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From Job Fairs to Phone Chats: Know Your Interview Venue

Not all job interviews are one-on-one or held on school grounds.

Online, telephone and job fair interviews are used by school districts to screen applicants and increase the likelihood of selecting the best possible candidates to invite for on-site interviews. This means you shouldn’t take these short, structured sessions lightly. Make it your goal to stand out in a positive way and better your chances of being called in for a face-to-face interview.

How can an interview be online?

If you are searching for a job in a large district, in another state, or a job teaching abroad, the online application process may include interview-type questions. These questions will be answered online, or perhaps recorded by telephone, to be listened to by an employer at a later date. A few districts may be using “live chats” via the Internet, which include video cameras, and we should expect more of this type of interviewing in the future. Of course, the newest generation of phones has cameras, so telephone interviews can now include a video component.

Hints for answering online interview questions:

  • Your typing matters. If possible on the district’s form, create your answers in a word processing program and use spell-check and other editing programs before pasting the answers into the form. 
  • Have someone else read your answers before sending them in. If that is not possible, type in your answers, wait some time and then re-read and edit them yourself. 
  • Be succinct. Remember PAR and STAR from the earlier section. Use short vignettes to describe your teaching accomplishments. Future employers want to know about your successes.
  • If asked a question in an online format, do not simply write, “see my website for my philosophy.” If you have a website, or an electronic portfolio, you may direct the reader to those resources as an extra for them, but answer questions directly. 

The online, telephone or job fair interview typically consists of 4 or 5 questions asked of each candidate. Sample questions include:

  • Tell me about your teaching experience (with a particular grade and/or subject).
  • Describe a lesson that you have taught that went well.
  • Tell me about positive classroom management rules or strategies that you have used.
  • Name one accomplishment that characterizes your work.
  • Tell me about a challenge or problem you faced as an educator that you resolved successfully.

It is important to create answers to these questions and to practice them aloud. Try out your answers on a friend, or a colleague in teaching. Time your answers. Most candidates talk too long and add too many irrelevant details. Strive for a 1 to 2 minute answers that are very specific, and that describe a teaching success.

Tips for Online Job Applications

Virtually all school districts now use online applications. Some use their own website for applications and have created their own unique forms. Others have purchased a commercial program, such as Applitrack, or use one of the online recruiting sites for the application process. No matter the format, there are general rules for completing an online application.

  • Complete the entire application by following the specific directions. Some district applications are lengthy—over ten pages, requiring much information. It is best to read the entire application, gather the necessary information to answer the questions, and then start typing the application.
  • Some applications require a hand-written section. You must write that section and then scan the material into the application. Why? Employers often want to know if you have legible handwriting, and this is the test to ensure that you do.
  • Even though the application is online, you should still have someone read and edit before you push send. Misspelled words, dates that are typed in wrong or incorrect information put your application in the “do not consider” group.
  • Timeliness matters! If you attend a job fair and get leads for job openings, complete the applications immediately. Waiting even a week may hurt your chances significantly.
  • Complete all paperwork required. The application is just one piece of the paperwork. Most application packages are not complete without transcripts, a cover letter, the résumé and letters of recommendation.

The Telephone Interview

As you begin your job search, make sure the voice mail message on your telephone is a professional one. This message should not have jokes about partying, loud background noise or a crazy song. When employers call, make the time to talk with them in a quiet environment. If they call your cell phone number, you may ask to reschedule for a time when you can speak to them without distractions.

If there is something in your past education or teaching experience that makes you stand out, make sure to say it in the interview. One student teacher said that she could tell the interviewer was merely going through the motions until she mentioned her student teaching semester abroad. That caught the employer’s attention, and she won an on-site interview and a job.

Job Fair Interviews

The big advantage of the job fair interview is that you are there in person, and your body language, professional attire and enthusiasm can work to your advantage. Always dress professionally for a job fair. Men should wear suits, preferably dark and conservative ones. Khakis with an oxford shirt, tie and sport jacket are also acceptable, but a suit is better. Women may wear a tailored pantsuit or a suit with a skirt. The skirt length should be moderate and conservative—not short or ankle-length. All of your professional clothes should be clean and pressed. Shoes should be comfortable for standing at the fair all day, and must be polished. Looking good is important, but looking professional is key.

You should carry a briefcase with your portfolio and pen and pad for taking notes. You should also bring plenty of copies of your résumé to distribute. If you know ahead of time which districts are at the fair, add personalized cover letters to the résumés and distribute to those districts. Districts will hand out applications, which need to go in your briefcase. You will also collect business cards, which are very important when you write thank-you notes and send follow-up paperwork.

Also, make sure you get a good night’s sleep the night before you interview. Don’t look tired. Stay hydrated and upbeat so that employers know you have the energy to interview (and teach) all day. Job fairs, in addition to being tiring, can be stressful. So prepare well in advance to quell nervousness. Remember, schools are afraid that they won’t have the best teachers when they open their doors in the fall. Demonstrate you are one of the best.

On-Site Interviews

Arrive 15 minutes early for an on-site interview and use your best professional language and manners with everyone you meet. An administrator once said he would never hire anyone whose grammar was poor in the interview, or who failed to introduce themselves and be polite to all the support staff. The professional dress code rules for job fair interviews apply to on-site interviews, too, as do the guidelines for the briefcase and portfolio.

As questions are asked, answer according to the PAR and STAR models. Use your portfolio as a visual aid. Be nice. Smile. Share teaching stories that indicate you are qualified and experienced. If the interviewer invites you for a school tour, or to shadow a teacher, say “yes.” Always have plenty of time for the interview and never take a cell phone call while you are there. Make sure your childcare or other obligations are completely covered.

Sometimes a potential employer will ask why they should hire you over dozens of other applicants. Have an answer ready. Being prepared mentally for the interview is paramount. Remember that everyone in the school is listening to and watching you during your on-site visit. So everything you say and do should exemplify your best.

The Second On-Site Interview

While second interviews are not very common, a district may ask you to come for a preliminary interview at a personnel office, followed by a second interview, on another day, at the school. If this is the case, the first on-site interview is a sorting interview to narrow the candidates. When invited back for a second-round interview, be sure to ask about who will be interviewing, and if teaching or a presentation is required. 

What may happen during a second interview? You may be asked to observe a teacher’s class and then meet with a committee of teachers in the grade level or subject area. You may be asked to say hello to a class and to explain your favorite topic to teach to them. Of course, the best way to see how you teach is for the future employer to ask you to teach a lesson. If this is the case, you will be informed about specifics of the lesson and given information about what to teach. If no students are in attendance, the committee may ask you to present about a topic, or to present as if the teachers in the room were your students. Use your best teaching skills and enjoy the experience! While teaching with, or to, observers is stressful, remember that you want to teach, so pretend that they are just students who want to learn from you. 

Sometimes second-round interviews may include lunch in the cafeteria or attending a teachers’ meeting. Be prepared for a full day and accept all invitations to learn more about the school. 

In today’s market, employers may have to eliminate 90% of the candidates who apply. Online questions, telephone interviews, job fair interviews and even first-round interviews are used to sort and select candidates. Imagine that you were hiring a new teacher for your own child. You would be equally thorough, right?

Dr. Mary C. Clement is a professor of teacher education at Berry College, northwest of Atlanta, Georgia. Her research on the hiring of new teachers has received national recognition.

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