Interviewing Successfully


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by Robert L. Cowden

Cindy Montgomery eagerly approaches the television set, videotape in hand, to see for the first time the results of her work of the past four months. Cindy is a senior music education major at a California state university. A trumpet principal, she is eager to begin her career in the Midwest for both personal and professional reasons.

With the help of audiovisual resources and music education faculty, she has produced a 16-minute video – an introduction of herself to a prospective employer. "Hello, my name is Cindy Montgomery," she begins, "and I am graduating this year with a degree in music education. I am interested in locating in the Midwest, where I would like to find a position teaching instrumental music. On this video, which lasts for 16 minutes, you will see me in an interview with questions posed by the head of our music education department; in student teaching situations, which include a private trumpet lesson, a beginning heterogeneous class of wind instruments (the students have been playing their instruments for five weeks, and this is lesson number 11), and a rehearsal of a middle-school band; and in a concert situation where I am conducting a number performed by a high-school band. In addition, you will see and hear me playing two short selections for trumpet with an accompanist.

"At the end of the videotape you will have information concerning how to reach me. This information, along with my resume, is in the package that was sent to you with the videotape. Please contact me if you feel I would have something to offer the children in your school district, and please also let me know if I can furnish you with additional material. I hope to hear from you soon. Good-bye!"

Sound far-fetched? Think again. It's not exactly easy for someone in public school music to make a cross-country move, although it happens all the time in higher education. Why couldn't, or shouldn't, it happen at the elementary and secondary school levels? One obvious reason is state retirement programs, which make it financially difficult to move after an educator has had some years' experience and is vested in a retirement system. But for the young teacher, either just beginning or at an early career stage, a major move is an exciting possibility.

Interview Preparation

Let's make a major leap now to the point where Cindy has a face-to-face interview with the personnel director from a Midwestern school district. The first contact between these two may have occurred by telephone or at an MENC meeting. This one, however, is taking place in the school district. How has Cindy prepared for this interview? She has learned about the community by visiting her library, by reading newspapers and travel books, and by talking with friends and two faculty members, one who used to teach in that state and one who has a doctorate from a university there. She even called the president of the state music education association. The Chamber of Commerce happily sent her a packet of materials describing the city and the region.

From the materials sent to her by the district, she learned the names of key personnel and their job titles. She also received a description of the K-12 music program.

Cindy visited the career center on her campus, viewed several videos, and checked out some pamphlets and books to prepare herself (see "Suggested Resources"). She wrote out questions she thought might be asked as well as ones she wanted to ask. Her resume was written out, critiqued by faculty and career center staff on her campus, and rewritten four times before it reached its final form.

The concluding exercise of Cindy's preparation was to submit to two simulated interviews where a faculty member in one case and a career center staff member in another plied her with questions in structured 20-minute intervals.

Questions to Expect

Cindy's list of questions was very long at one point but was reduced to 15 as she concentrated on her preparation for this interview.

  1. Why should we hire you?
  2. How well do you perform under pressure? Examples?
  3. What courses in college did you enjoy most? Least? Why?
  4. What leadership positions have you held? What did you learn from them?
  5. What is your commitment to music education?
  6. If you could start your own musical education over, what would you change?
  7. What do you consider your biggest achievements?
  8. What are your career goals? In five years? In ten years?
  9. What are your strengths? Weaknesses?
  10. How do you go about planning a class or rehearsal?
  11. What do you do in your spare time for relaxation? What are your interests other than music?
  12. What would you do if a given problem or situation arose?
  13. What are the issues in music education today? What is going on that is exciting?
  14. Why will you be an excellent teacher? What evidence do you have?
  15. What do you consider an ideal teacher/pupil relationship?

And finally, Cindy wrote out a word-for-word response to a possible opener from the interviewer: "Tell me a little bit about yourself." She practiced her response looking into a mirror, being conscious of the pitch of her voice, word inflections, body language, and projection of energy and enthusiasm. She was ready for this interview!

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