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Preparing For The Interview

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You send out resumes and cover letters, you send out applications and credentials files, you sift through letters of rejection, and you wait by the phone for someone, anyone, to call. Then, suddenly, the phone rings, and a polite person on the other end of the line asks when it would be convenient for you to stop by for an interview. After fifteen minutes of delirious joy your stomach begins to knot up. You are now face to face with the dreaded interview. For a few moments your mind races through every nightmarish mistake that you can possibly make during an interview. If possible, you are more frightened than before the phone rang.

Academic Preparation: What are you licensed to do? What clients are you licensed to serve?

Experience: How has your volunteer experience, work experience, or student teaching experience prepared you to do the job that you are applying for? Think of specific examples of problems that you faced and solutions that you tried. Be prepared to talk about your successes and about the kinds of lessons that you learned from your failures. Think about specific skills and techniques that you learned in your training and experience, and be prepared to discuss them.

Attitudes: The interviewer will be very concerned about your attitudes toward work and toward other people. Most jobs in technical education require tremendous self-discipline. There is very little day-to-day supervision in this field. Supervisors have to trust their employees to live up to their professional obligations. The inter-viewer is looking for someone who is strongly self-directed, who is willing to invest personal time on professional growth, and who will ask for help when necessary, but who, in general, works independently. As you prepare for your interview, think of examples that can demonstrate this kind of self-motivated behavior.

The interviewer will also be very interested in your concern for other people and in your ability to work with young people and adults. Education is essentially a service industry. People in this field must be able to empathize, set limits, encourage change, and reward appropriate behavior. This career requires tolerance, com-passion, and concern for young people. As you prepare for your interview, be sure to think about specific examples of this behavior.

Although it may not be asked out loud, the real question that you must answer is, "Why should we hire you instead of somebody else?" Think about that question, and be able to explain why your skills, experience, and attitudes make you the best possible choice for this job.

It's normal to be anxious about the interview, but remember that the people who will interview you have much at stake. For you the interview represents a few hours investment in time and stress, but the people who hire you are making a long-term commitment. In many cases they will have to live with their choice for the rest of their professional lives.

Behavior that might appear to be cold or condescending may actually just be fear. Most personnel directors are confident professionals who have developed an arsenal of questions that will give them the information that they need; but it is possible that a personnel director may be distracted by ill health or personal issues, or that the committee charged with conducting the interview may be so overwhelmed by the whole process of selecting staff, that they fail to ask the right questions, the questions that allow you to talk about your particular strengths. In order to deal with this situation, you need to make a short list of the points that you would like to make during your interview. If the interviewer fails to ask the right questions, be sure to bring the points up yourself. Include these points in your answers to other questions or near the end of the interview, when the interviewer asks if you have any questions or comments.

Conducting the Interview

After you have prepared for your interview, be sure to attend to a few important details.

Know Where You Are Going: You don't need the stress of consulting maps and asking for directions as the time for your interview draws nearer and nearer. If you are not absolutely certain of the location, make a point to drive past the place where the interview will be held before your appointment.

Be on Time: Plan to allow yourself fifteen minutes to go to the bathroom, freshen up, and relax before you start your interview.

  1. Dress Professionally: Although many employees at schools and social service agencies dress casually, remember that they can afford to-they already have the job. Dress like a young professional in the business world. As a general rule of thumb, don't wear anything that will distract you from the questions that will be asked, such as shoes or ties that are too tight. Don't wear anything that will distract the interviewer from your answers.

  2. Calm Down: Be calm, confident, and relaxed. You have taken the time to prepare for this interview. You have the list of the points that you want to make during the interview, and you are speaking to people who genuinely want you to be successful. You have done everything you can to ensure your success. Relax and enjoy the opportunity to talk to professionals in your field. No matter how the interview goes, you will have a valuable learning experience.

  3. Listen: Take time to listen to the questions. Don't cut people off before they are finished speaking. Don't answer until you have a chance to think about what you are being asked. This is not a quiz show with the prize going to whoever hits the buzzer first. Take the time to listen carefully, understand what the interviewer wants, and phrase your answer. The interviewer has taken some time to think about what to ask, and it is perfectly reasonable to take your time with a carefully considered answer.

  4. Follow-up: When the interview is over, be sure to telephone or write a short note thanking the personnel director for the opportunity to come in for an interview. The few minutes it takes to follow up on an interview are well invested. The follow-up note or phone call can be a second chance for you. The note you write or call you make can be a vehicle to mention any points that you overlooked during your interview. The small amount of extra effort required for a follow-up call or note also lets the personnel director know that you are genuinely interested in the job that you are not just looking at the interview as a practice session.


Living through a job search is one of the most emotionally draining, frustrating events in anyone's life. It is very easy to look at every rejection letter and every interview as a referendum on your worth as a human being. Please remember that the interviewer or the interview committee is looking for a good job match. No one looks at an interview as an oral exam, with the job as a prize for the contestant who gets the most right answers. The goal is to find an applicant who has the skills that are needed, who can work with the existing staff, and who can bring a particular set of values and attitudes to the organization. Interviews are frustrating because the people who advertise the jobs and conduct the interviews may not be able to describe the exact qualities that they are looking for. It's impossible to do an accurate postmortem after the interview and determine just how well you have done, because you don't have all the information that you need. All you can do is prepare, answer the questions honestly, and then concentrate on the next application or the next interview.
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