Interview Tips for New Teachers

Congratulations!  You’ve survived the busy and sometimes grueling teacher preparation process, and now it’s time to find the job you’ve been working toward all these years.  Depending on the type of district in which you interview, you can expect to encounter a number of potential interview scenarios, from one-on-one conversations with the principal to interview committees consisting of administrators, teachers, students, and community members.

Whatever circumstance you find yourself in, these tips should help you present your best self to your future employer.

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Tip 1: Dress to Impress

This should be a no-brainer, but given the attire I’ve seen many teachers in training don, I think it’s worth a mention.  Interviewing is a formal occasion — not as in ball gown formal, but rather as in business formal.  As such, it is not a time to try out the latest fashion trend or hairstyle, so nix the skinny jeans, platform heels, purple hair, studded leather pants, brand new basketball kicks, and skin tight animal print top.  This doesn’t mean you can’t be stylish; it just means you must remember to be conservative while being stylish.  A suit or shirt and tie/blouse and skirt is a must for prospective employees.  Keep the flashy colors and jewelry to a minimum, using them as accents only, and for goodness sake, cover your assets.

Tip 2: Show Up Early

You’ve all heard it: “To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, to be late is to be forgotten.”  If you stroll in right as the interview is scheduled to begin or, worse, after, you can forget getting the job right there.  Schools don’t just want someone who shows up on time.  They want someone who is willing to put in the extra time necessary to get the job done well.  Arriving early tells them you’re ready and prepared for the time demands of the profession.

Tip 3: Be Friendly Toward All Faculty

Whether it’s the maintenance man mowing the lawn whom you pass on your way into the school or the secretary who checks you in at the front desk, it’s important to approach all faculty in a friendly manner.  After all, it’s often the people behind the scenes of the classroom who run the show, and interview personnel have been known to seek their opinions on potential teacher candidates.  They want to know you’re someone they can trust to be cooperative and personable with all fellow employees, for it’s a joint staff relationship that makes the machine run well.  Smile, shake hands, look people in the eye, and interact with them as you would if you were already a part of their team, even if you’ve never been more nervous in your life.

Tip 4: Walk the Talk

Chances are, your stellar resume or acquaintance recommendations got you through the door.  Now it’s time to show them you can deliver on the goods.  Be prepared to expand upon resume points, offering the interviewers specific examples and, if you really want to impress, artifacts from your student teaching or other experience. Copies of student work samples, lesson plans, and superior feedback all help prove you can do what you say.  If you’ve not already compiled one, consider putting together a portfolio that highlights both your academic achievements and your teaching expertise, and expand this to include an online portfolio, the URL to which you can place on your resume for interviewers to see prior to your meeting.

Tip 5: Be Yourself

If you do get the job, you are going to want to be yourself every day until you either quit or retire, so it’s a good idea to skip putting on a costume for the interview and just be you instead.  School staff not only want to know your qualifications, but they also want to make sure you’re someone they can envision working with long term.  If you go in presenting yourself as you really are rather than what you think they expect you to be, you’re more likely to appear genuine and relaxed, and there’s less chance you’ll be caught in a phony situation later (provided you really are someone who’s not inappropriate or rude, of course).

Tip 6: Be Honest

Don’t pretend you’re qualified for teaching assignments you’re not, and certainly never forge credentials or experience.  If you are asked about something you have no experience with, tell the interview team, but be sure to offer them an example of something similar you’ve achieved or dealt with.  Being forward about your accomplishments and background will ensure nothing comes back to bite you later.

Tip 7: Know Your Ish

I’ve encountered some crazy interview questions in my day and doled a few of my own out to prospective classroom teachers.  You could be asked about a number of things, from which inanimate object you see yourself as (my husband received this question) to which fictional character best represents your personality.  Unfortunately, you can’t prepare for every off-the-wall inquiry interviewers might hurl at you, but you can be prepared for questions about subject area material and pedagogy.  Know the specifics of your certification and subject area endorsements, and for the love of all that’s holy, proofread any documents you plan to give them for grammar and mechanics errors.  Dig deep into the theories behind those educational buzzwords, and know that when they ask you how you go about planning units, they’re looking for you to walk them through your backwards planning process, not looking for you to say something stupid like you write down each day’s activity on a calendar.  There is an entire psychology behind effective teaching.  Make sure you’re well versed in it.

Tip 8: Get to Know the School Culture

Be sure you know the student demographics, what the mascot is, if the school has won any awards recently, the school’s improvement initiatives, and other goings-on unique to the culture before you walk through the door for the interview.  Demonstrating that you have qualifications or experience in areas important to the school not only shows that you care about their goals and are equipped for the position, but it also illustrates you’re the kind of person who does his or her homework before embarking on a task.  If you’re caught unaware of the principal’s name or the details of the job description, the interviewers will assume you’re unaware of a lot of things critical to the job as well.

Tip 9: Find Out Interview Details in Advance

Before arriving for your first interview, determine what will be expected of you as a candidate.  Will you be meeting with the department chair only?  If so, find out what he or she expects you to bring, whether that’s a copy of your transcripts, a list of references, or a sample unit plan to share.  Will you be asked to teach a lesson to a class of summer school students (I was) or to a group of faculty?  If so, you’d better find out the students’ (or staff pretending to be students’) grade level, proficiency, academic/behavioral concerns, and relationship dynamics so you can come prepared with a lesson plan that fits the situation.  Knowing specifically what the interviewer or team wants to see or learn about you helps you better demonstrate your skills to them when the time comes.

Tip 10: Write a Thank You Note

Regardless of how you think the interview went, be sure to pen and mail a hand-written thank you note immediately following the interview.  It’s crucial to do this on a nice thank you card or sheet of stationary rather than through email or voicemail and to include the names of each member of the interview team in your note.  There are times when old fashioned courtesies are still the best approach, and this is one of them.

Interviewing for your first (or second, third, fourth) teaching position can be scary and overwhelming, but with adequate preparation and the right attitude, you can nail that position you want without trouble.