Tips on Interviewing for a Job

Do you need tips on interviewing for a new teaching job? Read these outstanding reminders on everything from your handshake to your thank-you note, invaluable advice for any prospective interview.
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Tips on Interviewing for a Job

The Interview

Once you have secured an interview, there are several things that you can do to make it as successful as possible:

  1. Make your portfolio available for previewing.

  2. Pay attention to the impression you give to everyone you meet.

  3. Introduce your portfolio.

  4. Listen for probes and use them as opportunities to provide documentation to your answers.

  5. Emphasize your practical experiences.

  6. Make all of your responses positive ones.

Make Your Portfolio Available for Previewing

Some administrators who frequently conduct interviews highly recommend that you make the portfolio available to them prior to your interview. Many interviewers make it a practice to review the candidate's resume a day or two before an interview. If a portfolio were available at that time, this too could be reviewed at the leisure of the interviewer.

One of the advantages of creating an electronic portfolio is that it makes this step of the process very simple; you can simply leave with the administrator a labeled disk on which you have saved your portfolio. Be sure to also include a short letter that introduces yourself. In this letter, be specific. Address it to the person in charge of the interview and specify the teaching position for which you are applying. Also make sure to include brief, clear instructions for accessing your electronic portfolio.

If your portfolio consists of hard copies in a notebook, decide if you are comfortable leaving it with others. If you are, we recommend that you make available your brochure, your portfolio, and an introductory letter about three days before the interview.

If you have both types of portfolios – a notebook of hard copies and its electronic equivalent – leave the disk with your interviewers so that they can access it prior to the interview. Leave also an introductory letter, in which you give instructions for accessing the file on disk. In the letter, also tell them that you have a notebook of hard copies that you will bring with you to the interview.

Pay Attention to Your Demeanor

Even before the interview begins, judgments may be made about you. Your appearance, your punctuality, how you spent time while waiting for the interview, your handshake, and the way in which you filled out any application forms are all part of the total picture that you present of yourself. It is important to remember that your interviewer is not the only person making these judgments: Secretaries, receptionists, and faculty members who meet you as you enter their offices will also take notice of your demeanor.

It is extremely important to be punctual; therefore, it is advantageous to make sure that you arrive just a bit early. Ten to fifteen minutes of "cushion" time enable you to circumvent any unforeseen situations that might occur, such as traffic jams, making a wrong turn, or spilling coffee on your suit. Be careful not to arrive too early, though, as this can interrupt the business of the office.

Once you have arrived, use this time wisely. If you must wait for your interview, seize the opportunity to learn more about the school district. Often lobby areas have newsletters, yearbooks, bulletins, or other such printed material on display and available to the public. These publications can offer valuable information about the school in which you would like to teach, and reading them while you are waiting is just one subtle way of showing your potential employer that you are truly interested in this position.

If you are asked to fill out any application forms or paperwork, pay attention to your handwriting. After all, this is a teaching position that you seek; neatness and letter formation are important, especially in the elementary grades. Someone will notice if your writing is illegible or sloppy.

Be alert. Seat yourself so that you can see and hear as much as possible. You will want to be ready when your name is called and you are invited into the interviewing room. Offer your hand for a handshake and make it firm.

Introduce Your Portfolio

Interviewers indicate that it is not uncommon for an applicant to bring a portfolio into an interview and then never refer to it. Other applicants mention the portfolio only at the end of the interview when time is short. It is a mistake to assume that an interviewer will initiate questions or comments about your portfolio. Also, be aware that time allocations are usually fixed. For these reasons, it is important at the beginning of the interview to indicate that you are prepared with a professional portfolio. There are always a few moments of introductions and informal conversation at the beginning of an interview. During this time make a simple statement such as, "I have with me today my professional portfolio organized around ten national standards for beginning teachers. Here is a brochure outlining the contents of my portfolio. I would be happy to share with you anything from my portfolio that interests you or to circulate my portfolio."

