Finding the right person for a job is difficult enough for professional recruiters, but for schools having to choose between a series of shortlisted candidates, extracting all of the information you need from the short period that you have a candidate in an interview situation can be something of a challenge.
One of the most important traits for any interviewer is good listening skills. This is much more than just listening in the literal sense. It means being able to interpret what is being said and when necessary to probe answers for what may be being withheld.
A good interviewer must be able to tie up verbal and non-verbal communication to make sure that there are not any contradictions, as well as being able to “see through” answers and test them out.
During the interview, use your body language to show that you are interested in hearing what your interviewee has to say. When formulating questions in preparation for the interview, try to include supplementary questions that will show you are taking in what you have heard and only interrupt if your candidate appears to be rambling.
It will be helpful if a member of the panel can summarise from time to time to clarify what information you have covered and what still has to be discussed.
When opening an interview make sure that your interviewee is put at their ease. Ensure that you won’t be interrupted and that the interview room is calm and welcoming. The educational recruitment process benefits more than most from a structured interview technique which helps to keep discussions on track both in terms of time and subject matter. It will also ensure that all your interviews are consistent, providing a level playing field for all the candidates.
It will be helpful to agree as a panel which requirements are essential and which are merely desirable, as well as the things that make a person unsuitable for the role in question.
You need to have a very clear picture of the attributes that you require “up-front” and the areas where you would be willing to provide early additional training.
Culture and ethos?
You should see quite easily if a candidate has the skills and qualities for the job (via observing their lesson and seeing their qualifications), but are they suited to your school’s culture and ethos?
Probe where necessary using open questions such as what, where, how etc. For example, what qualities do you think the job needs? What experiences have you had that you will be able to draw on in this new role?
You need to be sure that they really want the job. How much effort have they put into the interview and is their body language conveying enthusiasm? Ask them why they particularly want to join your school. What has motivated them recently? Try asking how you would get the best out of them.
Ask them what they think would be the most challenging aspect of this new role. Ask them to give an example of a pressurised work situation and how they handled it. Ask them how they react to criticism and, if offered the position and they found themselves struggling with the demands after a few weeks, what would they do about this?
The “fit” is also important, especially understanding how they will relate to and fit in with the rest of your team.
Ask about their relationship with their present headteacher and line manager, and whether they have ever worked with someone who they did not get on with that well. If they have, ask how this affected them. Also, how do they relate to students? How do they believe their pupils perceive them?
When giving out information about the school, be careful that you do not oversell. While it is important that you make the job sound attractive, it is also sensible to talk about some of the demands that may not be the most attractive features.
Trusting your instinct?
Just how much emphasis should you place on your instinct? The answer is that it should play a relatively small part in the final decision which should be made on all the information you have gathered during the interview.
However, we are all human and there will be times when you just take a shine to a candidate, or cannot help feeling negative about them. It is, however, important to try and rationalise why you might be negative. Just because it is someone who would never become a great friend does not rule them out as a suitable candidate.
On the other hand, do not avoid your instincts altogether as it may well be an indication of that person’s ability to fit in and mix with new people.
In such an open recruitment process, candidates can become very aware of how the system works and what schools “want to hear”.
There are broader techniques which can be used to reveal the “real” applicant.
One technique which you can use at the interview to try and get under the skin of the person is to ask applicants to give examples of situations relevant to the job, where they can describe how they reacted or felt.
That way you can begin to make judgements about some of their personal qualities such as resilience, their ability to operate under pressure and how they might cope with stress etc.
In a live school situation, having the right skills, personal qualities and approach to work is crucial.
Make sure that you find out how they get on with colleagues as well as students, how they approach preparation and marking, and – increasingly important – how they cope with pressure.
If you are recruiting non-teaching staff, be aware that not all the questions you would ask a teacher will be appropriate and relevant. Be ready to adapt the process accordingly. Also, candidates coming from outside the school system will not be used to being asked for certificates to prove their educational qualifications and may not still have them in their possession.
Bear in mind that while you are assessing each candidate, they are also forming opinions about the school, the leadership, and their prospective teaching colleagues.
The candidate you most want to appoint may not be so keen on your school. Before you finish it is worthwhile asking the candidate if they still wish to be considered for the position.
In the light of what they have learnt at the interview they may not wish to be considered after all; similarly, the one that did not seem so keen at the start of the interview may be completely won over and be your best choice.
Darryl Mydat is managing director of TLTP Education (The London Teaching Pool).