Interview Advice

It’s interview season for teachers, and that means I am seeing A LOT of posts on social media asking for advice. I am not an HR person, nor am I an expert on the subject, but I have been on my fair share of interviews (and always been offered the job), and I’ve also been the person conducting the interview, so I do have some thoughts to share on the subject.

Be Yourself

An interview is about the school representative getting to know you and you getting to know them. That can’t happen if you aren’t being yourself. Are you a bubbly, outgoing, exuberant person? Be that. Are you a quieter, more introverted, subdued person? Be that. Do not try to be something your not, you’re only setting yourself up for failure if you try. If you’re successful, and the interviewer buys it, you may end up in a position you’re not actually suited for (or they may end up not happy with you and show it in your evaluations). If you’re not successful, and the interviewer sees through your act, it’s pretty much a guarantee you won’t get an offer.

Be Honest & Direct

Yes, an interview is all about selling yourself and your abilities, but don’t exaggerate or lie. Speak as positively as possible about your strengths/weaknesses, education, and experience, but don’t try to make yourself into something you’re not. Give direct answers to direct questions. Rambling and obfuscating can indicate a lack of focus or suggest that you’re trying to distract the interviewer from the fact you don’t know what you are talking about.

What if I don’t know the answer?!?

If you don’t know what a term means, ask. You can say something such as, “I think I’ve heard that term before, but I’m nervous and can’t remember. Could you tell me what you mean by…” And if you have no idea how to answer a question, just admit it. You could say something such as, “I’m really not sure how to answer that as I’ve never experienced it before. I think I might…” Or your could ask them to restate the question by saying something such as, “I’m not entirely sure I understand what you’re asking, could you restate the question?”

The Portfolio

I hear a lot of people talking about portfolios and the best way to make and present them. They talked about them when I was in college 20+ years ago as well. I’ve been on interviews for, and by hired by, tutoring companies, non-profit education institutions, private schools, a charter school, public schools, and community colleges. Do you know how many times I was asked about a portfolio, or had someone look at one I’d made? Zero. Everyone has a different opinion on this subject, but for what it’s worth mine is to not waste your time.

What To Take

While I don’t recommend taking a portfolio to your interview, I do recommend taking extra copies of your resume (especially if it’s a job fair–then take a lot of extra copies). In a scheduled interview you’re unlikely to need it, they’ll already have it printed and in front of them, but it’s always good to have. I also recommend taking a notebook and pen. This allows you to take notes (especially important at a job fair) and also gives you something to do with your hands (holding a notebook is better than wringing them when nervous).

The Demo Lesson

Personally, I think a demo lesson is next to useless. It’s nothing like reality: it’s too short, the students (if there are any present) are always well behaved and prepped ahead of time, and anyone can prepare and teach one good lesson. But some schools require them and you may be asked to teach one. Please, please, please, do not simply “steal” something from someone else. Actually develop your own lesson and materials. If you do use something created by someone else (reading, worksheet, game, etc.), be sure to give credit to the original author in some way that will be obvious to the interview team. The last thing you want is to have them discover later that you did not credit your source.

What to Wear

In general, you want to be professional. Think about what you would wear to present to the school board or for parent-teacher conferences. Will you dress more casually in your classroom? Probably. But you’ll also be dealing with children/teenagers and wearing it all day long. Those things are not the case with an interview, so dress up a bit.

Men, I’ll start with you because, let’s be honest, your clothing is much easier to deal with. In my opinion, there’s not much to decide: wear a suit and tie, or at the very least dress pants with a button down shirt and tie. Even my software architect husband, who works in an office where most people wear t-shirts and jeans every day, wears a suit to interviews. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but invest in a decent suit, shirt, and tie combination in a basic color. Oh, and buy yourself a pair of shoes that aren’t sport shoes–tennis shoes/sneakers do not belong in an interview, even if they are brown or black.

Women, we have a lot more options, and a lot more things to consider, when getting dressed. Here are my specific tips/considerations:

  • Sleeves- Your top should cover your shoulder, at least a cap sleeve is preferable. At minimum, be sure your top completely covers any undergarment straps, even when you move.
  • Pants- Wear dress pants. Choose a pair that has a flattering fit and cut, but not one that is overly tight. They should not show any of your midriff or back, even when standing, sitting, and moving.
  • Skirt/Dress- Again, choose a flattering fit/cut, but not one that’s overly tight or that shows your midriff or back. Also consider the length of the skirt. What shows when you are standing? How about when you sit? Remember, many styles ride up when you sit.
  • Neckline- This too should be flattering but not overly revealing. At the very least, all parts of your bra should remain covered when you move and bend. Consider what someone who is taller than you can see when standing close to you (i.e.: shaking hands). Also consider what can be seen when you bend over (i.e.: shake hands across a table, place your purse on the floor).
  • Shoes- As with the men, do not wear anything that could be worn to play a sport. If you choose to wear sandals, make them dress sandals–not something you’d wear to the beach. And a side tip for job fairs: wear flats. You’re likely to be standing a lot and your feet will thank you later.

My advice is to give your outfit choice(s) the mirror test. Get dressed in everything you think you want to wear (including undergarments and shoes). Position a full length mirror so you have some room to move around. Start out standing in front of the mirror. Examine yourself from head to toe from all angles: front, side, and back. What can you see and not see? Now partially bend at the waist (as if you were leaning across a table to shake hands or take a piece of paper being handed to you). Check all angles again and see what you can see. Now fully bend at the waist (as if picking something off the floor) and check all angles again. Finally, bend at the knees (as if picking something off the floor) and check all angles one last time.

Next, get a chair and place it in front of the mirror. Sit down in the chair and see what is visible. Cross your legs, uncross your legs, tuck your feet under the chair…try out as many positions as you can think of (you’re likely to be nervous and moving around a bit). Check all of them to see what your outfit looks like from all angels. Now do the two different bends: reaching across a table and picking something up off the floor. What can you see? This may seem extreme or overly cautious, but you don’t want to unintentionally embarrass yourself, and clothing malfunctions are something you don’t need to be worrying about during the interview.

Bottom line on what to wear: you want to be comfortable and look your best, but you also don’t want anything about your looks to distract from your abilities as an educator. Find an outfit that looks great on you but allows your skills and personality to take center stage, not your appearance.

Final Thoughts

Interviewing will always be stressful, but being prepared can help you feel more confident. You’ve no doubt worked very hard to get where you are and have earned the right to be sitting in that room, so be confident in yourself and your background. If you get the offer, great! Consider it carefully and decide to take it or turn it down. If you don’t get an offer, that’s OK too. Remember, it’s better for everyone (you included) to find a good fit between the person and the position; the right job will come along at the right time. Best of luck to you and happy teaching, everyone!