Ideally, preparing for a job interview is a final step in an ongoing body of work around your career management. The more grounded your messaging is in a well-thought-out communications plan the more authentic and impactful it will be.
That said, regardless of whether or not you have started that larger work, here are some things you can do to make a powerful case for yourself during an interview:
Craft a Narrative (Define Your Unique Value Proposition)By the time you’ve gotten the interview we can assume that your skills and experience have been judged to be suitable for the position. The interview, therefore, is not meant to be an conversation with a living resumé. It is an opportunity to forward a compelling narrative for what you would bring to the team.
To do this, you must be crystal clear about what it is you have to offer. You cannot expect that the administrators interviewing you will be clearer about who you are than you are!
Once after I got a job, my principal confided that I had gotten the interview because my cover letter included the phrase ‘fiercely committed to social justice’. Now, like everyone else I am many things, but this is something I had identified as a core value. It set me apart and gave an unambiguous narrative for my principal to consider.
Principals don’t hire teachers that are just good at many things. They hire teachers that are good at many things and really good at a few. Don’t try to hedge your bet by highlighting a million different things: your story becomes forgettable.
Really own those few things that make you special and unique. Don’t be afraid to polarize people into two camps: places where you are a good fit and those where you aren’t. If you are in the middle, you are making the principal’s job harder. (And of course, you don’t want to get hired somewhere you aren’t a good fit, anyway. In the medium and long term you won’t be happy.)
Blend Skills and AttributesBe aware of the difference between what you can do (i.e. your transferable skills) and how you do them (i.e. your attributes). Your skill set will get you the interview and will keep you in the running for the job. However, unless there is a big gap in the skill set or experience levels among candidates, principals will be using your attributes to decide who is the best fit for their team.
Ultimately it is likely your attributes that will differentiate you, so it’s important to be aware of them and use them to your advantage. When speaking during an interview you want to make sure that you are blending examples of specific skills you have with your unique attributes into a compelling narrative. Let’s look at one way to do that.
Be Specific with Star StoriesI once had a vice principal confide in me that during a recent interview he had been frustrated that he hadn’t been able to advocate fully on behalf of a candidate he wanted to hire. He said that no matter what he and his principal asked her, she spoke again and again in terms of pedagogical principles and her own values but didn’t give specific examples to demonstrate them.
As we know, the education world is a constantly changing landscape of ‘hot ideas’. As a result, teachers can fall into the trap of spending much of our interview prep time making sure we can speak articulately about these latest initiatives.
There’s no doubt that these talking points are important to present ourselves as relevant, engaged, or progressive. However, without balancing that preparation with a firm grounding in who we are, we risk wasting opportunities to demonstrate the actual impact we’ve had in the past.
‘Star Stories’ are anecdotes that highlight specific skills and attributes and show how you were able to create specific results.
I would recommend having a star story for each of the following areas:
- Community-building in the Classroom
- Advocating for Students
- Classroom Management
- Parent Communication/Relationship-building
- How you Build an Inclusive Classroom (Differentiated Instruction)
- Teamwork with other Staff
- One for each of your Instructional Areas
- One for each ‘Hot Topic’ or New School Initiative
Often one star story is capable of feeding many birds with one hand, which is fine. You might use the same story to demonstrate two different areas of impact at two different interviews. Just avoid using the same story more than once in any given interview, if you can.
And remember that these stories should also be speaking to your unique value proposition wherever possible. This shouldn’t be explicitly pointed out, rather allow them to subtly reinforce your compelling narrative in the mind of your interviewers.
Practice, Practice, PracticeInterviewing is a skill in its own right. We’ve all no doubt met or worked with teachers who interview well but whose promise doesn’t quite materialize on the day-to-day front in their classrooms.
While for some of us we may never become ‘good interviewers’, each of us is capable of making great gains in representing ourselves effectively through practice. Don’t underestimate the impact of really spending time with your core values and reviewing your achievements. Aside from getting clearer in your communication, it can boost your confidence. And we all know that confidence is one of the most powerful selling points anyone can bring to an interview.
Opportunity for Further Work
Christopher is considering offering an online program for Career Management Planning for teachers. This would include more involved modules on unpacking your skills and attributes, identifying your unique value, plus strategic networking and interview practice.
If you or someone you know would find this useful please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your interest and you’ll receive an invitation to any pilot program on this topic.