Recently, I interviewed via Skype for a position for which I am well-qualified and about which I was rather excited. I’d interviewed via Skype already a few times this year, for local or online jobs, and aced each interview, which was surprising, since this is a new medium for me.
But the previous Skype interviews were more like conversations, a “getting to know the candidate” of sorts, whereas this latest interview as part of a formal, highly
To me, this means re-reading the job posting as well as the cover letter and application package that got you the interview in the first place. It also means reviewing relevant resources, and spending some time thinking about what possible questions might be asked, and how one might respond. It can be helpful to actually write out one's possible answers to various questions, and then practise saying them in front of a mirror. (Remember to smile!)
I often prepare a few artefacts that I can show to highlight things I am taking about -- In this case, I chose a photo of the rich mentor text wall in my last classroom (the foundational piece for a number of workshops and teacher sessions I have facilitated over the past 18 months), an illustration of Hume’s Model for Differentiated Instruction, and a few other images I thought might come in handy.
I was anticipating questions about equity, assessment, literacy and numeracy planning, 21-century learning, and coaching specifically. All my guesses were right, but the way in which they were presented threw me through a loop.
It used to be the case that there were two main types of interview questions: experience-based questions, and scenario-based questions. The former digs into the specific experience a candidate brings to an organization, and the latter delves into the skills a candidate may bring to a specific role. A healthy interview includes a few examples of each, or variations on a theme (“tell us about a time when…”) to find out what, specifically, a candidate has encountered, and how she has handled various situations.
I remember an interview I had some years ago, where only two questions were asked. I had prepared for hours, and felt -- at the end of the 15-minute interview -- like I had been robbed of the opportunity to share my skills and experience. (Interestingly, I got that job. But I’ve been traumatized about interviews ever since!)
But time is critical in a climate that places so much emphasis on the interview: When I worked for the teacher ed department at a university, we spent hours pouring over application packages, and took a good half hour or more for each candidate’s interview. Half an hour allows those who have a weak start to regain their footing. It also helps uncover gaps in those who may start strong.
This particular interview was comprehensive: There were seven questions, addressing various facets that had been outlined in the job description. Really, it was a good set of prompts to get a sense of candidates' understanding in different areas.
It was the way in which they were framed that presented a challenge for me: Each question ended with a variation of “…and how this would impact you in the role of _____.”
I did not do well in the interview. In part this was because my answers were thin (I missed glaringly obvious things in several questions, which I knew I had missed within seconds of finishing the interview which I had done in a baking hot room, on a day when I was sick, with technical difficulties on their end). I was nervous, and I let that impact the beautiful preparation I had done, as well as my long term memory.
But in larger part, I believe my problems stemmed from the fact that I simply could not bring myself to respond to the questions as though I already had the job. Although I know and knew I had the skills and experiences to do the job, and I knew that my references would speak highly of me, I felt that to speak in role would be presumptuous.
You see, I have an impressive resume. And a perplexing job history.
Where others climb steadily up the ladder to administration, I have taken a variety of divergent roads, often crossing back through the classroom. I do this by choice, because although I enjoy the challenge of the various other roles I have served in, my first love has always been the classroom, and I believe that the other things I do make me a better classroom teacher (and that my extensive and real classroom experience makes me a better coach, resource teacher, vice principal, pre-service teacher educator, teacher workshop facilitator, etc., etc., etc.)
In an interview situation with people who have known me for 20 years, I feel like I am showing off if I speak in too much detail. So I froze. I spoke from a classroom perspective, and I spoke selectively. And in an attempt to moderate my extensive experience, my answers were unframed and all over the place.
Ugh, it was humiliating!
As soon as the interview was over, I gave myself detailed and accurate feedback, and it was not pretty. I knew that based on my interview, I would not get the position, and I prayed for my references to come through and for the team to consider what they knew about me, and what my application package represented. But the interview was scored, and I was doomed, despite my apparently very positive references.
I was fortunate to get very detailed feedback, which pretty much confirmed what I had already guessed at (though, actually, the feedback was much more positive than I had been with myself!)
The point that my interviewer really underscored, though, was that I had responded as a classroom teacher rather than an instructional coach, the position for which I was applying.
It’s funny, I often coach people who are preparing for an interview and who are from cultures that are used to being hired on the basis of the merits of their references and diplomas alone. The whole networking and North American interview scene is a mystery to them, and we often spend hours practising what they will say in an interview and how they will say it.
I should have hired myself, to prep myself for this interview, lol!
I shared the "speaking in role" feedback with a colleague of mine, who was angry, retorting “See? This sort of thing favours people already a similar role or in the role in an acting capacity, and does not give classroom teachers a chance to move up.”
I thought long and hard about this remark. It would have been easy to just get mad, too, and place the blame on the interview process.
But in fact, I agree with the feedback in this case. The role I was applying for required that candidates would and could be visionary, whether they had held similar roles previously or not.
I was one of the lucky applicants who had. But I let my fear of shining hijack me, and between that fear and my general interview jitters and the other environmental complications of the day, I underperformed and missed a great opportunity. (Whether placing so much emphasis on the interview alone is an effective way to fairly judge the suitability of a particular candidate is a whole other matter, and one which I learned to be open minded long ago, when I worked in an organization that would spend considerable time revisiting candidates' application packages after an "unsuccessful" interview, to ensure we weren't throwing the baby out with the bathwater! Another pet peeve of mine is not sharing the questions with the interviewee in advance, even 20 minutes ahead of the interview, so that candidates can organize their material accordingly. But back to the matter at hand...)
The learning in this particular instance?
Don’t be afraid to sell yourself in an interview!
Seriously. Save the humility for after you get the job!