Friday, June 24, 2011

following up after an interview

There's no hard and fast rule about sending thank you notes after an interview. Often, interview committees make decisions quickly - they conduct interviews in a day or two, make reference calls on the finalists the next, and make their decision and extend the offer within a few days. Therefore, it is sometimes unlikely that the interview committee would see the thank you letter until after they've made a decision.

BUT (and this is a big but) sending a thank you is not only proper etiquette, and it can be a way to distinguish yourself. Depending on the turn around in the decision, sending a thank you might not end up influencing this particular decision, but the interview committee will likely remember you if you've followed up with them, reminding them one more time of who you are and what you have to offer the school and district. If another position opens up, they'll think about you. You might be the only one to have done this, and any way you can set yourself apart is a good thing.

If you are going to write a thank you, do it as soon as possible - even the same day. It still could influence a decision if you could get it in the mail quickly enough. Send the letter addressed in care of the panel's chairperson.  Here's how you can structure your thank you letter:
  • First paragraph: thank the interviewer for considering you for the position. Mention something specific you appreciated about the meeting.
  • Second paragraph: briefly review your qualifications and the ways you think you are a good match for the position.
  • Final paragraph: thank the interviewer for their time, and express your continued interest in the position.
The letter can be brief and should be typed for neatness sake. It can be an important step in getting a job!

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.

Have you sent out thank you notes after interviews?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

preparing for an interview: a few more tips

Here are a few more essentials to consider when interviewing...
  1. Your cell phone: You are not so important that you can't turn off your phone for an interview. Just in case, leave it in the car. That way you're sure it won't interrupt the interview and take away from the impression you're working so hard to create.
  2. Timeliness: Don't be late. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised. When you are late to an interview, you are indicating that your time is more valuable than the interview committees. If you're worried about traffic, leave in plenty of time. Better yet, do a test run a few days ahead at the same time of day you'll be headed there, just so you know what to expect. Don't show up way too early, though. You want to be respectful of the committee and the other interviews they may be conducting. If you're really early, you can always listen to a few more songs on the radio of the car. Bring your anthem song to pump you up.
  3. Gum: You may not chew gum in an interview. I've seen it. To be honest, I have a habit of chewing gum when I'm nervous so I get it. However, I know better than to chew gum when talking in front of groups. When people are going to be listening to you talk, you want them to pay attention to your words, not be distracted by your gum. Besides, many schools have a no gum policy, so you don't want to turn them off right off the bat.
  4. Stay positive: You may have had a really tough student teaching placement. You'll need to be able to communicate this without descending into badmouthing the school or teacher with whom you worked. Being negative just won't work in your favor.
Next post: following up after an interview

What's the anthem song you'd play to pump you up before an interview?

Friday, June 17, 2011

preparing for an interview: body language

My 4th year of teaching, the teacher next to me retired. She had been teaching in the district her whole career and was a fantastic teacher. She was certainly going to be missed. Hiring her replacement was a big job, and I was fortunate to be a part of it. We interviewed 6 candidates, one who had been a sub in the building after she graduated in December. She hadn't been a particularly standout sub, but we knew her and were happy to give her an interview.

But when she came in for her interview, she behaved as though she already had the job. She leaned back casually in the chair. She picked at her fingernails and didn't look at us. Her answers were short and not very thoughtful. In the end we believed she didn't take the interview very seriously and went with someone else - a teacher still there today who is one of the strongest in the school. The long-term sub was really upset not to get the job, but we wanted someone who would take working in our school seriously, and she didn't seem to be that person. Perhaps she was just nervous, but regardless, she wasn't the strongest candidate. And her body language had a lot to do with it.

You really can make or break an interview by how you act. You can behave confidently without arrogance. Show this through eye contact, a firm handshake, and open posture (no crossed arms). Be careful of the nervous habits you may have - playing with your hair, scratching your arm, picking at or biting your nails, cracking your knuckles, wringing your hands. These actions convey nerves and uneasiness. Of course you'll be nervous, but you want to make sure that the interview committee is listening to what you say, not watching what your body language is telling them. Oh, and that reminds me - don't tell the committee you are nervous. I've seen it happen. It just isn't professional to tell the committee you are nervous. Again, of course you are if you are taking this interview seriously. But it will leave an impression that you don't want to last.

