Applying and Interviewing

Learn more about applying and interviewing for jobs in a private school. Here we’ll cover everything from cover letters to interview questions. Get tips on common application mistakes, how to ask good questions during your interview, and marketing yourself.
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Why Should I Hire You?
Let's think about the employment process from the point of view of your making me want to hire you. Here are some points to ponder.
Let's think about the employment process from the point of view of your making me want to hire you. Here are some points to ponder.

The premise
First of all, let's assume that I am the head of school at a private school in the suburbs of a major American city. We serve students from Prekindergarten through Post Graduate year. We offer a fairly traditional college preparatory program in our high school. There are esentially three schools within our community: a lower, a middle and an upper school. While the academic programs have their own distinctive components, we share facilities and staff across the curriculum as needed. We offer an extensive range of clubs and extracurricular activities which are guided by our faculty. Our sports program is professionally directed but faculty are expected to assist with sports they have played or coach a team where we do not have a professional coach.

Now why should I hire you?
For starters we have received well over 150 applications for the position of English teacher in the high school. Was your application submitted on time? Was it submitted using the format which we specified? Does it have the names of three professional references which we can contact after we interview you? My administrative assistant will look for those things as we receive applications. Any applications which are missing required information will be put in a secondary group of applications. Meaning, we will review applications which are complete and select the top five to come in...
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Asking Good Questions
Asking good questions at your job interview will improve your chances. Conversely asking bad questions will damage them.
Every interviewer appreciates being asked questions. Just remember that you will be judged, as indeed you are being judged constantly, on the quality of questions you ask. So, what would be considered good questions in a private school job interview situation?

First of all, let's get the bad questions out of the way. That will help you focus on the good questions.

Bad Questions

Never ask questions which impute anything negative about your present or former schools. The private school community is small. Everybody knows everybody. It just doesn't make sense to speak ill of colleagues, even though what you say may well be true. Any display of negative energy will be a potential red flag in your interview. Too many red flags will eliminate you from further consideration. A single red flag, no matter how minor or insignificant, could still be something your future employer might ask about when he checks your references. You certainly don't want to unleash a torrent of criticism from your old boss when he is asked why you disliked the faculty meal arrangements.

Do your homework carefully before asking any question which could even remotely be considered negative. That means you need to find that trusted friend or mentor who helped you with your interview attire and did some role-playing with you. Ask him those questions which you aren't sure about. See if they sound negative to him.

Avoid questions which are irrelevant to the position which you seek. Extraneous questions, unless they are part of small talk...
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Answering the Expected Questions
Be prepared for questions which you know will be part of any interview for a private school position.
Part of any private school interview process is answering questions which you know will be asked. Having said that, you need to prepare for your interviews with the same care and attention as you might give your lesson plans. Think through the entire interview. Imagine the questions being asked. Imagine your answers. Remember: not only does the content have to be the best it possibly can be but also the style and delivery which you use must present you in the best possible light.

Some of the more obvious questions include:

  • Why do you want to work at St. Swithin's?
  • Why do you want to leave St. Hilda's?
  • What is the most enjoyable part of your teaching day?
  • What books have you read lately?
  • When do you plan to finish your master's degree?

Regardless of what the actual questions are or the precise wording is, you must try to figure out why the interviewer is asking the question in the first place. Let's use the questions listed above to give you an idea of the sort of thing an interviewer might be looking for.

Why do you want to work at St. Swithin's?

This question or some variation of it generally is used by interviewers to determine what you know about the school. In other words, you need to have done your research about St. Swithin's, its philosophy, its...
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Staying Positive While Unemployed
Staying positive while being unemployed is never easy. But it is a critical part of the process.
If you are one of the thousands of teachers who have been let go because of budget cuts, you are probably looking for a teaching job. It can be a very unsettling experience. After all, you sacrificed greatly to earn your degree. You could have gone into another profession or into business and made much more money. But your idealism and sense of service to your nation's future got the better of you. You became a teacher.

Then the economic meltdown of 2009 hit. And hit hard. School districts came to grips with budgets slashed deeply because of declining tax revenues. Suddenly thousands of teaching jobs were eliminated. Your job was one of them. It is a phenomenon which has struck just about everywhere. 

The irony is that we as a nation have never needed talented teachers more than we do at the present time. Our students are doing poorly when compared to those around the world. That in turn creates labor problems as companies look outside America for well-qualified workers claiming that none are available here at home.

In any case we could discuss the education scene for days and still be no further ahead. So, what about you? How do you pick up the pieces and move on to a new situation?

A Strategy for Success

If you have decided to look for employment in the private school sector, you need to be aware of several things you must do in order to land a teaching job.

  • Work your network.
  • Offer in-demand skills and...
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Making It Accurate and Truthful
You must not fudge the facts on your private school employment application. Tell the truth. Put a positive spin on any potentially negative areas. More here.
An employment application is no place for half-truths. You have to understand that private schools have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients. They cannot afford to hire somebody who might jeopardize the school's reputation or, worse yet, cause harm to students. That is why it is so important to answer all the questions on an employment application truthfully.

Background Checks
Most private schools will use a service to do background checks on any potential new hires. They will not run the background check until they have interviewed you because background checks are expensive. That's another reason why you need to be truthful about anything in your resume which will arouse probing questions and nix your chances of even being interviewed.

What the background check really examines is your criminal and credit history. If you were charged with a criminal offence or have bad credit, that will show on your background check. Take the offensive and point out that your credit was destroyed by huge medical bills as a result of your mother suffering from Alzheimer's. Don't be creative. Just tell the truth.

Employment Verification
Part of the background check is verifying your employment history. Don't leave anything out. An employer will look askance at frequent job changes. Staying at one school for 5 years is good. Working at 5 schools in 5 years is probably not a good thing unless, of course, you were being moved around by your spouse's employer or were doing substitute teaching while you raised your children. Explain...
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APPLYING AND INTERVIEWING