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Teacher Interviews: Four Ways to Separate Yourself From the Pack

April 22, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 193

I am often asked by seminar students just how it is that interviewers decide between three or four really good candidates. What kinds of criteria are used to make that final decision? That is a really good question! Consider for a moment that it is not unusual for good school districts to attract hundreds, sometimes over 1000, resumes for just a few positions. From this group, they select the very best resumes....resumes that stand out as a great fit for their school. From that point, there might be ten or more great candidates invited to a personal interview. This means there is going to be very stiff competition for that coveted teaching position, and you need to somehow stand out as the best among that group. As a great superintendent once explained it to me; "It's like running in the Kentucky Derby...everyone's a thoroughbred." It's a tall order, for sure. The question is, just what can you do to separate yourself from the other great candidates? How can you make your answers represent that great fit and stand out from the other strong contenders? Today I will give you four ways to accomplish just that goal.

Target your answers to the specific needs and values of the school where you will work. Many candidates will offer excellent answers to the interview questions. They will have responses that demonstrate good practice, sound thinking, and a command of the issue. But, what separates the great answer from the good answer is how it fits the direct values and needs of that exact school. Interviewers are looking for the person they feel will best match their specific culture, their high-value skill sets, and their idea of the best match to the students and community. They want that teacher who will hit the ground running; someone who will be a great hit with their students and parents. The best way to make yourself that special individual is to do your homework! Find out what staff development has been taking place. Look at ongoing school projects and what they trumpet as important accomplishments. What special features are noted on their websites? Once you know about the school, look for ways to match up your skills, philosophies, and answers directly to what you found out. That will separate your good answers from the others.

Be ready for the standard questions with targeted and novel examples. You cannot know the exact questions to be asked on any interview; we know that. However...almost all interviews have questions on classroom management, parent relations, state-test preparation, and lesson design. You should sit and craft a great answer that would target each of these areas. Within your answer, develop a strong, innovative classroom practice that demonstrates just how you either have, or would, put that idea to work. The more unique and novel your example, the more likely it is to stand out. If you have good tangible results from having used the practice in the past, be sure to add that. Telling the committee something such as, "...through using this strategy, every student in my class showed competence in this cluster area on the state test" will absolutely separate your answer from everyone else's! The more you know of the district, the stronger you can make your answer. Take the time and prepare.

Increase your "likeability" factor and use your enthusiasm to energize the room. In speaking with many, many principals and asking just why they chose one great candidate over another, I am amazed at how often it came down to; "We just really liked that candidate's enthusiasm and passion. We thought she would be a great fit for our fourth grade team." In fact, it is often someone's overall impression that ultimately carries the day. I know this sounds almost unfair, but it's the truth and you may as well know it now so you can begin to think about how you can make that person you. Enter the interview with a great handshake, smile, and eye contact. Use people's names. If you can find places to insert a little humor or light anecdote, do it. Keep your energy and passion for the art of teaching high. Maintain good posture and body language. Occasionally lean in to the group if you have a strong point to make. Watch for signals from the group that they are in agreement; head nods, smiles, body shifts towards you....all of those are good signs, and keep up the good work. As you draw to the ends of your answer, you can sometimes ask if you have fully addressed their question. Most of all; keep your answers on target to the needs of the school and underscore your best matches. Smile and say things like, "I know one of the teacher qualities your school most values is a strong child-centered teaching stance, that is why I try to always..." and make your answer shine. If you can do this with some enthusiasm and energy, it will translate throughout the room, and your likeability factor will go way up!

Use an interview portfolio to slam the door on close competition. I have an entire article on this topic, so at this point I will just highlight the strategy. Most candidates, even very good ones, will not bring a good interview portfolio. Those who do, often make the mistake of just constructing a standard set of inclusion items. Yours will go further. You need to present a portfolio that includes some high impact photos of students enjoying a great activity, a powerful lesson or unit plan, student work samples that demonstrate unique features, and perhaps an innovative parent brochure or handout you used on back to school night (Oh, don't have one? Make it now, silly!). All of this said, go back to our central theme; target everything you do to what you know the school values and desires. As you narrate the portfolio, be sure to underscore anything you know to be a match to what the school already has in place. A last piece of advice is to let the group keep the portfolio. You don't want it back. This way, should they want to look at it again when they are making that important final decision, they have it right there. If you have crafted this properly, your portfolio will show great work with students and be just what the interviewers see as that great fit to the things they value! It will slam the door shut on others who just had good answers to the questions. I assure you this works!

So.....there you have four strong ways to separate yourself from all those other good candidates. I promise you that if you put these to good use, YOU will be the most feared interviewer the competition will ever face. Better yet? YOU will be the one this committee talks about when they make that all-important employment decision!

My name is Robert W. Pollock. I am an educator, with over 34 years experience, a speaker, a consultant, and the author of 'Teacher Interviews. How to Get Them & How to Get Hired!. I have spoken to 1,000's of prospective teachers on how to interview and get the job. I have consulted with numerous schools around the country. Currently I am a professor of Education at Tusculum College, Knoxville, TN, where I also serve as the president of their alumni board.

Order my book "Teacher Interviews: How to Get Them & How to Get Hired!" at:

Email me at:

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