Next post: a few more tips

Reference: Warner, J. & Bryan, C. (2006). Inside secrets of finding a teaching job (3rd Ed.). Indianapolis, IN: JIST Publishing.

What are some of the nervous habits you'll be working to avoid during interviews?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

preparing for an interview: thinking about your attire

When I was a recent college grad happily searching for my first teaching job, I had enthusiasm in abundance but my finances were limited. I didn't have the money for a really great interview suit, but I did have a kind cousin about my size who gave me one of her suits. The suit wasn't the most trendy outfit, but it was modest, in excellent shape, and fit well. I don't think it got me my first job, but it certainly looked professional and didn't detract from my interview. When I had money to buy myself a new suit the next time I was interviewing, I bought a suit I still wear ten years later. Though fashion generally shifts rapidly, conservative business dress does not. A great suit can last you a decade.

I know you've heard this before, but you really need to consider what you wear to interviews. If this weren't an issue, folks would stop talking about it. But I have sat in on interviews lately and been really shocked at how inappropriately some people choose to dress for interviews, the most professional activity you're likely to be involved with in the near future. If you can't get a new interview outfit, raid friends' or relatives' closets. You only need one suit and can wear it to all your interviews. You'll be the only one to know.

In dressing for an interview, you should choose to wear the most professional outfit you own. It shows you care and are taking this interview and the opportunity to teach students seriously. This is not the time to look your most trendy, most sexy, most anything other than professional. All you get is one impression. Make sure it is a good one.

Ladies, I'm just going to say it - an interview is no place for cleavage and thighs. Under your suit, your top should be modestly cut and lace tops are not appropriate. If you wear a skirt, it should be long enough to cover your thighs even when you are seated. Again, maybe not the most trendy or most fashionable, but it is most appropriate. Which is your biggest concern here.

Men, you might not want to hear this, but you need to wear a tie. Why? Why not?! Why would you take a chance and not dress your best? Ties should be conservative, avoiding characters or extreme colors. Long sleeved shirts are most appropriate, even in the summer.

Bottom line: interviews are the place for conservative business suits. Conservative colors (black, navy, gray, brown) are best. Interview attire plays a supporting role in your job search. Make sure that role helps you get the job.

Next post: body language

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.

What will you be wearing to job interviews this summer?

Friday, June 10, 2011

preparing for an interview: bring questions

At the end of your interview, you'll be asked if you have any questions for the interview panel. Sometimes it is hard to know what to ask, because you don't know what you don't know. You know? What I mean is that before you get a teaching position, it is hard to anticipate what kinds of questions you might want to ask. But here are some questions you might want to know the answers to. When you come prepared with questions, it shows that you're very serious about this position and demonstrates your professionalism.
  1. What are the strengths of the school/district?
  2. What were your school's goals for the last year? 
  3. What new innovations or programs has the school or district implemented?
  4. Does the school or district have a mentor-teacher program?
  5. What priorities would you have for me as a new teacher in this school?
  6. What kinds of extra curricular activities are available within your school and district?
  7. How does the school and district support professional development?
This is by no means a complete list of questions, but it can get you started thinking about what you might want to know about the school and district. The important thing is to remember to ask questions sincerely that are important to you. Tone is so important when asking questions. Make sure you choose your words thoughtfully.

Now for some don'ts. At the interview, you should avoid asking questions related to salary and benefits. You'll have the opportunity to ask questions about this when the position is offered before you make a final decision. Likewise, this is not the opportunity to ask about taking time off for your best friend's wedding. You'll be able to consult the employee handbook for this information after you've received an offer.

With a few thoughtful and meaningful questions, you'll impress the interview committee with your engagement in the interview for that position. It could be just the bonus to get you an offer!

Next post: what not to wear

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.

Have you asked any questions in interviews that were particularly helpful?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

preparing for an interview: practice, practice, practice

My sister is headed to California for an interview today. Not for a teaching job (she's not competition, don't worry!), but for an environmental policy fellowship. She's nervous, but she's been preparing since she got the call and is confident she has all her talking points prepared. In fact, in preparation to summarize her research to the committee, she practiced over the phone with me several times last night.