Then follow the interviewer's lead in these matters. A well-done brochure captures your portfolio in a concise and intriguing way and is likely to invite questions about the work reflected in your portfolio. Even if you never have the opportunity to circulate your portfolio, your interviewer will have in hand an effective summary of your competencies in addressing important standards for teachers. The brochure will also be a helpful reference for you to use should you want to quickly locate a particular artifact during the interview. Administrators have told us that they value this type of initiative by the candidate. Introducing your portfolio and presenting a brochure that summarizes your portfolio show that you are organized, politely assertive, capable of summarizing a lot of information, and truly interested in getting this job.

Listen for Probes

Often the interviewer will ask a question, and upon receiving your answer, will ask you to pursue your answer further. This is a probe and an opportunity to use your portfolio to your advantage. For example, suppose the interviewer asks, "How well can you work with others?" You answer by saying, "I am a real team player. I enjoy group work because it gives me the chance to combine my talents with those of other people to get things done." Then, your interviewer probes, "Well, what kinds of groups have you worked with? Tell me more about them." This is where your portfolio will be very handy. You can say, "In my portfolio, filed under 'Standard Ten Partnerships,' I have included a project that I completed while in college. It is a thematic unit book that three of my colleagues and I worked on together for an entire semester. It is quite a collaborative effort, because the entire team was responsible for making it a success. As you can see, it contains lots of valuable resources for teaching a unit on the environment. In fact, my supervising teacher asked to borrow it for a unit she did with her fifth graders and was very excited about it. She even mentioned it in her reference letter, which is also filed under 'Standard Ten.'"

Such probes invite you to support your answers with additional information, which is the purpose of bringing your portfolio to the interview. Listen carefully for these opportunities and point out any supporting documents that you can. It is not necessary to physically locate each artifact that you mention; in fact, you will want to let the interviewer decide whether to look at these documents. What's most important is that you tell him or her that the information is there and available for careful scrutiny if needed.

Emphasize Your Practical Experiences

All of the work that you have showcased in your portfolio is important. However, your interviewers will be most interested in your work that is authentic and reflective of the kinds of things that teachers do on a daily basis. Thus, whenever you can, back up your answers with documentation from field work and student teaching. When appropriate, point out the reference letters that you have received from cooperating teachers, as well as any performance-based documents you have.

If you answer a question philosophically, be sure to follow up by showing the interviewer your actual experiences. For example, suppose you are asked, "What is your philosophy of teaching?" To emphasize your practical experiences, you could say, "I believe that children learn best when they are actively engaged. My teaching style reflects this. This document, filed under Standard Four, 'Multiple Instructional Strategies,' shows how I used a variety of strategies in a simulated experience that I did with third graders in my field class. We simulated events that took place on Ellis Island in the early 1900s, then the students were required to write reports about topics related to immigration. Strategies used include brainstorming, predicting, building background knowledge, and role-playing. I felt that it was important to get the students involved in the subject before having them write, so I chose to use these simulations, rather than simply assign reports and have the students look up information in encyclopedias. There are some pictures of the simulated experiences and the bulletin board we created, as well as samples of their reports. This is just one example of how my philosophy of teaching emerges when I teach."

Make All of Your Responses Positive Ones

Answer the questions honestly, but answer in positive tones. No one likes to be asked, "What is your greatest weakness?" However, this is a very popular interview question. You will need to be prepared to answer it positively. One way to do this is to turn your weaknesses into goals to be met. For example, if managing classroom behavior was not one of your strengths during student teaching, you could say, "One of my biggest challenges during student teaching was maintaining classroom discipline. I have begun reading some literature on this and my goal for this year is to prevent discipline problems before they begin." You may even want to show your interviewer a document in your portfolio that lists your goals for improving your work in the classroom. In this way, you can show your interviewers that you view "weaknesses" as opportunities to learn and grow.

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