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MASTER THE INTERVIEW

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Everything you've done so far - assessing your strengths and experiences, researching school districts, setting up a network of education contacts, putting together a strong resume, writing effective query letters, and sending in job applications, has been leading to this point: an interview with a prospective employer. No matter how superbly you performed these earlier tasks, the interview is the magic moment (actually more like 30 minutes or more) when you either sink or swim. This chapter can turn you into a master " swimmer”

KNOW THE BASICS

In this chapter, an interview is loosely defined as any opportunity you have to describe your talents to a person with hiring authority.



Types of Interviews

There are many types of interview formats. There is the casual interview that takes place during a professional conference. An administrator asks you about your interests and experiences. Then you get his or her card and an invitation to visit the district. These do happen and they are fun.

There is the single person interview where you answer questions one on one. Most of the time you will be interviewed by a person who has the direct hiring authority. However, you may be interviewed by a personnel specialist or by another person in the school district whose judgment is respected by the hiring authority. In this case, you are probably undergoing a special type of single person interview called a screening interview, which is designed solely to pare down the number of candidates appropriate for the position. If you pass the screening, you'll be called back for more interviewing.

There is also the group or committee interview. This type has several variations. In most cases, you will interview with one or more persons individually and then speak with a larger group. This type of interview can be quite taxing because it takes several hours and by the end many people will have cross-examined you with both the same and different questions. The best approach is to remain focused: listen carefully, think before you react, ask an interviewer to clarify a question when you are unsure about its answer, and try to keep your answers decisive and consistent.

Finally, there is the multi-stage interview where you first meet a committee or individual and, if successful, you work your way through a series of interviews scheduled during a period of several weeks.

Stages of an Interview

Regardless of type, the interview usually unfolds in three or four logical stages.

First Stage

During the first stage, the agenda focuses on getting acquainted with you and building rapport. Interviewers try to get you to open up. The questions are general in nature about why you got into teaching, where you have lived and your goals.

The most common opener is: "Tell me about yourself." What the interviewer really wants to know is: Who are you and what can you do for my school district? This question deserves some advance work. Prepare an answer by comparing the strengths and accomplishments you had; stress on your Work Strengths Summary with the objectives of the district. Your response should tell the interviewer why he or she should hire you over several other candidates who may appear equally qualified.

Second Stage

During the second stage, you will be asked general questions related to your experience in the field of education. These questions usually call upon your knowledge of basic methods and interpersonal skills.

Third Stage

The third stage probes deeper. These are questions of a technical or more specific nature. They can range from: "Do you know how to use a computer to calculate grades?" to "How have you used direct instruction methods?"

Another type of question in the third stage is the open-ended situational question that might sound like: "What would you do if two students get in a fight?"

Then the interviewer might probe for problems in your background by asking:"Why did you leave your last job?" or "How did you feel about your district when they cut vocational programs?" or "Why did you give up the department chair position?" or "How do you feel about traveling between two schools?" or the real clincher, "What do you think about your most recent boss?"

This rule in any discussion about bosses is obviously never to criticize one. By criticizing a boss, you may be giving the impression that you lack the interpersonal skills necessary to work closely with others.

One other probing question worth discussing is: "What don't you do well?" In your reply to this question, you should never say anything negative about yourself. Have an answer prepared that actually reveals a strength. You have only 20 to 30 minutes in a job interview to convince a prospective employer you are right for the job, so you don't want to provide information that may say you are not.

A good answer for "What don't you do well?" might be:

"Working in isolation. I like to be with people." This actually indicates a positive trait in the field of education because working with others is what education is all about."

Fourth Stage

In closing, you may be asked if you have any questions. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate your interest in the district with questions such as: "Do you plan on continuing the talented and gifted program I have read about?" and " Do you see any chance for me to play a role in this program?"

You might also use the time to cover some experiences and knowledge you haven't been able to work into the interview. For example, you might ask: "How do you feel about meta-cognitive approaches?" or "Would my experience in alternative education be useful in your district?"

