Interviewing the Over-prepared Teacher Applicant

Updated  April 18, 2017 |
Interviewing the Over-prepared Teacher Applicant
Some applicants can fool you when they interview. Here is some advice on how to prevent that while at the same time keeping the interview process simple and efficient.
I have been interviewing applicants for employment for many years now. I used to be fooled by a certain type of applicant who presented extremely well at the interview. Unfortunately, a few months after hiring the applicant, things did not go as well as we had hoped. With my experiences in mind and knowing that many of you are operating your schools with very small staffs and also knowing that you do not interview many teachers in any given year, let's look at a couple of simple ways which will protect you from hiring a teacher who is not a good fit for your school.
 
How not to be fooled
 
"First impressions matter. Experts say we size up new people in somewhere between 30 seconds and two minutes." Elliott Abrams
 
I agree wholeheartedly with Elliott Abrams. You and I are accustomed to sizing people up in a very short time. Essentially we are using the same skill set which we use in the classroom. As we teach, we are constantly assessing how our students are absorbing and understanding the material, right? We have honed that skill set very finely. So bring it into play when you first meet an applicant.
 
This short video offers some useful tips on interviewing candidates.
 
 
Trust your instincts
 
You have to trust your instincts and your experience when you are interviewing teachers for your school. I put that at the top of my list for interviewing anybody, but even more so when interviewing teachers. Something on a resume or an answer to one of your questions might trigger a doubt or be a red flag. 
 
To get to the bottom of the matter, manipulate the conversation. By suggesting that you manipulate the conversation I am not being evil, just practical. It is the same approach we parents use when we want to find out what our teenagers have been up to. We ask oblique questions in order to find out the real truth. The technique is useful in an interview situation where an applicant thinks he is in control of the conversation. We are not trying to embarrass the applicant. Quite the opposite we are trying to develop as complete a picture as we possibly can. To do that successfully you need to trust your instincts.
 
Develop a list of questions for each category of employee
 
You will probably interview more applicants for teaching positions than for other positions in your school. Because it is so important to get it right, develop two lists of five questions each. You do the first interview using the first set of questions. Have a trusted member of your staff do the second interview using the second set of questions. You both need to take notes as you listen to the answers to the questions.
 
Lukas Gilkey offers a no-nonsense approach to interviewing candidates effectively.
 
 
Have two people interview the applicant
 
I generally begin the first interview with a brief review of what the position entails. That usually clears up any misunderstandings about the position you are seeking to fill. You cannot assume anything these days. That opening review of the job breaks the ice and allows the applicant to relax a bit. I always feel that the interviewee should be as relaxed as possible in what is really a very nerve-wracking situation. I also will explain where we have been, where we are and our vision for the future. Once again if what I describe does not jibe with what the applicant is looking for you will see that reaction. The applicant may even demur by stating that she was really looking to teach only AP Spanish as opposed to having to teach grades 6 through 12. If something like that is a deal-breaker, it makes sense to get it out of the way at the beginning before you waste everybody's time.
 
Assuming that you are ready to proceed with the questions, begin asking them and taking notes. You have read the applicant's resume and have it next to you. Listen carefully to the answers. If you notice any discrepancies between the answers and the facts contained in the resume, ask about them. It could be a simple misunderstanding or it could be something more serious. Follow up as needed.
 
When you have finished asking your questions, explain what will happen next. Thank the applicant for coming and go find the second interviewer. When the second interviewer has asked her five questions, she should take the applicant to the prearranged classroom so that the applicant can shadow a teacher teaching an actual class. Ideally, that class should be similar to what the applicant will be teaching, although that detail is not absolutely critical. What you are looking for at this stage of the interview process is to get feedback from one of your staff members. Leave the applicant with the teacher for fifteen to twenty minutes. Then take the applicant back to the interview room and ask her to wait a few minutes.
 
The next step is for you and your staff to huddle. You who interviewed and had the applicant shadowing need to meet and discuss the applicant. Many times your initial reactions and assessment will be corroborated by your colleagues. Sometimes they won't. There may be points of disagreement. Listen carefully to your colleagues' comments and observations. The final decision has to be yours, but at least you will know that you are making that decision after receiving valuable insights and comments.
 
The next step would be to make an offer. The offer should be contingent on a satisfactory background check as well conversations with the applicant's three references. Do not skip either of these parts of the hiring process. You must speak with the people who have been given as references. They need to answer your questions honestly and frankly. If you get responses such as "Oh, she would be an asset to any organization" to your very specific questions, that is not good. Ideally the references should be former employers and/or immediate superiors.
 
Graham Martin explains how to make a job offer.
 
 
By now you have amassed a lot of information about the applicant. Set up a simple database to log the applicant information and interview results. Over time you will develop some useful data which will help you attract and retain the kind of education professionals which you want working for you.
 
Be consistent
 
Consistency is key in the hiring process. If you put the process which I have outlined above into place, you will discover that you will become really efficient at interviewing. Hopefully you will find the right people for the positions which you have open. Can you just imagine the positive reaction from the rest of your staff when you introduced a candidate who has been interviewed and vetted by three members of staff? The buy-in will be one very good result of this simple, efficient interview process.
 
Now back to where we began. The point of my recommending this interview process is that it will not be what most applicants will be expecting. After all we wanted to throw the over-prepped applicant gently off stride, right? The point is that you really need to get the measure of this stranger quickly and efficiently. This is one way of doing. It works. I can attest to that as I use this approach regularly.
 
Questions? Contact us on Twitter. @privateschoolreview

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