Something important to remember is that when you go to an interview, the committee has already reviewed your resume and cover letter and determined that you fit their professional needs. What they really need to know in the interview are your intangible strengths, whether you're likeable, enthusiastic, dependable, thoughtful, articulate, interesting, and can think on your feet, the things that can't completely come across on paper.
One thing to prepare for is the "greatest strength, greatest weakness" question that plague interviewees. Interview committees ask this question to gauge your perception of your talents and abilities and whether you'll be an asset to a school. To prepare before your interview for this tough question, think about how you can demonstrate the above traits: dependability, responsibility, enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, organization, collaboration, flexibility, communication, quick learner. Be prepared to name the strength AND give a specific example of how you have demonstrated the trait. The explanation, as most of your answers, should be specific and to-the-point. You want to be sure to be clear and not try to talk yourself into an answer. Interview committees are looking for candidates who are assured in their responses and don't have to drone on and on in order to come to an answer to a question. You'll have about 20-30 minutes in an interview to sell yourself, so you want to be as articulate and coherent in your responses as possible.
For example, if you are flexible, name the time that you, say, had to quickly switch ideas when it rained on the outdoor summer camp activity you had planned as a counselor. You rethought the activity and were able to put a new, successful plan into place in the cafeteria. Name the trait, give a brief but clear example, and leave it at that. What about being organized? Maybe you were in charge of the education club in college and had to coordinate the meetings or plan events. Again, be specific here. A great way to think through this is to talk with someone who knows you well. Have them work with you to make sure you are clear about your strengths and giving succinct (and honest) examples of that strength.
Now for the tougher question: what are your weaknesses? For this, be careful about insincere responses like, "Sometimes I just work too hard." Hiring committees can see through this type of self-congratulatory response. They are looking to see how you'll react when put on the spot. However, you can provide examples of ways that you've worked on a past weakness and how this is now an area of strength; or, you can present a clear action plan that is helping you/will help you work on that weakness. For example, maybe at the start of your student teaching you had a hard time planning for the time it would take for certain lessons. Talk about a strategy you put into place to keep you on track and how you've improved on this weakness. Here, it's best to stick with job-related weaknesses rather than personal ones.
Be careful about your tone when answering this question. You should aim to avoid an attitude that you see this as a trick question. Keep your response as real and honest as possible. Also, avoid getting dragged down here either with lots of details about your weaknesses. Be really short and succinct, and just present "the tip of the iceberg." This is not the place to go on and on about yourself - save that for the times you can add in the great, cool stuff about you! You don't need to give folks all the dirty details about your trouble with time management or getting caught up in details.
This process of identifying your strengths and weaknesses can take some time. Prepare by having honest conversations with those you love, and spend some time really thinking through what skills and traits you bring to a teaching job. This thinking might help inform your cover letters, too. Once you've identified these traits, refine and practice how you might answer these questions if they come up in an interview. Practicing succinct answers will help you set yourself apart on interview day.
Next post: doing your homework on the position
References: Warner, J. & Bryan, C. (2006). Inside secrets of finding a teaching job (3rd Ed.). Indianapolis, IN: JIST Publishing.
Job Search Handbook for Educators (2010), 45th Ed. American Association for Employment in Education, Inc.
So what are YOUR strengths and weaknesses?
How will you spin your weaknesses in your favor?