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

The best way to excel at interviewing is to practice. Following is a list of frequently asked questions. In your mind, decide how to answer them. Remember that your goal is to be concise and consistent. For questions you think you might have difficulty handling, actually write out a response and practice saying it. The object is not to memorize an answer, but to become comfortable addressing a specific issue. You want to sound articulate, but not coached.

Once you feel comfortable addressing all of the questions, role play an interview with a friend. Your friend should ask each question on the list and you should respond accordingly. Tape-record your answers and listen to see if you sound confident and convincing. Revise and practice your answers until you do.

Rapport-Building Questions
  • Won't you tell me about yourself?
  • Why did you decide on a career in education?
  • What do you like best about your work? What least? Why?
  • Why do you think you are qualified for this job?
  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • Do you have any hobbies or special talents that could enhance this job?
  • In what additional areas could you contribute? For example, in what extracurricular activities could you demonstrate leadership?
General Experience Questions
  • How would you evaluate student progress?
  • How would you describe your ideal administrator?
  • What is the best role for a parent to play in the school district?
  • How can you structure a class in subject x so that you afford maximum teacher/student contact?
  • What general strategies do you use when encountering students who exhibit anti-social behavior?
  • What was your last classroom challenge and how did you meet it?
  • What is your philosophy of education?
Technical Questions
  • What type of discipline method do you prefer?
  • Can you operate a computer?
  • How would you use cooperative learning strategies to teach subject x?
  • What's your experience with paperwork like IEPs?
Situational Questions
  • Do you involve students in making rules?
  • Is it important to be liked by students?
  • Is it important to be liked by colleagues?
  • If a student found a quarter in your classroom what would you do?
  • If a student was disrupting your class or lesson what would you do?
  • How do you group students for instruction?
  • What do you do when you disagree with another teacher's approach?
  • How would you handle a disruptive student?
  • What would you do with a noncompliant student?
  • How do you handle parents who are angry?
  • How do you know when a lesson was well done?
  • Are you familiar with ITIP? Consult Models? Peer Tutoring? (etc.)
  • Suppose after a personal talk a student reveals some personal concerns, then withdraws from you later. What would you do?
  • Can a teacher be too involved with students? Why?

    Suppose you suspect a child is a victim of abuse, but our past attempts to get support from administrators have not been successful. What would you do?
  • Why did you leave teaching?
  • Why have you changed jobs so often?
  • Why did you leave your last job?
  • How well did you get along with your past supervisor?
  • What do you think about your most recent boss?
  • What would be an ideal job for you?
  • What don't you do well?
DON'T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT THESE PREPARATIONS

If you have done your homework up to this point (i.e., developed a good resume and practiced answering typical interview questions) your last-minute interview preparations can be reduced to two decisions: What should I bring to the interview and what should I wear?

Bring These Things:

Before you leave for your interview, check to see that you are armed with the following materials:
  1. Resume: Take several copies of your resume. (There may be more than one person interviewing you who would like a copy.) Also, be sure you have edited your resume to reflect the specific needs of the job opening you are applying for and your ability to fulfill those needs.

  2. Letters of Reference: In most cases, you will not need to supply letters of reference during your interview. But if you have them at your disposal, bring them along. They may help you to make a point about your abilities or background.

  3. Questions to Ask: Write these questions in advance on note cards and stash them in your purse or pocket for easy and discrete access.

  4. Portfolio of Your Work: If you have hard-core evidence of your achievements, by all means bring it along in the form of a personal portfolio. Your portfolio could include outlines of unusual lessons you created, articles about educational programs you initiated, photographs of school events you managed, and so on.
Dress for Success

Dress as though you worked in the school district and were receiving visitors. People (prospective employers) are automatically drawn to those who are like themselves. If you are unsure how people dress, visit the district. If you can't visit, then call and ask a secretary for advice. Don't wear anything overly trendy or ultra-fashionable. You are safest erring on the side of conservatism.

