Smash that interview - and get the job!

Updated: Feb 5

You’ve applied … you’ve done the teaching observation …. now it’s time for the dreaded interview! After sitting in many interviews on the SLT side of the table and choosing who to employ, here are some interview insights that will help both NQTs and experienced teachers.

And for a bit of fun, some of my favourite bloopers are under four of the tips … real-life examples, because sometimes, you just can’t make it up!

1. Do - understand the school you are applying to

It’s obvious very quickly who hasn’t read the website and done wider research, especially when a school has a particular focus. Research makes it easy for you to ask questions relevant to that particular setting, rather than generic ones that just fill interview time and may be completely irrelevant to that setting. And that obviously makes an excellent impression.

Favourite blooper: “Oh, this is a bilingual school!”

2. Do - give yourself an edge

It doesn’t have to be much. Are you qualified to teach swimming? Do you have some special needs knowledge about autism or dyslexia? It can often be difficult to decide between two equally-good candidates, and it’s the one with the edge that gets it. If you know there is a particular direction you want to go in, or if you have spotted gaps in your training that you have filled with independent CPD, that edge might just be the thing that gets you the job.

3. Don’t - come in with a list of NOs

It’s important to set boundaries, but an interview is not the best place to do that. You can indicate preferences but don’t be too demanding before you even have the job. It can happen that someone who gives the impression of being a really good teacher doesn’t get the job because the overall impression they give is how inflexible they are.

Favourite blooper: “I can only ever start at the beginning of the second lesson because I have to do the school run.”

4. Don’t - go into too much detail about your personal life

Keep it professional because it’s an interview, not a therapy session. Details of your latest breakup is not especially relevant to the job. Realize that your woo-woo radar may be calibrated differently to others - being a Pisces doesn't guarantee success in the classroom. If you have a tendency to overshare, keep that tendency in check. Any mentions of your personal life are great if they indicate that you strive for (and even achieve?) a work-life balance. If your personal interests might contribute to staff wellbeing and you can offer to organize something like a staff running club/cooking sessions/pub quiz for example, great!

Favourite blooper: After the whole breakup story … “and now he’s with my daughter’s nursery teacher.”

5. Do - be clear about the age group you want to teach

Being upfront about that is really helpful because the SLT interviewing you are usually making plans for who goes where, or may have a fixed position in mind. But what really impresses is showing that you are aware of the pros and cons of each age group. So, “I just love the little kids because they are so sweet and so cute” might be true, but “I like teaching the little kids because you get so much back from them … but they have less of a sense of humour to work with than the older kids…” is a more balanced response. Likewise, “I like teaching the older kids because they have more of a sense of humour than the little ones, but managing behaviour is a different story with the older ones …”

Favourite blooper: “The little ones can be right little (insert swear word)” 6. Do come in with a portfolio

You might have linked to the world’s best online portfolio in your application. You might have a super-engaged following on your resource-rich Instagram. You might be offering the coolest tutorials on your YouTube channel ... but no-one might have looked at it or they might not remember it was yours. So come in with a couple of printouts (not too many) so the interviewers get to look at the kind of class environment you create and the kind of work you do. You can pre-empt some of the standard questions (below) with some directed show-and-tell from your printouts which will give you more confidence in steering the interview.

7. Do - work through some answers to standard questions

They obviously often come up, so think through likely candidates. Some examples:

Q: Safeguarding … what would you do if …

A: know all the correct language, terms and latest updates and think of answers that go beyond the child - could the safeguarding issue relate to another teacher, a parent …?

Q: What will be your priority with your new class?

A: building relationships, not the academics Q: What kind of role do you usually take on in a team? A: just be honest, with insights on how it might have changed after reflection Q: What happened in class that turned out to be your biggest learning experience?

A: Don’t do a stand up routine on what went wrong - that's for the pub once you've got the job, because we all have our stories. Do be honest about it, but spend most of the time talking about what you learnt and changed.

Q: What can you see yourself specializing in?

A: Again, be honest, and get some CPD to prove it. SLT are thinking strategically about where to put you and like to know. Q: What have you done in class that worked really well? / What does an ideal lesson look like?

A: Again, be honest and sing your own praises, use that little portfolio, but mention briefly at the end a little thing you would change to make it better next time to show you are a reflective practitioner. Also take the chance to mention any bigger responsibilities you had, like organizing class trips …

8. Do ask good questions when it’s your turn - this can be the hardest part.

Here are some suggestions:

  • What year group / class will I be in? So obvious, it's easy to forget this.

  • What support will I get? Especially important if you are an NQT.

  • What will I be paid? If the school is vague or non-committal on that one, and you have mixed feelings about the school, use this as evidence to guide your instincts.

  • Ask about materials - can you use your favourites, or something else - is there any flexibility?

  • Ask about social media - what policies are in place for personal use, what home-school communication policies are in place?

  • Ask about management-teacher communication - are there healthy boundaries?

  • Put the interviewer in the position of having to sell their school to you with questions like: What do you think the students are most proud of about their school? What would teachers say are the best things about working here? What do parents see as the good things about sending their children here?

And finally, if you don’t get the job, try not to take it too personally. The number of times the post-interview SLT conversations are "they were all great, but…." is very high. It’s unlikely that you are an unsuitable candidate and much more likely that someone else just had a very slight edge in terms of preferences or skills that fitted the needs of SLT at the time. Try to think that one door closing is the opportunity for another one to open up. Good luck!

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