The Teaching Interview in a Nutshell

January 2, 2012 @ 7:05 pm

While the end of the school year may still be six months away, "hiring season" is right around the corner. Budgets and staffing needs are being reviewed. It's time to start warming up for the 2012-2013 job hunt!

*We'll be posting articles pertaining to interviews over the next two weeks!

Below is a snapshot of the ever important interview for a teaching position.

The single most crucial part of the job hunt process is the formal job interview. This is a face-to-face or phone meeting with a hiring official where there is a definite job opportunity at stake. During the interview, both parties see if they like each other and how they can satisfy each others needs. Not only will you be letting the employer know about your best qualities, but you will attempt to gain a clearer conception of the employer, and the position that is available. All the time and effort you have spent in preparation to make an oral presentation of what you have learned comes together at this point--Now is the time to sell yourself!

In general, school districts are looking for teachers who:

• Have good interpersonal skills and enjoy working with children;
• Are knowledgeable about the science of teaching and the content of their discipline;
• Have had a variety of experiences;
• Are organized;
• Have good communication skills;
• Will present a good model for children;
• Believe that they can make a difference in a child's life through their teaching.

Be prepared to demonstrate competence and confidence in each of the above areas. Assess yourself. Which of these areas are you strong in? Where do you need more experience? Where do you need to study? A successful interview is achieved when you invest energy to prepare for the job which you are seeking.

The secret of good interviewing is good presentation which requires preparation and skilled communication. You don't get a second chance in an interview. From the moment you greet the interviewer until you say good-bye, the impressions you create are irreversible for that interviewer. Making a formal, personal presentation of your knowledge, attitudes and skills as related to the job you are seeking, means preparing with research and practice just as you would prepare to make a presentation in a class.

A good interviewer will be attempting to evaluate those qualities you have that are not revealed in your resume: what motivates you, what kind of personality you have, what you value, whether you are a leader or a follower, what your ambitions are, how well you communicate, how much career planning you have really done, etc. The interview will be a test of the preparation you have done and your ability to communicate it.

The more information you have about a prospective school district, the better prepared you will be during the interview. Knowing about the school district is vital to your interview preparation. Here's some information you should know before the interview:
o Demographics of the district - geographic boundaries, size of the district, student enrollment, grade levels served, number of teachers employed.
o Mission statement.
o District-wide goals and plans for the future.
o Instructional programs and learning objectives for its students.
o Pupil achievement in reading and math.
o Special honors or recognition by state or federal agencies for academic excellence.
o Technological initiatives and support.
o Class size.
o Key personnel.
o Textbooks being utilized.
o Extra-curricular and sports programs offered.
o Parent involvement.
o Staff development programs available.
o Mentoring programs for new teachers.
o Teacher union involvement.
o District challenges (e.g. budget constraints, staff reductions, meeting learning standards, physical plant)
o Salary schedule.
o Residency requirement.

Call or visit the district office and obtain printed materials (pamphlets, brochures, calendars, guides, fact sheets).

Check the school district website.

Conduct a search on the Internet (e.g. for information on the district, key administrators and the community.

Drive through the district. Acquaint yourself with the students' socio-economic environment.

Visit a school. (Always call first for an appointment.) Talk to the teachers and administrators, and if possible to the students.

Attend PTA meetings, school board meetings, or evening activities within the district.

Scan the newspapers in that district's area for school board and community information regarding the district. Reference librarians will help you search for articles written about the district.

Talk with parents and teachers of children you know who attend school in the district.

Contact State Education Departments for demographic data and other publications which may be available.

Contact local Chambers of Commerce to request a packet of information material about communities and schools.

Talk with fellow students who may have student taught or substituted in the district.

Talk with faculty and student teaching supervisors about school district information.

Become a substitute teacher only in districts you are extremely interested in working for.

Be creative and determined!

The actual format of a job interview may vary, but most interviews consist of several phases


In this initial phase, the interviewer and candidate usually engage in a bit of small talk in order to adjust to each other and to begin establishing some rapport. Topics might include anything from the weather to something happening on your campus or in the area. Remember, you are being evaluated from the moment the interviewer sees you, and although this first phase is often light and casual, don't underestimate its importance. It is human nature for people to form a first impression and to resist changing that impression unless the evidence is overwhelming. If the first impressions are negative, it will be very difficult to change the interviewer's mind. It is during this phase that the interviewer will sometimes tell you something about their school district, especially if they sense the need to do so.

Background Analysis

Once the ice has been broken and some of your initial nervousness has disappeared, the interviewer will normally shift the conversation to questions about your background, often using your resume as the starting point. The purpose here is to gain information about the skills and qualifications you have, based on your work experience and extra-curricular activities. In addition, they will be attempting to reach some judgments as to your attitude, your self-confidence, and your ability to communicate and how you handle yourself ... in general, the kind of person you are. You should try to help the recruiter get the information they need. Don't make them pull all the information out of you. Keep your answers brief and to the point, but avoid "yes" and "no" answers. If the interviewer seems to want more information at certain points, then don't hesitate to elaborate further.

Matching Candidate To School District

It may be difficult to determine where this phase begins, but at some point in the interview, after the interviewer has the background information, they will begin to match your qualifications and the kind of person you are with the school district for which they are recruiting.


Normally, you will be given the opportunity at this point to ask questions or comment on what the interviewer has told you. If you have not been given this chance previously, you should have some questions in mind that you wish to ask, but don't ask questions simply to ask. Ask, because there is some important information you need to know that hasn't been covered or needs clarifying. Be aware of time limitations at this point because the interviewer probably has others to see after you. You don't want to over stay your welcome, yet you do want to end on a positive note knowing the next steps that follow the interview.

