How to Nail the Teaching Job Interview

I recently served on the interview committee for a new social studies teacher at my school. It was a rather eye-opening experience, as I’ve never been on that side of an interview, and I found myself making mental notes about what to do and what not to do the next time I’m back on the other side of the table. Since I know I have at least a few readers who are or plan to be teachers, I decided to share my interview tips – and most of these are good tips for any job interview, not just a teaching one. Some of these seem like pretty basic, common-sense tips, but all stemmed from actual events in the interviews, so maybe those things are not as common-sense as I thought.

Days before the interview:

  • Carefully proofread your resume, cover letter, and application. And for heaven’s sake, it’s 2014: type the application. Grammatical errors – especially spelling errors – and a handwritten application say, “I don’t really care that much about this job” – or, worse, “I’m not very smart” — and that’s not the impression you want to give for any job, and especially not for one in education.
  • Do some basic research. We offered one candidate the job, only to have him turn it down because the commute was too long. Fifteen seconds on Google Maps before the interview could have told him how long the daily drive would take, but he wasted his time and ours by interviewing for a job he didn’t really want.
  • Prepare answers to some of the questions you’re likely to be asked. Ask some of the teachers and administers you know to tell you what they ask in interviews, especially for your content. Every teaching interview asks some of the same questions – What is the basis for your interest in working with (insert population) students? How do you decide what to teach and when to teach it? If I walk into your classroom on an average day, what will I see?There will be some content-specific questions, too. When you get the call to schedule the interview, ask a little about the position – what grade(s), what’s covered in those courses (i.e. early American history? World history? Civics?) – and brush up on that information so you don’t draw a blank and look like a fool in the interview.

Right before the interview

  • Dress up! I thought this one was common sense, but I was amazed at how many men (we interviewed only one woman) wore a sleeves-rolled-up button-down shirt and tie, with no jacket. Maybe suits are old-fashioned, but chances are, so are the people interviewing you… even if they’re relatively young. The oldest person on our interview committee is 36, yet all of us agreed that it was inappropriate to not wear a suit to an interview. Borrow a suit or buy one from the thrift store if you don’t have one, but dress like you are taking this interview seriously.
  • Arrive early. Another “duh” one, I’d think. But when you’re being interviewed be a group of teachers at the end of the day at the end of the school year, know that your interviewers are tired, frazzled, and really want to go home. Your showing up even five minutes late is SUPER irritating, and again – not the impression you want to make.
  • Act like everyone is interviewing you. Smile and say hello to the security officer, the secretary, anyone you see in the halls. No one wants to work with a jerk, so don’t be one. You never know who’s watching (and whom they’ll talk to).
  • Focus on the school’s positive attributes, and don’t point out the negative – even if the negative is pretty minor. One applicant arrived early (smart) and made small talk with a few of us while we waited for the rest of the committee to arrive. One of the first things he did was mention that he had read our online school newspaper … and found a typo. Now, dude had no idea that I am the newspaper adviser or that I started this newspaper a few years ago because some kids begged me to, and I didn’t want to turn them down regardless of my lack of newspaper knowledge. Sure, it was a stupid typo, and my editor and I should have caught it. But pointing it out embarrassed me and definitely did not give me a good impression of the applicant – and the interview hadn’t even started.

During the interview:

  • If your interview includes teaching a lesson to actual students, make it a good one. We know that some days, teaching means lecturing, or having kids read and take notes, or even assigning a worksheet (with decent content). But that’s not what we want to see. Show us your best. Do something creative, engaging, and unique. If I hear the kids still talking about your lesson when they get to my class later, you’ve probably gotten the job. One of our candidates lectured, but he did so while having the kids play Bingo and take notes on the Bingo grid. It kept them interested and rapidly taking notes, and it provided them with a nice little graphic organizer to study from later. And he will be our new teacher this fall.
  • Sit up straight. Sliding down in your chair makes you look like one of our naughty students and, again, like you don’t really care. Act like a professional if you want to be one.
  • Be yourself. I know it’s hard. You’re so nervous, and you just want to make a good impression. But try to let your personality show. If you usually crack a lot of jokes, make some in the interview. If you’re boisterous, be boisterous in the interview. If you’re laid-back, be relaxed. If you’re sarcastic, be sarcastic (a little bit … don’t be offensive). Let the interviewers see who you are so they know if you’ll be a good fit in their school.
  • Be engaging. If you bore your interviewers, they’ll assume that you’ll bore your students, too…and you will not get hired. Tell stories. Use examples. Be animated – talk with your hands and with inflection in your tone.
  • Don’t drop a billion buzzwords or acronyms. We went to education school, too. We read all the same books and journals you do. We know all the trendy terms like “backwards design,” “standards alignment,””21st-century learners,” and “differentiation.” And those aren’t bad things … but say something else, too. Tell us how you use them, with specific examples. Tell us about the breakthroughs you’ve had or the kid you differentiated for and saw succeed. And for goodness’ sake, ease up on the acronyms – UBD, KWL, CWD, DBQ. You’re not interviewing via Twitter. Use your words.
  • It’s okay to admit you don’t know some things – but at least try. Several candidates we interviewed came from placements in districts with very little freedom – they were given a curriculum and basically told, “Be on this page on this date or else.” We don’t do that – our teachers have a lot of freedom. So when those candidates were asked how they would decide what and when to teach, they didn’t have solid answers because they had zero experience with that. The best candidates explained their situation – but also told us where they thought they would begin. The not-so-great candidates just said that they weren’t sure.
  • Ask questions, but again, focus on the positives. One candidate told us he’d looked at our standardized test scores and wondered what the problem was in one (non-social studies) area. Not okay, dude.

After the interview

  • Shake hands. Smile. Say thanks. Ask if we need anything else. And then leave. Don’t stand around awkwardly while we all gather our things. We want to talk about you and go home.
  • As with any job interview, send a thank-you note. One candidate sent a thank-you e-mail and attached his electronic portfolio, which I thought was a nice touch. It showed us some of his stronger assets that we didn’t get to talk about in the interview.

I hope these tips help you as you get ready for your job interviews. Good luck out there!

Which of these do you think is most important? What tips would you add?

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12 thoughts on “How to Nail the Teaching Job Interview”

  1. These are all great tips. Boy did it remind me of my interview for my current job. I had a kindergarten lesson on tempo and played a piece of music where the tempo changed several times. I had the principal, asst. super intendent, m.s. principal, and director of curriculum moving around the conference room table like turtles and bunnies. It was hilarious 🙂

  2. This is amazing! Thank you so much! I may have to share this with my cohort friends. We all get super awkward when we are nervous. Hopefully I don’t make a fool out of myself.

  3. Thank you for this post! I was nodding along to most of it and then I was like “hmmm…didn’t think about that.” I will definitely be using this when I start applying for jobs this weekend 🙂

  4. This is a great post. I have recently been called for A LOT of interviews, but have yet to get an offer. It’s rather discouraging, and makes me feel defeated, but after reading your post (and thinking about the comments made by my interviewers) I think I might not be showing myself enough. I think I get too focused on saying what I think the interviewers want me to say, that I neglect to show how I’m unique.

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