Make the Most of Interviews
By Cris Blackstone
April 2017, Volume 40, Issue 8
Picture the typical interview scenario: You have netted several candidates to be interviewed from several dozen shortlisted applications. In the school’s conference room is a cohort of selected interview team members waiting for the first candidate to enter. You are all equally hopeful that the candidate has done her research on your school and is eager to join this team.
But before the candidate arrives, what are you doing? Are you doling out photocopies of the interview questions and deciding if you will go clockwise or counter-clockwise around the table, giving each person on the team a chance to read one question? That’s an approach in place that is expected by many qualified candidates. That system is synthetic in its approach, giving neither the candidate a chance to shine, nor the person asking the question an opportunity to deliver the question in a more meaningful way. So, let’s revisit that conference room and rethink the interview process.
Assemble Your Team
To begin, you must have a well-rounded interview team. It’s OK to have two members who work in the same department, as long as they bring different expertise to the team. If you surrender focusing on having a person from each department or each grade level as part of the interview team and instead focus on the characteristics you may be looking for in an ideal candidate, you will net more information from the candidates to make a final hiring decision. What characteristics are you looking for? What sort of diversity do you need as you look ahead and decide how you are going to build a stronger faculty?
After you’ve identified interview team members, make sure each person understands exactly why he or she was selected. It’s not enough for a teacher to feel he or she was asked to participate only because the individual represents the Unified Arts teachers. Every member of the interview team should be able to articulate what they bring to the process—for example, eight years of employment with the school district.
Ensuring that team members understand their value to the interview panel also helps to make introductions more meaningful for candidates. When they introduce themselves to a candidate, they will know the valuable information they should share, such as how long they’ve taught (both at the school and in their career), the grade levels taught, how long they’ve been employed with the school district, and other relevant details. If there’s a math teacher particularly strong in differentiating instruction, or small group instruction, that characteristic should be stated in the introduction. A second math teacher may be present at the interview, but her expertise could be in the grade level you’re seeking to fill.
By giving the interview team members license to introduce themselves with clear information about their background and expertise, you will be giving candidates more to understand about your school and its staff members, and also more to relate to with each interview team member. Such introductions also will set up candidates for a higher comfort level as they respond to questions from the interview team.
Abandon the idea of going around the circle, with each member asking one question and moving on to the next person and next question when the candidate completes her answer. Instead, consider allocating each interview team member a designated time to hold a brief discussion with the candidate. That enables the interviewer to have a free-flowing conversation about each answer, and means that the initial question asked will lead to a subsequent question of more substance, based on the candidate’s response.
Your change in how team members are introduced to candidates works seamlessly with these short one-on-ones because it will help the candidate direct the responses to the person asking and to the targeted area of expertise that interview team member brings to the table. Take this as an example: If an interview team member introduces himself as a math teacher who has done a lot of committee work on issues about middle-level education, a good candidate’s responses to him likely will focus more on middle-level issues than the random question that he may have been assigned to ask in a traditional interview process.
As the interview team members conclude their time with the candidate, each member will more easily identify the highlights from this give-and-take roundtable discussion approach to the interview. After several candidates have been interviewed, although the questions were not identical, the expertise the interview team member brings to the process will reveal the most telling answers to the questions and the most salient points the candidate brought to the interview process. Candidates who are comfortable and feeling more interaction are far more likely to answer candidly, revealing their ability to be contributors to your school as a new faculty member.
Cris Blackstone is principal of Alton Central School in Alton, New Hampshire.
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