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How to ace your interview day

Posted by Jasmin Choudhury on Wednesday, 5 June 2019
Jasmin Choudhury
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Nerve-wracking, not sure what to expect, feeling slightly sick in the stomach and clammy hands. We all know that feeling as we have all been there – no matter what profession we are! Interviews are hard work and exhausting – especially when you don’t get the job you think you want!

But remember you have got the foot in the door. Being asked for an interview is very positive – for both parties – interviewers and interviewees. At this stage, you want each other. -It is like going on a date.

Not quite a blind date as you have some information about each other but still deciding whether you like each other enough to commit for the long term. Dress to impress but be comfortable as you will have to teach. In addition, have all your resources, plans and documents ready.

overseeing builder (1)

You may not be feeling calm and composed but don’t show the world that. They don’t need to know. Put your head up, smile and walk confidently in through the school gates. If you see children (who are just as curious as the adults,) smile warmly and wish them “Good Morning” or Good Afternoon”. It goes a long way!

1. The meet and greet

Try to get in early and greet the office staff with a big smile and a warm greeting. The whole school will know interviews are happening and as is human nature, people will be curious! They are interested in you too and will be observing you too as you might be the teacher joining their school. Always be aware of your body language and how you are coming across.

Most schools (if you are not agency staff) ask for your documents e.g. passport, certificates etc. Have these carefully put together in a folder as it tells people about your organizational skills ...already.

2. The interview

The interview will usually involve the headteacher, deputy headteacher and governors. Assistant heads can be involved depending on the phases they lead. Department heads will lead if it is a teaching post in a secondary school.

They will ask you questions. Maintain eye contact and smile. Be confident and self- assured. Your body language is key as they are trying to glean everything about you in 30-40 minutes.

Speak passionately and succinctly. Cite examples and the impact you have made to children, young people and the school community. Think about examples (depending on the question) and use your life experiences to demonstrate where you have had to turn things around or where you have transformed a child’s behaviour or impacted their learning.

This shows you are a reflective practitioner. Key buzzwords are "impact", "progress", or even better "accelerated progress", "raising attainment" and “making child centred decisions”.

Remember that at this stage, the interviewers want you and will try their best to help you. If you don’t understand the question, ask them to repeat it. Sometimes, interview questions are not as clear and the panel themselves will try and rectify that by rephrasing it.

interview letters

3. The typical questions

Every school is unique in its approach to interviews. However, there are some common ones that most use in interviews such as:

  • Tell us about yourself
  • Why did you want to apply for this school?
  • There will also be questions about behaviour management and inclusion and how well you will cater to the needs of ALL children. In addition, questions on parent engagement will always be present as the school will want to know how you will develop those key relationships.
  • There will always be one on safeguarding – ALWAYS! This is core to anyone working with children and young people so make sure you know what to do and have read the school's safeguarding policy and procedures.
4. The thought-provoking questions

There may be other questions to identify the kind of practitioner you might be.

You may get questions such as:
  • Can you tell us about a time when you have made a difficult decision?
  • If we walked into the classroom during a good and better lesson, what would we expect to see?
  • What do you do if your lesson and the teaching and learning hasn’t gone to plan?
  • How do you plan your teaching and learning when starting a new topic or study unit with your class or cohort?
  • What would you do if you found you were struggling and what steps would you take?
  • How would you deal with a challenging parent?
  • How would you share your skills with other practitioners?

These questions are to determine the kind of practitioner you are and may not always be used. Often they are given- dependent on the school's experience of recruiting candidates. They may ask you about hot topics in education, so read up on things ahead of time.


5. Your questions

Don't leave this to the last minute. Think carefully about what you want to ask about. The people who are interviewing you are the movers and shakers of the school community. Ask about something that is pertinent to you.

If you are an NQT or an early career teacher, you may want to ask about the NQT induction programme or career development opportunities. If you are an experienced teacher, you may wish to ask about leadership and curriculum development opportunities and work-life balance.

You may even bring a momentary awareness that they hadn’t thought of. Getting a job is a two-way relationship – so ask the question you want.

6. The in-tray exercise

Most interview processes sometimes now have an in-tray exercise as well as an interview and an observation.

Curriculum-based exercises: This could be doing an exercise on the curriculum and planning ideas around a topic to showcase your subject knowledge. It also is an indicator as to whether you have a good understanding of the broad and balanced curriculum using a cross-curricular approach.