Little touches can make a big difference as well. Don't leave home without shined shoes, manicured fingernails, and neatly combed hair.

LET YOUR PERSONAL BEST SHINE THROUGH

There are lots of job-search books on the market that provide their own personalized laundry lists of interview do's and don'ts. These lists can be overwhelming. For that reason, I'll restrain myself and provide you with the most important do's. Do:
  • Plan to arrive at the interview site at least 10 minutes early. Give yourself at least that amount of time to avoid any mishaps. Wait in your car or walk around the block so that you arrive at the interviewer's reception area a just few minutes ahead of schedule. Such promptness suggests you are a responsible worker.

  • Develop an impressive introductory handshake. If you are uncomfortable with handshakes, practice until it seems second nature. Practice looking the person in the eye, grasping the hand firmly, while saying the person's name. Then try to use this person's name in conversation as soon as you can. Realize that employers are nervous just like job seekers. Be yourself and try to project your natural charm, warmth, and good-natured enthusiasm. Remember that a smile will work wonders in putting both you and the interviewer at ease.

  • Listen carefully to each interview question before you respond. You don't want to miss the subtle intent of the question.

  • Keep criticisms of previous employers and teachers to yourself. This type of negativity may suggest to the interviewer that you lack important interpersonal skills.

  • Concentrate on the positive. When discussing past problems, concentrate on how you overcame the barriers and grew as an individual.

  • Use direct eye contact. As you listen to someone speak, place visual emphasis on that speaker, but still scan about. This shows that you are listening intently but does not give the speaker the feeling you are staring. Be sure to maintain that good eye contact as you speak. You'll give the impression you are providing honest and forthright information. If you are shy, then try looking at a person's forehead instead of directly into his or her eyes. (No one will know the difference!)

  • Try to inject your knowledge of the district and com-munity into your interview. This information can come from visiting, reading newspapers, reading district pamphlets, and visiting the Chamber of Commerce. The information should suggest that you will enjoy working in the community and are aware of the community's assets. Be prepared to explain why you feel living and working in the school district will meet your needs. Small districts especially want to know if applicants have ever lived in rural or small towns before.

  • Don't be afraid of honesty. If you absolutely do not know an answer to a question, simply admit it and suggest how you might find the answer. For example you might say: "I've never used peer tutoring before, but I know who to contact at the local teachers' college to find out more." This shows you are a problem solver.

  • If you are unsure about an answer to a question, ask the interviewer if he or she can rephrase it. This gives you time to think. Plus, when asked to rephrase a question the interviewer will often include hints. If you are unsure if your answer was adequate, or if the listener seems concerned or confused, stop and ask: "Have I answered the question to your satisfaction? Would you like any additional information?"
GO FOR THE STRONG FINISH

Ending the interview is like ending a first date that you enjoyed. You don't want to just fade away in the mind of the other person; you want to make a lasting impression. Close your interview with a firm handshake, direct eye contact, and a statement that sums up your interest in and suitability for the position. Let's examine this advice:
  1. Explicitly state your interest. Employers often comment on a candidate's successful interview and then remark: "I wonder if he/she wants the job?" Make sure you actually say you are interested in working in the district. This is particularly important if you have asked some probing questions of your own that suggest you have specific concerns and expectations. A simple, "I would enjoy being a in this school district," will suffice.

  2. Summarize your top three to five strengths. During an interview many things are discussed. It is easy to lose focus. A brief summary gives the interviewer a final snapshot or review picture of you. It could sound like: "I think that I would fit in well here because of my previous experience in driver's education and my work with slow learners. I am also interested in coaching and youth clubs."

  3. Thank the interviewer and ask about the next step in the interviewing process or suggest a next step. Say something like: "I want to thank you for your time. I've enjoyed meeting you and learning more about your district." Then add: "What will be the next step be in the interviewing process?" or "May I check back with you next month to see how things are going?"
EVALUATE THE INTERVIEW

The following checklist can help you evaluate your job interview. Be sure to do this no later than a day or two after the interview while events are still fresh in your mind. This evaluation serves two purposes: (1) it can help you determine follow-up strategies what you can do to further convince the interviewer that you are right for the job and (2) it can help you polish your interviewing technique for interviews at other school districts.