This may seem silly, to think about practicing for an interview out loud to others, but really it is an essential part of being fully prepared for an interview. While you can't know every question that an interview panel is going to ask, you can do some thinking for some of the questions you're likely to encounter. Overall, you'll want to be sure to convey clearly that all students can learn, and how you'll help raise academic achievement in your classroom. Any examples of how you've helped students achieve high standards will be great to prepare talking about.

First, prepare some talking points for the question, "Tell us about yourself." This question requires you to be concise in your response, but is open-ended enough to allow you to sell yourself a bit. Tell them what makes you unique and worth hiring.

Second, think about "Why do you want to be a teacher?" or related questions like, "Why do you want to be a teacher at our school?" Don't get too carried away, but speak clearly about your passion for teaching. Avoid talking about how your family members are all teachers - they want to know about you, not your family. They also want to know if you took the time to learn about the school and district. Your cover letter should indicate some of this, but you can work more in here.

More and more, teachers must be able to use data to inform their instruction and to differentiate instruction to meet students' needs. Think about examples from your coursework, field placements, and student teaching that has given you experience analyzing data, planning instruction based on results, and planning for and leading small group instruction based on student needs. If you haven't had practice in this area, talk about your plan to become adept at differentiating instruction.

Another question could be how you've used feedback to modify your instruction.  A question like this is looking to see whether you're a collaborator and interested in continuing to learn about your practice. You might be directly asked about team teaching or collaborative planning. Any examples from your field placements or student teaching would be great illustration for your ideas here.

You're likely to get asked a question about classroom management style, either directly in a question such as, "What kind of classroom management plan do you like best?" or "Describe your classroom management philosophy," or you'll get asked a scenario about, say, a disruptive student and ask you to discuss how you'd respond.  You'll want to be able to discuss your plan briefly and completely, and share how you'll set up a learning environment that is organized, respectful, and academically rigorous, while considering the social and emotional needs of students as well.  Be prepared to share why you like your plan and think it works best for students, and provide any examples of how it has worked for you in the past.

Other common questions include:
How would you involve the community in your classroom?
What are some current educational trends that relate to your curriculum area/grade level?
What would we see if we walked into your classroom?
What was the last book you read?
What are some of your hobbies?

Spending some time crafting responses to these questions is likely to give you an edge in the interview room. A little preparation goes a long way!

Next post: questions YOU should ask

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.

What questions have you been asked in interviews?
Any questions that surprised you?

Friday, June 3, 2011

preparing for an interview: researching the school

You've probably already done some homework on the school for your cover letter in your application, but this is a really important step in your preparation for interviews. Don't rely just going back to your cover letter (though you'll want to review what you wrote, just so you remember!), but instead, do some more digging to become familiar with the school culture, mission, vision, curriculum, and programs. Here are some ideas:

1. The school's website is the first place to stop. Read through the mission of the school. What strikes a chord with you?

2. On the website, see if there is a link to a school newsletter. This is a great resource to help you find out some of the current initiatives of the school, fun and interesting activities that have taken place, and they often include a letter from the principal, so you can get a sense of how she or he talks about the school and students.

3. Then, see if there are individual teacher web pages linked to the school website. This can be a great way to see what teachers and students are working on at the school. You might find more specific information about curriculum materials in place for, say, their reading or math program, and you can do a little more digging about those particular materials in preparation. You can also get a sense of the folks that might (hopefully!) become your future colleagues.

4. Check out the assessment and demographic data for the school on the state department of education website. In Minnesota, you can find that information here. This assessment and demographic data, as you all know, only provides one snapshot of information about the school, but can help you get a sense of what the school's priorities might be. If they are not making AYP with certain groups of students or in certain subject areas, those are likely clues of what the school will be focusing on in the next school year.

5.  Also, if possible, learn something about the community. Check out the local Chamber of Commerce or community website, local newspapers, or even better, take a drive around the school and community to get a feel for the neighborhood.

The more homework you do ahead of time, the more likely you will be able to convey a genuine and articulate interest in that particular school and that particular position.  Hiring committees want to make sure they hire the best person out there, and someone who has done their homework about the school will have an advantage over someone who has only general things to say about why they are interested in the position.

Next post: practicing for your interview

Are you finding interesting positions to apply for?