By: Jason Waite

As anyone who has interviewed before knows, anticipating the first steps or mouse clicks into the interview space can be beyond daunting. The brief time between being greeted and answering your first question can seem like a dream. Aside from general feelings of nervousness associated with any inter- view, you also quickly need to become acclimated to the set of interviewers who will conduct this one. All of your preparation, or lack thereof, is just waiting to show itself.

At its best, a panel listens to how well your passion and specific set of qualifications align with that of the District, school, and department culture. The panel- ists also want to understand why and how you are the best person interviewing to help meet their students’ needs. They can push through common biases to the extent necessary, and see the contribution you could make to student learning and the campus community. At its worst, a panel quickly judges your affect and compares you to other teachers they already know, for better or worse. Their decision crystallizes within the first few minutes, and then the rest of the interview is an exercise in confirmation bias, with every response affirming their initial conclusions.

Although you do not get to select your interview panel, conduct your preparation by considering that most panelists are looking for the same things, even if they perceive them differently:

  • Do you have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to meet all our students’ needs? Do they keep the end in mind? Can their complement of knowledge, skills, and abilities help students progress and achieve in relevant areas?
  • Can you “hold the classroom?” This refers to whether panelists believe the candidate can engage students in meaningful learning expe- riences, balancing overt or covert charisma with humility and self-reflection. Their confidence should be like Baby Bear’s porridge — not too hot and not too cold.
  • Can I see this person as a member of my team and community? This goes beyond alignment with the district and school mission to the individual panelist. Admittedly, this is a place where bias can manifest itself, so be sure you are considering that, if hired, they are joining your team, too. Do you want them on Team You?

Next, strive to provide authentic answers by being comprehensive yet concise. By comprehensive, you want to span the breadth of your particular qualifica- tions, so they get a better understanding of the holistic you. By concise, invite panelists’ interest by teasing with enough information to address their questions, but do not regurgitate your entire resume. This will prevent them from dozing off or taking a mental aside to run through their upcoming weekend plans.

Consider that panelist composition can also play a role in the selection process. You are very likely to interview with a Principal or other site administrator and department or grade-level chair for the team you might join. You might also have a Human Resources representative or Classified employee join, whether clerical or paraprofessional. Each individual might interpret responses differently, even when they have a common rating scale. Oversimplifying these perspec- tives can be problematic, but it can be helpful to consider these different professional profiles and the way they may influence decision-making.

Principal/Administrator (Hiring Manager). These individuals have a strong sense of the student body, staff/faculty, and the interactions between them. They may focus on the candidate’s perceived ability to support student achievement and growth. They might also consider the attributes a prospective candidate has in relation to the current team. For example, a team composed of a lot of newer teachers could benefit from having someone with more years of experience and a larger instructional toolkit. Alternatively, a team with mostly veterans could benefit from having some fresh perspectives. This individual is looking for a high level of competence, confidence, and collegiality.

Human Resources Representative. This person most likely has a sense of the needs across the district, or at least at the sites they support. They probably partic- ipate in a lot of interviews, so they will be able to calibrate more quickly to a candidate’s qualifications. In addition to a specific position, they may be assess- ing an individual’s candidacy for other positions at the same site or other sites. Depending on their background, this person may not be as familiar with topics regarding curriculum and instruction. This individual is looking for generalized competence and confidence. While collegiality might be inferred from the interview, they will not have as close a sense of the specific teaming that happens on-site.

Department/Grade-Level Chair (or Other Teacher). This person is likely to focus on your pedagogical chops and how well you would fit as a team member. On the pedagogy side, they could listen for general or specific orientations toward curriculum and instruc- tion. As a team member, departments have a vibe. In addition to your qualifications, they are also deter- mining if they believe you will match theirs. This individual is looking for high competence and collegiality. Their perspective on confidence is likely to apply to the classroom but will also be a consideration for how you might interact with the other teachers.

Classified Employee. This person will be less likely to rate you as an educator, and more likely to gauge how well you will work with them in their position. For example, a site secretary might listen to ensure you are the type of person who follows office procedures or will be easy to work with when securing a substitute teacher when you will be absent. A paraprofessional might listen to how well you and they can work in a classroom with them. Are you the type of person who is warm and open or cold and closed to other adults in the classroom? They may defer to other panelists for indicators of competence and focus more on confi- dence and collegiality.

Among everything else, be your authentic self and remember that you are not just joining their team. Do you want them to join your team, too?