Data exercise: It could also be an assessment data activity where you are given your class and cohort data for a particular term or academic year. You may be asked to identify patterns and trends and how this will shape your teaching and learning to ensure accelerated progress. Sometimes, samples of anonymised children's work are given to show how you would give quality feedback.

top picks

7. The lesson observation

This is a vital part of the recruitment process.

  • Have your resources ready and set up neatly and carefully and check the interactive whiteboard (Although remember, fantastic lessons can be taught without technology too.)
  • Have a sticker or a smiley face on your hand to remind you about praising the children.
  • Put a strip of colour somewhere visible – to remind you to moderate your voice.
  • Introduce yourself and tell children how impressed you are and how you are enjoying being at their school (Gives you serious brownie points!).
  • Explain your expectations for behaviour and how you want them to communicate with you e.g. hand signals or counting or clapping.
  • Put the children at ease – you are the master of the situation here.
  • Make sure your mobile phone is switched off and use a watch to time your lesson and keep the pace.
  • Using your lesson plan, start teaching. Every minute is precious.
  • Share the learning objective and expectations.
  • If you are a primary teacher, use neat handwriting when writing on the flip chart or board, as you are role modelling especially in this digital age.
  • Use open-ended question questions and exchange and feedback techniques to keep the learning well-paced and moving.
  • Learn from the children what they know and move with them. If it doesn’t go to plan- don't panic. Adapt according to their needs. That's what good teachers do.
  • Address any behaviour issues immediately and appropriately. Children and the observers need to see you are in control!
  • End the lesson by asking the children to reflect on what they have learnt. It is a good way for you to assess and review what they have learnt and what their next steps are.
  • You may even be asked how you think your lesson went in the interview.

8. Don’t just look – observe carefully

While you are at the school, think and observe carefully. Spend time in the staffroom, (if allowed). Is there a positive atmosphere? Do people come down at break times? Are the office staff friendly and approachable? Is the school well-resourced so you can have that good and better enabling environment that you have dreamed about? What are class sizes and behaviour like?

All essential questions If you do get the job, as you will at least want to spend one – two years or more at the school … Being happy and well developed is vital to you and your career. Make sure you make an informed choice for your benefit and for your family's. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a job you hate.


9. Say yes please or ask for feedback

Teaching interview outcomes are usually determined by late afternoon and certainly the next day. If you do get the job – congratulations on being successful. The headteacher will put it in writing subject to checks. If you want it – accept it, in writing.

If you didn’t get it, don’t be disheartened. It wasn’t the right one for you. Reflect deeply on what happened and arrange for feedback. A good interviewer will give you precise and incisive feedback that will help you move forward and hopefully get the next job.

10. What next?

If you are an experienced teacher, start preparing to leave. It almost needs a mini action plan as you will find there are lots to do. Make sure you end your current school on a high note and leave things immaculate with a thorough handover. You don’t want anyone blaming you for not getting things done once you leave. Trust me – they do. It is human nature.

As a professional, I am always interested in how people leave rather than start -as tying up loose ends and being a finisher is much harder than starting.

If you are a teacher trainee, keep working hard so you get a brilliant final practice report. It is a key document and most schools and good NQT induction mentors require this as soon as possible in July, so they can plan and prepare ways to support you.

If you didn’t get the job – hang in there. It hurts but lick your wounds and start again. Take on the feedback you were given and implement it. Get your cv done and sign up to reputable recruitment agencies. A great recruitment agent will find you a school you can be happy with. Or you may want to do supply teaching for a few weeks while you take your time to look for the right job and school for you.

An interview process should be enjoyable as well as challenging. Try to be positive and even if things don’t go well – don’t give up. It is all a learning process. Effective interviewers will ensure that you are given every opportunity to succeed. Recruitment is an expensive process and time consuming - even more so when the wrong person is appointed.

It is in their interests for you to do well. They shouldn’t be trying to catch you out. Although, the process needs to be demanding enough to secure the right candidate. Sometimes, the interview panel can get it wrong too!

Make sure you take the time to mention your portfolio. It is another excuse to demonstrate your philosophy, passion, ethos and approach to teaching and learning.

Flaunt your best and be prepared to sell yourself as they want you to succeed. Otherwise, the interview wouldn't have been taking place!


About our Community Expert


Jasmin Choudhury
Community Expert

Jasmin has extensive experience of working in a variety of settings which have included being recruited to work schools in special measures and concern as well as outstanding.

Jasmin has been qualified as a teacher for over 20 years and has been a Deputy Head, working mainly in some of the most deprived and challenging schools in the UK.

Topics: Teacher development


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