As you run through this checklist, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes especially in the early interviewing stage. In fact, that is why I always advise job seekers to conduct their first interviews with their second or third place choices. A little practice and some careful evaluation can go a long way toward turning yourself into a skillful interviewee.

Was I Prepared?
  • I knew enough about the district and the community.
  • 1 brought the right materials (resume, samples of my work, etc).
  • My dress and appearance were appropriate.
  • I knew about the job being interviewed.
How Was My Interview Performance?
  • My posture showed interest, not nervousness or apathy.
  • My eye contact was good.
  • My introductions went smoothly.
  • I remembered the names of most people.
  • I was enthusiastic without being too aggressive.
  • I listened well without interrupting or answering too quickly.
  • I did not talk too much.
  • I spoke loudly and clearly.
  • I smiled a lot. (People remember those who smile.)
  • I was prepared for most of the questions.
  • I asked good questions.
  • I was courteous to everyone I met including secretaries.
Something I did that caused the employer to look concerned was:

Some new questions I should add to my list to prepare for are:

Some personal behaviors I might want to change are:

Something I really felt good about was when I:

Something I really liked about this employer was his or her:

Did I End The Interview Properly?

? I closed the interview summarizing my interests and talents.

FOLLOW-UP

After you've completed an interview and evaluated your performance, it's time to start thinking about follow-up. Don't believe people who tell you a follow-up phone call or letter is unnecessary or outdated. It is your last chance to convince an interviewer that you are right for the job.

Follow-up Letters

In most cases, a follow-up letter is better than a follow-up phone call. A phone call may catch an interviewer at an awkward time and hence the conversation might not go as well as planned. A letter, on the other hand, is almost always reviewed at the interviewer's convenience.

The sooner you write and send a follow-up letter the better. An effective letter follows these three steps:
  1. Begin by reminding the prospective employer of your interview.
  2. Sell yourself one more time by repeating your qualifications and a highlight or two of the interview.
  3. Then thank the interviewer for his or her time and restate your interest in the position.
(See sample follow-up letter on the next page.)

Follow-Up Phone Calls

There are a few exceptions to the letter-is-better rule. Consider using the phone if:

  • you have additional information or ideas you would like to share with the interviewer,
  • you haven't heard anything from the interviewer in several weeks,
  • you've gotten another job offer and you need to know where you stand before you make a decision, or
  • your interview went badly and you would like to ask for a second interview.
Your phone call should follow the same steps as an effective letter: (1) remind the prospective employer of your interview, (2) sell yourself by repeating your qualification and a highlight or two of the interview, and then (3) thank the interviewer for his or her time and restate your interest in the position.

Following is a sample follow-up call.

"Mr. Fox? This is Sonia Parker. We met four weeks ago on September 15, to discuss the fifth grade language arts position you have available. I wanted to know if you've reached a decision yet...."

Optional Additions:

"Since we met, I've outlined a few ideas for implementing a school-wide writing program that you might find useful."

Or:

"Is there anything else you would like to know about me that might help you make your decision?"

Or:

"I've received another job offer, but before I make a decision, I'd like to know where I stand with your district."

Optional Replacement for Last Line in Original:

"I don't feel our interview provided an accurate picture of my potential. I wondered if I might stop by to talk with you again."

One last note about follow-up calls: Be prepared for rejection. An employer may tell you right on the phone that he or she hired someone else.

If you're brave enough, politely ask why someone else was chosen instead. Ask about areas you might take a course in or other ways you might improve your chances of getting another job in the district.

Then ask if you may check back in six months to see if there are other openings. Finally, ask if the employer can refer you to job openings in another district with similar goals and values.
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