Job Application and Interview Tips for Interviewers and Teachers

The process of finding a new teacher can often feel like searching for a superhero! We have recently undergone an appointment process for a Key Stage 2 teacher and when the potential candidates toured our wonderful school and asked "What are you looking for in the successful candidate?" my answer was simple but clear, "I'm looking for an amazing teacher who can make learning feel irresistible." No pressure there then!

This blog outlines the structure of our interview process and considers the purpose of a multifaceted interview that explores the range of qualities of an amazing teacher. I hope this blog is of interest to both interview panels and applicants alike.

The Application & Shortlisting

Writing a person specification is key to attracting the right calibre of candidate. If you get this list of attributes, skills and qualities right, your shortlisting becomes a doddle. This is your chance to ask for the teacher that can complement your existing staff team. 

The interview panel read through each application and present on their findings to the remaining panel members, providing examples where each point on the person specification has been evidenced, grading from 1-4. A four-point scale is deliberate as this stops any decision falling in the middle so the panel member has to commit to a positive or negative response.

Once all applications have been scrutinised, they are ranked in point order and we then shortlist. This process involves casting out the lowest scoring applicants. Once we have a shortlist of ten or so applicants, we then consider which applicants we want to see, namely, which applicants can we see working well in our school.

Top tip for applicants -  Ensure your application form clearly reflects the person specification we have asked for, use the language in the person specification to ensure the panel members spot and match your application statement to the attributes, skills and qualities in the person specification.

The Informal Visit

Let us be clear from the outset; there is no informality to the informal visit. As an applicant, be alert and prepare to impress. As a panel member, be alert and ready to read the verbal and non-verbal signals that give you an impression of the applicant. It is information from the informal visit that can be invaluable when considering the shortlist as this may give you the decision to interview one applicant above another with a similar point score on the shortlisting.

Look for applicants who offer well thought out and searching questions, they are pitching for information to help them at interview; they want the job. Look for positive interpersonal skills. The ability to listen as well as engage, striking a rapport with you on the visit and demonstrating the skills that would be invaluable in communicating with colleagues, parents and professionals. 

Look out for their implied hierarchical viewpoint; do they smile and shake the hand of the caretaker or do they dismiss lunch staff but show enthusiasm when talking to teachers? Sometimes it is just a feel for someone during an informal visit, this feel is often rooted in your capacity to read verbal and non-verbal clues and plays an important role in your intuitive feel for a potential candidate for interview.

Top tip for applicants - Research the school and appointment prior to the visit and have a range of relevant and intelligent questions relating to the post or school. Have a firm & confident handshake, if you haven't, practice until you have mastered this. On your tour round the school, if the opportunity arises, talk to children to show you are genuinely interested in what they do.

The Structure of the Day

Our interview day involved five activities outlined below. The panel consisted of the Principal, Deputy Principal, Governor, three Team Leaders, School Council and a teacher; a large group who had a varied perspective on who should be our new teacher. Each panel member took on an activity and were asked to feed back at the end of the process in order to inform the final appointment.

The structure of the interview was complex and involved careful planning. Trusting the panel members to make sound judgements was vital and recognising that each member was looking at the process through their own pair of glasses, tinted with their own experience and perspective. This difference was invaluable as it allowed me to see qualities in the candidates that at first glance I could miss.

The Marking Exercise

The marking exercise involved two pieces of writing written during one of our extended writing sessions. Candidates were asked to mark the work, offer feedback to the child that would move them on in their learning and to level the piece using our school criteria.  

This exercise allowed the panel to discern whether the candidates were able to use an assessment model effectively and apply this to the children's work. We did not worry if the levelling was a little off but wanted this to be in the right ballpark. The candidate's formative marking is very telling; discerning whether the candidate can spot the common errors and offer precise advice on next steps in a language digestible by the appropriate aged child. 

Top tip for applicants- Ask about the systems for marking during your informal visit.  When marking a piece of work, remember your audience is both the panel and the child whose work you are marking and write accordingly. Write neatly and ensure your feedback is precise and formative.

The School Council Interview

Our School Council consists of a core executive team, voted for democratically at the start of the school year and a class elected team from the entire school. Our interview panel was made up from four Year 6 councillors and four representatives across Key Stage 1 & 2. The children devise their own questions supported by a member of the school staff to ensure appropriateness. Questions for the most recent appointment included:

"If you won the lottery, would you still work at Warden House?"

"What would be on your bucket list and why?"

We set up the room with the children in a curved line and a single chair facing the candidate. Members of the interview panel sit around the room to capture the children's responses and observe the verbal and non-verbal actions of the applicant.  

The panel are looking for the candidate to strike a genuine rapport quick with the children. As we have differing ages of children, the candidate needs to adapt their dialogue and answers to the ages of the children, a subtle but important skill as a teacher. 

If the response is too twee, children feel belittled. If the answer is too complex, the younger children will be confused. If the answer is too brief, little rapport can be built. The most effective candidates will also reflect questions back on the children, showing interest in their responses and building a deeper rapport. Use of names by the candidate also deepens the rapport, as does humour, laughter and positive eye contact that involves all children in the responses to a question. 

Once through, the panel ask the children to give their feedback on the interview. Children's responses are often deeply reflective and affirm observations across other interview activities. Once all candidates are seen, each child is asked to rank their top teacher, this provides a numerical rank for each candidate. 

As a result, the School Council interview tells the panel a great deal about the candidate's ability to strike a rapport with children, their warmth when speaking with children and their desire to know the children they are with though building relationships founded on giving a little of themselves away as well as finding out a little more about the children they face.

Top tip for applicants - Strike a rapport with the children in this activity and reflect questions back on them to demonstrate your genuine interest in them. You would do this in class, so do this here.

