Interview: Preparation​ for Questions

A guest piece by @_theteachr

This is part 1 of 2.

We have all seen those articles that give you common questions and what to say to answer them right? I feel that this is not a great way of approaching an interview. This might be a better way to prepare.

Firstly, my point is that memorising or trying to memorise standard answers to standard questions is likely to work against you. We all know this one; ‘tell me a weakness’. I’ve asked this question a few times myself in interviews and for the life of me, I can’t remember an answer that I thought was genuine. What you get is the usual turn-a-weakness-into-a-strength response. For example,  I work too hard, I care too much, I would sacrifice a goat just to be able to do more marking, etc.  I’ll tell you at the end how I think this should be approached. Trying to memorise clever answers for predicted questions is not the way to go.

What to Do

  1. First, try and give yourself a mind-shift from trying to say the right things, to sharing your best attributes, successes and achievements. There is a difference. Take some time to write out all your successes, your experiences of teaching and behaviour management, projects you’ve undertaken, extra-curricular stuff you’ve done, assemblies, trips, initiatives you’ve led or been part of, and so on. A lot of this will be on your form but think about how you have demonstrated skills written about in the job specification, e.g. resilience, time management, etc. through those endeavours .This should take maybe 30 to 60 minutes. Draw a mind map or make a list or howeve,r you like to make notes. But make sure it is all written down, because once you have it, you don’t have to keep rethinking it if you have more than one interview or you go for an interview in the future. If you do it well it will show a great snapshot of you and where you are currently at and it will help you visualise you.

Now, on your list, these are the things you want the interviewers to know whether they ask you or not. You’re only going to get one shot and you don’t want to leave an interview having not shared one of your greatest achievements, because they didn’t ask you about it.

2. Once you have all the good stuff written down, you can then think about the questions they might ask. Make a list of 15 questions you think will come up. No more. It is worth doing a little web search because you’ll get some common questions. But be prepared to reject some silly questions like ‘You’re stuck on a desert island with a pen, a CD cover and cheese grater – how do you survive?’ Also, speak to a trusted colleague and if you’re going for a promotion, someone on that level who may have been successful in an interview.

3. Then think of how the points in your notes fit into those questions.  On your list, there will be things where you have gone beyond the call of duty for something – maybe you did an assembly on something that is close to your heart, or ran a sports, or art, or games club. If you have a question about your passion for the job, the above means you won’t go off piste and go evangelical about your love for learning and the kids, etc. You’ll hopefully revert to what you have written. Compare these:

“I’m really passionate (I know ‘passionate’ is grossly overused) about the job, but in particular I like to give students a broader experience of my subject. Last year I organised a visit to the natural history museum for year 7s and we did a follow up presentation in assembly”.

and

“I’m really passionate about the job and I have a real belief in teaching the young and inspiring them to be all they can be and to achieve success in life.”

The second one might be true – but it sounds like a standard response. Based on just this, which teacher would you hire? Also, out of your 15 questions, each one will probably cover variations of the same question, for example,

How do you ensure everybody learns well in a lesson?

How do you stretch and challenge students?

How do you support weaker students?

How do you make sure the work is appropriate for your class?

All these questions are about differentiation. You don’t need to have a completely separate answer for all of them. And this also exemplifies why you need to put a limit on the list of questions you prepare for (apart from maintaining sanity).

Those things in your notes that don’t fit into any particular question can be shared with the interviewers at the end, because remember, your notes cover everything you want the interviews to know about you. They very often ask you if you have questions at the end, and you may or may not have some but you can always say that you didn’t get a chance to mention that you achieved so and so. The worst thing that can happen is they say thanks and it has no impact, the best is that it tips the interview further in your favour, because they learnt something about you they never thought to ask.

So that’s it really. That’s my tuppence on how to prepare for interviews. I’d like to say it is fail safe, but it isn’t – there are always other factors (the internal applicant!). What it has been for me though is a strategy to reflect on and share the best of myself without leaving anything out. And I think that has improved my success to kicking-myself-for-not-predicting-the-pen-and-two-sticks-question ratio.

4. Oh and here is the approach to the weakness question. Question: Tell us about a (or your greatest) weakness.

First tip, be honest. What does that mean? If you are serious about self improvement or career development, you will have had to address your weaknesses or discovered new ones. So think of one of those. Managing your time? Saying yes too often to contributing other people’s priorities?? Leaving uninteresting jobs till they are urgent? Whatever it is, think of how you successfully addressed or are addressing it. This acknowledges that everyone has weaknesses (even you  Mr/Miss/Mrs Interviewer!) but that you have the mindset and strategies to overcome them or at least reduce their impact. I would rather hear about how a candidate has worked on  overcoming their tendency to get distracted by unimportant things, than someone who says their weakness is that they work till 10.00 pm every night to please the school leadership team.

Good luck!

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