Thursday, 25 April 2013

Interviews - part 2

The actual interview - the setting

Well done, you made it through all the hoops that the school threw at you and they finally want to interview you.  I always take a book with me to interview days because this is the part where you could end up sat in a room, with only the other candidates to talk to, for hours.  I don't mind talking to the other candidates and I've got some great ideas for teaching tricky topics, but not everyone is the same and you might be on your own for half an hour. It's just nice to have something to pass the time.

The interview panel usually consists of the Head and the Head of Department. I've also heard of a governor being there, someone from HR, another leader in the department (Lead practitioner, AST, head of chemistry and so on). In my last interview there were four people, I think my record is five.

The room can be set up in different ways. Often it is a large boardroom desk, with the panel sat round one end and you at the other, or them on one side and you on the other. There's also a more relaxed set up where you all sit on lower chairs around a coffee table. I perform better in the more relaxed set up but I think few schools like that informality.

The questions

Think back to your PGCE interview... you probably practiced a few questions and answers beforehand, and you can do the same here.  The same rule applies though - beware of sounding too rehearsed.  Most schools now have a stock list of interview questions they will chose from - ask your head of department or a friendly deputy head if you can have a copy.  They might also be happy to do a mock interview with you.  All the candidates should be asked the same questions and the panel will often write down key points of your answers to help them make their decision, so don't be worried if they seem to be writing like mad, or not writing at all (some people just remember).  That said, I have a colleague who, when he interviews, tends to go "off script" in an attempt to get the most out of a candidate.  I'm sure he gets glared at by the rest of the panel but this seems like a lovely thing to do rather than assume the candidate doesn't know.

The questions tend to fall into categories:

1.Opening question.

Often "Tell us about your teaching career to date" or "Why have you applied for this job?"  They are looking for you to recap the last few years of your career, or why you have decided to become a teacher. Make sure you refer to the school and try to highlight a few key skills that fit with the job specification.

2. Reviewing your performance on the day.

You will probably be asked to reflect on your lesson - "What grade do you think it was?", "What were the strengths and weaknesses?"  I've started to do myself a quick written lesson evaluation in some of the dead time I've have during the day so that it's fresh in my mind.  Make sure you are fair to yourself - say what went well ("I found the pupils progressed to level 6 work when I did..". "I'm glad I provided differentiated material for X as they quickly completed the activity and I was able to stretch them") but also say what didn't ("Those two pupils at the front struggled to use the key vocabulary so next time I'd make sure I had some words printed out that they could refer to"). Keep a balance too, one good for one bad. I've also found that praising the class goes down well ("I was very impressed with how well the class worked for me and took part in the activity. Please can you thank them for me").

If you did a lesson observation this can often be asked about during the interview.  If you've not already had a conversation with someone about your feedback for that lesson, it might take place now.  Alternatively they can use that lesson to ask "If that was the standard of teaching in your department, what would you do?".  This is obviously for a leadership role and they are looking for a strategic plan where you can show impact and accountability.  Try and give examples where you have done something similar, successfully, in the past, even if that is just with a PGCE student.

3. Example questions.

"Can you give us an example of when you have...?" This can be anything from dealing with a difficult pupil, class or parent to implementing something new or your use of something like AfL in lessons.  They are looking for you "saving" a situation - What was wrong? What did you do? Did you work with someone in a team? Was it successful? (of course it was or you wouldn't be telling them about it!)

4. "Why do we teach science?"

This one is often used for an NQT role. Remember that PGCE interview? It's the same question.

5. "Describe a lesson or series of lessons that went well and tell us why they did."

Take your pick here. Try and include examples of lots of different skills in your answer - questioning, interactive whiteboard, AfL, ipads, progress made by the pupils (quote data...)

6. Child protection.

There is always a child protection question somewhere. Remember the procedure, don't promise confidentiality, take notes, refer it to the responsible person in the school.

7. Something topical.

"How do you feel about the plans for the new National Curriculum?", "Do you think terminal examinations at GCSE will help all pupils?"  Make sure you are up to date with recent educational ideas and news. The Times Education Supplement is good for this, but I use twitter and ASEChat to keep an eye on changes and ideas about them.

8. "Is there anything you would like to ask us?"

My personal most hated question as I can never think of anything! A friend once asked "If I saw your pupils or teachers outside school what would they tell me about the school?" You can also ask about training in a area you are interested in or have a weakness in, or what support there is for you as an NQT.

9. "Are you still a firm candidate for the post?"

This one is usually at the start or end of the interview.  Be honest. If you say yes the school expect you to accept the job if they offer it to you. A few years ago I heard about a place that interviewed for an NQT.  The candidate said "Yes" to this question and when the Head of Department rang to offer her the job that afternoon she turned it down because her placement school had already offered her a place the day before.  The Head of Department was fuming because his time had been wasted and the candidate had essentially lied.  Teachers network and talk and that reputation will take a while to go.  

I once withdrew from an interview when they asked this question at the start.  I was getting a bad vibe from what I had seen and decided that I wasn't a good fit for the school.  The panel pressured me to stay anyway to "discuss my concerns" but I knew there was nothing they could say and I stuck to my guns and didn't waste their time.

As a PGCE student I knew of others (physics specialists) who attended three interviews in a week and were able, in answering this question, to keep all of them hanging on until they had gone to all the schools and decided.  I'm wouldn't recommend it.

One final thing - beware your language and the jargon.  I talk about "pupils" but plenty of schools talk about "learners", try and pick up on the in-house jargon and use it. I've had panels use "APP" in a question meaning 'general assessment in all year groups, in multiple ways" rather than this.

Oh, and always talk about "impact".

Once the interview is over you are usually free to go home and wait for the phone call....

References

You will have to have put two people down on your application form to provide a reference for you.  Please make sure you ask them in advance - I once didn't do one for a PGCE student because she had moved to her next placement, the school she applied to posted the form to me, I didn't check my post, the deadline passed.  If she had sent me a text or email to ask then I would have known to keep a look out for the form. Besides which, it's just polite.  It's also a good idea to send the job specification and your covering letter to your referee so that they can highlight the same great things that you do that make you the ideal employee.

Feedback

Whether you get the job or not you are entitled to feedback.  Some schools are brilliant at this, I once had a Head call me to tell me that I hadn't got the job and then spend half an hour telling me how great I'd been and how much she had enjoyed meeting me.  She gave me a couple of tips to help and hoped I would apply again.  I've had other schools who say they will email feedback to me, and then don't. I tend to chase them once.  Sometimes feedback can be confusing - a school might say you need to emphasise data and pupil progress more in your answers (did they even ask about data?!), so you do so at another interview, and then they say they have no interest in data from another set of pupils.

Good luck!

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