Seven Expert Interview Tips for Australian Teachers

If the prospect of a job interview sends you into a cold sweat, you are not alone. For many people, interviews are a traumatic experience! Like the worst public speaking commitment, they can build tremendous amount of pressure before and during the interview.

But with good preparation and a dose of confidence, your next interview can be your best yet.

Here are seven interview tips that will give you the confidence you need to perform well in any interview situation.

1. Research the school

Do your homework!

Researching the school will give you some insight into what they are looking for in an applicant. This will allow you to write a tailored, attention-grabbing professional résumé as well as being better prepared for answering the questions at interview.

If it’s a state school, zoom in on the state Department of Education’s priorities that form the basis for the annual school plan. These are sure to be key elements in the school’s future and things worth considering in your responses.

For an independent or Catholic school, research the school’s website or state-based Catholic Education website, and talk to colleagues to find out the school’s future directions and how you might bring value to the new role.

Consider also visiting the school beforehand. Many principals are accepting of people arranging to visit and it can be a very worthwhile strategy to give you the insight you need to have that edge in the interview.

2. Tell a good story

Whether the interview is for promotion or a classroom teaching position, the panel continually asks itself the same question – What special qualities, experiences, attributes and potential does this person bring to our school?

The onus is therefore on you to provide the panel with as much information as you can that will whet their appetite and excite them about the prospect of employing you!

As a teacher, you’re already keenly aware of the power of stories to engage a listener and impart a lesson. It’s something humans seem to be hard-wired for.

Your interview is the perfect opportunity to use stories to show your experience and highlight your potential.

If applying for a teacher or faculty head job the panel might ask you a question like “What do you consider to be the important features of an inclusive classroom?”  

Rather than replying with a philosophical treatise, much greater impact can be achieved by telling a “story” as well – “I firmly believe the key to an inclusive classroom is pedagogy and material that will engage and interest every student.” And then tell the story: “Last year I worked with a Year 9 maths class with a very wide range of abilities. By remodelling and differentiating the curriculum to provide challenges for students at all levels I generated excitement and success for all students in the class. Some specific strategies I used were….”.

The same applies to leadership positions. For example, a question like “How do you motivate staff?” is so broad that it invites responses across a multitude of themes. Focus on one or two ideas. In preparing a response you could begin with one or two key philosophical statements such as “I believe the key to motivating staff is to ensure they are involved in collaborative planning and are recognised for their efforts”. It is very wise then to follow this up with some specifics such as “In the role of faculty head my major task was to engage staff with the new senior maths curriculum. With a number of teachers who were against the new changes because of their controversial nature, I adopted some strategies to dispel their fears, overcome their opposition and gain their support. For example I negotiated a key leadership role for one of these teachers with many years’ experience, recognising her expertise and attending a number of training sessions with her. We then co-presented a staff seminar on the new curriculum. Another strategy I used was…..”

Remember….LESS IS MORE. Avoid too many examples or stories to emphasise a point (two is ample). Choose stories that cover a breadth of scenarios, rather than focusing on one area.

3. Write down your answers to interview questions

Preparation is the key. The best performers at interview are invariably those who put in the time preparing what they want to say. Make sure this is you!

As part of predicting what the interviewer will ask you during the interview and choosing the stories you want to share, it is recommended to write down your response to their questions.

Practising your response to an interview question by doing a mock interview can help boost your confidence in an interview.  

Remember: have 5-6 good “stories” or examples of achievements ready to tell. Always answer a question with a story.

4. Prepare for the day of the interview

As any other important day, you should be prepared at least a day before the interview.

This includes knowing the most convenient route to take to the appointed address, and where you will park. There is nothing more stressful than arriving just on time, then discovering you can’t find the parking lot.

Getting prepared in every way will leave you confident and calm as the time approaches, which will be clear to the interview panel, as well.

5. Make a good first impression

What you wear will give the interviewer your level of professionalism and how serious you are at getting the job. You clothes should be formal and conservative to give a positive impression. Always dress at least to the level of the position to which you aspire, and most importantly, dress comfortably.

6. Act confidently during the interview

An interviewer will assess your gestures and responses during the interview. When answering any interview question, always smile and look directly at the interviewer and where possible, use their (Christian) name.  Vary your eye contact around the group, not focusing on the same person all through your response.

7. Take advantage of “Any Questions?”

What if you haven’t had the chance to give them your “gold”?

At the end of every interview the panel chair will say something like  ”That concludes our questions, but before we finish, is there anything you would like to add?” Around 90% of interviewees don’t capitalise on this and respond with “No thanks!” or slightly better, they might ask a prepared question.

This is an opportunity not to be missed – here’s where you can tell them your golden story. Maybe have something brilliant up your sleeve just for this occasion!

Another option is to leave them with something like a sample of a program you’ve created.

If you need professional help in writing a teaching résumé and advice in preparing for an interview, consider Teachers’ Professional Résumés to help you achieve the job position you want.

Richard Bowman