Will you be contacted further, or are you to contact the employer? If so, where? Are you to fill out an application, and if so, be certain you know when it is due. As a general rule, the more interested the interviewer is in you, the more certain they will be that you understand the next step. The interviewer will usually indicate through some verbal or non-verbal action when the interview is over. You need to be aware and prepared to end your conversation. A lot of communication breakdowns occur in the last few minutes of an interview, the candidate leaving with only a vague notion of what, if anything, is to follow.

It's important to maintain your enthusiasm in the last moments of an interview, and you should try to briefly summarize the key points brought out in the interview and the procedures to follow. This technique will give the interviewer an opportunity to verify or correct your assessment of the interview and will provide assurance that there is no misunderstanding between you.

Before The Interview
Assess yourself. Know your strengths and weaknesses before you walk in the door.

Research the school district. You should have some knowledge of the school district and the community. Look for a chance in the interview to communicate what you know.

Verify the particulars. Find out the exact time and place of the interview. Arrive at least five minutes early. There is no excuse for being late, ever! Learn the interviewer's name, and its proper pronunciation, and his/her title.

Practice your answers. Prepare answers for the questions listed below. Practice out loud with a friend or schedule a mock interview with a counselor at your career center.

During The Interview
Sell yourself. Don't just answer the question. Illustrate your personal qualities and strongest abilities with examples from your past. Try to address any underlying questions you think the employer might have about your suitability for the job.

Dwell on the positive. Should the recruiter ask about past failures or shortcomings, try to explain circumstances rather than give excuses or blame others. You'll create a better impression by being honest and candid.

Non-verbal communication. Watch what you're doing while you're talking. Nervous hands and feet can distract the interviewer's attention. By sitting up straight you will appear poised and confident throughout the interview. The way you dress will communicate a particular message, too. Think conservative.

Ask questions when indicated. If appropriate, ask meaningful questions. Find out, for instance, how many classes a day will you be expected to teach, how training is provided, how involved are the parents in school activities, what are the students like, how are teachers assigned to extra-curricular activities, how you will be evaluated. See below for additional questions to ask.

After The Interview
Follow-up. Provide whatever credentials, references, or transcripts are requested by the school district as soon as possible. Be sure to write down the name, title, and address of the recruiter. You should send a brief typed thank you letter of appreciation for the interview.

o Be yourself.
o Be prompt, neat, and courteous to everyone.
o Ask relevant questions.
o Allow the interviewer to express themselves.
o Read school district literature and website!!!
o Examine school district ratings.
o Evaluate objectively.
o Follow procedures.
o Make yourself understood.
o Listen to the other person.
o Present informative credentials.
o Think of your potential service and contribution to the school district.

o Criticize yourself or others.
o Be late for an interview.
o Freeze or become tense.
o Present an extreme appearance.
o Become impatient or emotional.
o Talk too much or too little.
o Oversell your case.
o Stretch out the interview.
o Make elaborate promises.
o Come unprepared.
o Try to be funny.
o Ask about starting salary or benefits.

Dress appropriately:
You are not only being evaluated by what you say in an interview, but how you present yourself. Dressing professionally is essential for creating a favorable impression.

Women should wear:
• A conservatively colored suit. Navy, charcoal gray or black in solid or pin-stripes. The blazer and skirt or pants should be matching fabric.
• Skirted suits are preferred. Skirt hem should fall at the knee; 2" above or below, no extreme slits.
• Pantsuits are also acceptable.
• Unpatterned blouse with conservative neckline. Avoid lace or prints.
• Polished and closed toe shoes, basic dark pumps with medium or low heels (no higher than 2"), no high heels or platform shoes.
• Choose between a brief case or small shoulder bag, (not both).
• Nails subtle if polished, clean and not chipped.
• Neutral color sheer hosiery.
• A minimal amount of make-up.
• Simple and basic jewelry; one earring in each ear, necklace or pin (not both) and watch (avoid bracelets). Light perfume, if any.

Men should wear:
• A conservatively colored suit. Navy, charcoal gray or black in solid pin-stripes.
• Solid white or blue shirt.
• Conservative tie, simple and neat.
• No earrings, flashy cuff links, rings or neck chains.
• Over the calf dark socks.
• Shined dress shoes. Wing tip, lace shoes, or tassel loafers preferred.
• Clean nails
• No strong, fragrant cologne.

Other Tips:
• Bring a quality pen.
• No smoking prior to the interview.
• No chewing gum.
• Wear no more than one ring on each hand with exception of wedding set.
• Remember to TURN OFF cell phones and pagers before going in to an interview.
• Bring a pad holder that contains extra copies of your resume and reference list.

Following the interview, you will want some kind of decision about your standing with the school district even if it's a rejection. Most school districts will inform you within a few weeks after the interview either rejecting you or inviting you for a second interview. A few districts will end the interview with a rejection or with an invitation to proceed further. Other districts are negligent about letting you know anything. Whatever the case, it is a good policy to send the interviewer a thank-you note as soon as possible after the interview, and add any pertinent information that has been omitted as well as indicating again your interest in the school district. If you still get no response from the thank-you note, or if a date has passed when the employer was to contact you, don't hesitate to phone or contact the school district. Above all, let them know of your continuing interest in them. Even if the district has no opening for you now, there is always a chance something will come available later.

Practice your interviewing skills!!

If available, sign up for a mock interview at your career center. They will videotape a practice employment interview between you and a career counselor. You and the counselor will watch the tape together and the counselor will give you feedback on your interviewing skills.

Written by the staff of the Career Development Center at Buffalo State College, December 2008.

Please do not send me your cover letter or resume. I do not work for any of these schools, I just post jobs.


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