Today, I spent 4 hours interviewing nine candidates for an open UPK (Universal Pre-K) position in my district in a building where I also serve as supervisor or administrator in charge. It was a very exciting day. Please understand that administrators must be extremely selective in choosing candidates to interview; experience and "fit" in their building culture are prime considerations. Of 134 potential candidates, I had to choose 8-10 to interview. Therefore, prior experience in a particular grade level, especially in regards to UPK (4 yr. olds) was very important to me. I also looked for multiple certifications for important areas at the elementary level such as literacy and special education. Multiple certifications is not a requirement, mind you, but it certainly adds depth to the candidate's experience.
Enough background already! As promised, below are two lists: TOP 5 TIPS for LANDING the INTERVIEW and TOP 5 TIPS for A PERSONAL INTERVIEW for a teaching position...drum roll, please....
ON PAPER, BE SURE TO:
- I should note that in many states, NY included, we have gone to on-line applicant screening so it is of utmost importance to be sure to attach EVERYTHING you can. Admins who do the initial screening look for an updated resume, a letter of interest SPECIFIC to the district or position (this is KEY for many districts; they won't look at it you if you have not expressed direct interest in their district), 3 letters of reference (minimum), and copies (usually scanned) of certifications and/or submissions/notifications that certs are pending. In other words, keep your on-line application up to date!
- Not only should you write letters of interest specific to each particular district that highlight your talents and what you can offer to that district, your resume should reflect the same thing. Have a core resume ready that you can tweak to highlight a particular district's needs and showcase your talents!
- Highlight specialized training, areas that you have provided turn-key training, and ways in which you have collaborated with others. Taking the initiative to prove that you are a life-long learner, are open to constructive criticism, and willing to learn from others and contribute to building culture are extremely important. Operating as an island, behind closed doors is a mentality of the past. You must show that you are open and willing to work with others to provide the BEST POSSIBLE LEARNING EXPERIENCE FOR KIDS.
- Make sure your references are up to date and are accurate. It's quite frustrating to call a listed reference that hardly remembers the candidate or has had very little interaction or experience of observing the candidate in the classroom. We, as potential employers, totally rely on the feedback of your references. That being said, INVITE MULTIPLE PEOPLE INTO YOUR CLASSROOM WHOM YOU CAN COUNT ON TO WRITE LETTERS OF REFERENCE OR PROVIDE FEEDBACK OF YOUR PERFORMANCE. This includes building principals, department coordinators, grade level leaders, consultant teachers (special ed. teachers and directors, support personnel, volunteers, and directors of curriculum and instruction, to name a few). Invite varied people from all areas into your classroom; make an effort to schedule their presence and ask for their feedback in writing.
- Attach any award or special recognitions to your application. This feature gives us, the evaluator of whether you are a good fit for the position, an opportunity to see if, at first glance, on paper, if you are truly a good fit and qualified for the position in question. Please remember that, at all times, you are your own salesperson, per se, and are responsible for selling your best qualities to the district and the position.
IN PERSON, BE SURE TO:
- Appear confident; but also be sure not to appear too haughty. This is a FINE line to walk. Do your best to not allow your nervousness or eagerness for the position to overpower your skills and abilities at a particular grade level or in a particular subject area. Also, be sure to highlight your abilities in a particular program or area that lend itself to the builidng vision, the building initiatiaves, the particular needs of the students in that building. Student achievement and evidence thereof should be your foremost focus.
- Your ability to highlilght your willingness to work and collaborate with others in the building to promote student achievement is of the utmost importance. Maintaining or enhancing a building culture is very important information for building leaders. We need to know that you can easily transition into a position and/or team and can be an integral player in promoting student achievement. We also like to see people who are multi-talented and multi-certed, especially at the elementary level. It does happen that we hire a singly certed individual, but in these days of dwindling enrollment in WNY, it is a plus to have a candidate who has certification in multiple areas as well as experience in key areas such as literacy, RtI, and Special Ed.
- SPECIFICS, SPECIFICS, SPECIFICS! Just as we ask students to rely on their experiences and text based details, we expect to interview candidates who are able able to provide specific examples of how they have implemented specific strategies, programs, and philosophies in their classroom (NAME THEM AND DESCRIBE HOW YOU HAVE IMPLEMENTED THEM). Having those specific examples readily available is also a bonus, BUT...knowing how and when to navigate those strategies and highlight them in an interview is another story. See number 4 below.
- Yes, I appreciate your portfolio and all the work you have put into it; really, I do. The key to referrring to your portfolio in the interview is to indexing it properly, so that when a particular question is asked, you are able to reference a specific example with ease. Yes, we really do want to see examples of your work, but we rarely have time to review your portfolios afterward. Therefore, IT IS YOUR JOB TO HIGHLIGHT WHAT YOU HAVE TO OFFER THROUGH EXAMPLES IN YOUR PORTFOLIO...and don't be so dismissive as to say, "I can leave this with you." Rather, be proactive and show us examples and things you can highlight by providing us with memorable experiences that do not ask us to invest additional time.
- Most, if not all, interviews will end by asking what questions you have for us. Here is where you NEED to show, through your questions, that you have done some research on the district. DO IT! Talk to anyone and everyone you can about the district and what it has to offer...learn all you can before the interview. And, if, for example, a district's website is outdated and under construction, TAKE THE INITIATIVE TO LEARN ALL YOU CAN ABOUT THE DISTRICT, ITS PROGRAMS, ITS INITITIAVES, ITS EXCTRACURRICULARS, etc. Make phone calls, send emails, talk to others who may know someone in the district. In other words, DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
Finally, be yourself in an interview; be excited and showcase what you have to offer. If you are your true self... a child advocate, someone who is dedicated to the profession, and willing to work collaboratively in the best interest of the child...I assure you that you will find your perfect fit in this extremely rewarding yet often frustrating profession sooner or later. And, with God Speed, I trust that it will be sooner rather than later.