The Lesson

Seeing a teacher in action is the most informative stage of the interview process. It is always great to see the teacher in their own classroom where possible as you can pick up on the rapport they have built with their class, the structures in place, the ideologies that underpin their teaching, the standard of work over time in children's books, their children's attitude to learning and how they create a positive culture for learning.  

If you are unable to observe teachers in their own classroom then the second option is to devise a teaching activity during the interview day.  For our most recent interview, we contrived a thirty-minute teaching activity that asked our candidates to engage a group of Year 4 children in a maths problem solving activity. Each candidate had twelve children and the lesson was observed by a member of the interview team experienced in lesson observation.

The teacher needs to strike a rapport with the children quickly, relationships are so important when engaging children. The candidate needs to put the children at ease, this could be through humour or reassurance. The activity needs to be well pitched and engage children at the appropriate level by either introducing a new concept to apply or through mastery, deepening learning through application.  

I am also looking for the use of effective questioning to engage children in active learning with clear feedback to children on their progress verbally or non-verbally. When observing, I like to watch the children's reactions to the lesson, looking for the sparkle in their eyes that shows deep and engaged learning. 

Top tip for applicants - Teaching is your craft, remember to keep it simple as you don't know the children. Ensure the pitch is right by referring to the age group expectations in the curriculum and look for opportunities to develop mastery of understanding for those children who are capable. Use questions frequently as this is your key to understanding whether the children are learning, struggling or are under challenged.

The Goldfish Bowl

The Goldfish Bowl activity mimics life in the staff room. The candidates are given an envelope each with a key discussion question. The candidates are then asked to read their question and lead a discussion on the question, drawing it to a conclusion within five minutes. Questions could include "Is there a place for OFSTED in 2015?" or "Can all children make outstanding progress?".

The candidates sit in the centre of the room facing one another while the interview panel are placed around the room in order to see the candidates to observe the verbal and non-verbal actions of the candidates.

The panel are looking to see whether any candidates dominate the discussion, whether they listen and speak with equal poise and how they respond to conflict or differences of opinion. The panel also looks at how the candidate leading the discussion engages the other candidates to speak and how effectively they draw a conclusion.  

This activity offers a valuable insight to the type of character the teacher is and how they are likely to act in professional discussions. Many models for leadership can be used here to assign the character of the candidates but at the simplest level, the panel can consider how the candidates would behave in their own staff room and whether they would complement, challenge or aggregate their current staff team.

Top tip for applicants - Ensure you involve everyone in the discussions and you listen to the viewpoints of others while demonstrating your viewpoint has value if it differs from others.  Keep a watchful balance of confidence, humility, attentiveness and reflection. 

The Formal Interview

The formal interview is a tried and tested part of the interview process and provides the panel with the chance to see how the candidate applies their pedagogical knowledge to their pedagogical practice. There are some key areas of questioning the panel asks to ensure the candidate has a solid grounding in practice. It is also a great opportunity to ask questions relating to elements in the candidate's application or practice they have undertaken in the activities across the day. Key areas may include:

• The candidate's thirst to work at our school.

• An understanding of safeguarding protocols.

• Ability to work in teams.

• Ability to support children's behavioural or educational needs.

• An understanding of assessment for learning.

• A desire to undertake CPD and research.

The panel are looking for the candidate's confidence to think and speak under pressure. Non-verbal clues are fascinating to watch as the candidate answers tough questions and responds to different panel members' questions. The key skill of the candidate is to paint themselves into the post, namely to give the panel a clear image of how they will fit into the school, the year group, the staff team and the school values.

As a conclusion the formal interview we always tell the candidate how they will be informed. We elect to name the panel member who will contact the successful candidate, while another panel member will contact the unsuccessful candidates. This allows the candidate to know which way the conversation will go from the outset. If unsuccessful, the candidate is offered feedback but told the feedback will not take place at this point. Feedback is always delayed as the candidate needs to digest the news that they have been unsuccessful.

Top tip for applicants - When placed in the formal interview, panic may set in if asked a tough question.  Remember to take a deep breath before answering, this gives your brain time to digest the question and provides you with a burst of oxygen for that increased heart rate pounding in your chest. 

Your key role in the formal interview is to 'paint yourself' into the mind’s eye of the panel as the teacher they are looking for so ensure you cover the magic three steps in each answer.  

As an example for the question "Describe your perfect classroom." Step 1 is to answer the question, you would describe the key elements of a model classroom. 

Step 2 is to give an example of your practice that relates to the question, you would then say how your classroom embodies the model classroom and creates a vibrant learning environment for your children.  

Step 3 is to reflect on what you could bring to the school as a result of your experience, this is where you reflect on the model classroom, how your current class upholds this and that you would bring your experience of Working Walls to the team at Warden House as this has been really effective in raising the understanding of mastery in your current class / team.

The Final Deliberations

Imagine the board room with Lord Sugar in The Apprentice and you are close to the final deliberation meeting. This involves all those involved in the interview process, with the exception of the school council children. 

As Principal, it is now my role to listen to the opinions of all the panel members responsible for each activity to gain a picture of which candidate fills the void created by the post.

Deciding on a successful candidate is usually tough as the candidates often have a variety of positive qualities. In order to help, I always ask the panel members to give their final choice once all feedback comments have been heard. Sometimes the decision is tough and cannot be made straight away and there is always the option of taking some time.  

For some appointments I have slept on the decision to allow all the information to settle, while other times the decision is a clear and decisive one. The decision, nonetheless, is yours to make and as such the interview process must enable you to unpack the qualities of the applicants and candidates to allow you to find your best match. The real work then begins as you work on the induction process of knitting them into your staff team. 

This post was originally posted here:

For further advice around applying for a job as a teacher, read a blog post by Headteacher James Tibbles, "Tips for applicants applying for jobs".

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