as the interviewee. In short, you’ve earned it if you’ve got the invitation to interview.

Prepare

So, now what? Depending on the role that you have interviewed for, this will of course vdetermine the type of preparation you will need to carry out. However, as a staple set of starting points, these will ensure that you go into interview informed:

School website and social media platform: look beyond the school vision statement and dig a little deeper. Some school websites will provide curriculum overviews, resources, extra curricular schedules, intervention timetables: this will give you a really good grounding for what the school values or hols as priority, how it promotes itself and the types of events or trips that the school runs for students. You can use this to articulate where you feel you can build upon this success, and how your experience will enrich certain aspects of school life that are already established.

School Ofsted report: The Ofsted report, depending on how long ago the last visit was, should help you to identify the key strengths and development areas of the school. I would recommend using both within your responses, either to respond to where you could add value- ‘in response to the last Oftsed report that identified a concern around student literacy levels, I carried out a project that looked at the research available to support schools with tackling such a challenging aspects of the disadvantage gap’- or it could be to build upon existing strengths within the school. In the current context, where a school visit to see the school in action in a usual school day, Oftsed reports can give an informed view of where the school has now prioritised school improvement.

Accompanying tasks

This can vary from school to school, and role to role, but if you are applying for a teaching role within the current climate, this may be a task where you talk through how you would approach teaching particular content, with a pre-requisite provided by the school. For example: ‘talk the panel through how you would teach a lesson that explores Act 1 Scene 7 of Macbeth, with a focus on character.’ The panel will be looking to be able to gauge your subject knowledge, how you would structure a lesson, and the opportunities that you would take to gauge understanding over the course of the lesson itself.

For leadership roles, either subject leadership or beyond, you may receive a data task or in-tray task where you will be required to work systematically to provide a strategic response. With a data task, it is effective to consider a three-pronged approach: look at common gaps that are a national occurrence such as disadvantage, gender or target groups (higher attainment, borderline, EAL) and consider what actions you would want to discuss with your team as a result of this analysis.

If you are faced with an in-tray task, this may take the form of a series of emails to your inbox, and what you might deal with first, but also how. It is key to consider safeguarding as a first priority, but then consider how speaking to the various people within the professional team may speed up your ability to deal with such tasks: no one is expecting you to be an expert, but to consider the specialists (SENCo, Safeguarding Lead, Business Manager) that you have to refer things on to where the requests are within their remit.

Responses

Rehearse examples, not responses: whilst you might think that a dress rehearsal interview in full will be your best shot at feeling prepared, this could very often not prepare you in the right way. 1, it may feel you leaving unprepared as you might struggle over particular questions, or give limited answers as a result of not having an hour of a friend or family member’s time to replicate the experience; 2, you may form mental models of the responses you expect, and not the responses you will give- by that, I mean, you may end up remembering responses which will only be useful if asked the exact question, which doesn’t help if other questions are asked, and 3, may leave you to sound less authentic in your replies. Instead, consider key examples of where you have: applied a piece of research within your teaching and the impact of this; dealt with a challenging situation with either a pupil or member of staff and the outcome; contributed to wider school life and what you took from the experience; led an initiative (trip, idea, resource implementation, strategy such as intervention) and what the result of this was. These key examples draw upon your interpretation of ideas and the experience, and will give the interviewer a far richer idea of your approach to teaching, or who you are as an individual within a professional framework, which will help them to get to know to what extent your approach and idea align with their whole-school aims.

Carry a format for your responses

Once you have formulated key examples of your experience or expertise, carry this format through to articulating yourself at interview: in the same way that your application used the Element, example, execution, impact approach, your responses can use the same template to ensure that you are concise in your answer to questions. In response to the question, consider how you would approach this situation, an example of where you have taken this approach before, how you went about it and what the impact was- this could be for students, or informing your own practice. If you find yourself digressing, no worries- but by returning to this format, you ensure that you have demonstrated clearly how you work methodically to tackle a problem or challenge.

Asking questions is not a bad thing

Ask questions: it may sound cliche, but it is so important to ascertain that this school is the one for you, particularly if this will be your NQT year. How will they support your continuing professional development? What opportunities are there to build local networks? What are the school priorities over the next 1-3 years? If this is a more senior role, or carries a teaching and learning responsibility, what are their expectations over the next twelve months? This will help you to get an idea as to where you ‘fit’ within the school system (I’ve written more extensively about how important this is here).

A note for remote interviews

In the current context, many interviews are being carried out online using a variety of in-tray tasks to gauge candidate teaching instead; some are requesting a walk-through of a teaching episode as mentioned previously, and some are requesting that you teach the panel as though they were a class. The final one is less useful as an indicator of candidate suitability, in my opinion, but whichever format this takes, I would ask plenty of questions when you are invited for interview so that you know what is expected: essentially, what success should look like in this context. An interview, especially in the current climate should not be a guessing game for the candidate: ensure that you have clarity in what the interview panel would like to see.

There is also an argument to be had for the advantage of a remote interview to arm yourself with lots of notes out of sight to anyone, and of course, a brief list of the key examples that you intend to use to showcase your expertise and experience will be helpful, but beyond that, if you have ever sat through 32 pupil presentations, consider which ones were most authentic and organic in building a relationship with the audience- the ones who had an abundance of notes, or the ones that had considered their answers and were well informed? If you have got to know the school, and understand where the strengths and priorities lie, then you have a great springboard to provide elaborated responses.

Finally, best of luck! Do not get too despondent if you are unsuccessful- easier said than done- but this situation is an incredibly challenging set of circumstances to show a genuine and authentic version of yourself at interview. Hopefully this advice will be of some help, and support you to do exactly that.

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