What to Look and Listen for During an Interview
I am by no means a Human Resources expert—I don’t know all the ins and outs of the research behind hiring great candidates, nor do I have time to look through numerous resumes and applications. But after 13 years in the principal’s seat, I have probably sat through over 200 interviews. And even though interviews for custodians are different than interviews for band teachers, and interviews for 5th grade teachers are different than interviews for superintendents, I have found there are patterns that can be useful in finding good candidates for any position.
Some of the hiring I have been involved with has gone great, but not every candidate and interview works out just the way we think it will. As these situations have come up, I've reflected on how I can improve my part of the interview process, as well as the decision-making process that follows. I have looked for patterns of responses that have helped me to develop better skills as an interviewer.
The reflections and tips I have listed below may help other principals and teacher teams to help refine their search for quality candidates and great teachers:
Tip #1: Ask situational questions to show a depth of thinking.
Situational questions give the teacher a scenario and have them talk about how they would react to the given information. This is important to do because it shows a pattern of thinking, instead of just a factual response. It is important to see how teachers think, and especially how they make decisions. These types of questions are a little harder to “score” as there aren't right or wrong answers for them.
Tip #2: Ask follow-up questions.
The problem with going “off script” too much is that you can’t compare one candidate’s answers to another. But, it is good to ask follow-up questions about how a person feels or how they have reflected on a situation. If a question comes up about a time when a candidate grew or learned something new, it is good to ask “How did you feel about that?” or “Was that hard for you?” This digs a little deeper into the growth mindset of a person and is just one example of a follow-up question that could give more insight into a candidate.
Tip #3: Look and listen for a candidate’s passion.
It’s always fun to see a person get excited about something they are talking about. It can be found in the words, but is most apparent in the body language of the person. Take notice of what the person is most excited about in the interview. Was it a topic about curriculum? Working with a student? Having a success? This can give good insight into the core values a person has.
Tip #4: Ask a random question—but not too random.
Teachers have to think quickly in the classroom, so I always try to work in some kind of question that they probably haven’t prepared for. Some examples would be “What is your go-to indoor recess game?” or “What is the best gift you have ever received from a student?” These questions are out of the norm and will give you a very real, gut-level answer. I don’t try to give them a “trick question” like “What is your favorite color?” or some kind of trivia question such as “What is the history of our town?” These aren’t in the spirit of thinking on your feet, which is the reason I ask one of these kinds of questions in the first place.
Tip #5: Try not to ask questions that every candidate will answer the same way.
Some of these are very standard teacher interview questions, such as “Who is the most important person in the classroom?” If they don’t say the student, stop the interview right there. Everyone gives the same answer, which means that there is no distinction between the candidates. The whole point of the interview is to see who would be the best fit—if all of the answers are the same, then there is no way to differentiate between the responses.
These are not the most profound tips in the world, but hopefully they are very practical and useful for those who are part of the interview process. The questions matter, so picking good questions—and leaving out bad ones—can help the entire process to be more successful.
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