Interviewing for Your First Teaching Job? Here’s How to Make the Best Impression

Interviewing for Your First Teaching Job? Here’s How to Make the Best Impression
Brian Gatens September 20, 2015

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There’s no perfect way to prepare for your first interview for a teaching job, but there are certain things you should do to help the process along — and improve your chances of getting hired. There are always two components of a teaching-job interview:

  • Making a winning impression in the interview
  • Updating your resume if the interview doesn’t doesn’t lead to offer

Making a winning impression

I’ve landed several great jobs over the years and hired a lot of great teachers, so I have a good idea of what it takes to what it takes to win over your interviewers. Keep these tips in mind:

Do your research

As much as you’re being interviewed, you’re interviewing the school district. Spend some time looking at the state report cards, do some online sleuthing to see if the district has been roiled by any major controversies (especially those involving teacher morale and quality), and speak to any professors or friends who may know of the district.

During the interview, show your familiarity with the district curriculum and student needs, and speak to how you can help meet district goals.

Prepare to shine

Far too many prospective teachers underplay their best qualities. You have worked hard in your teaching preparation program. Make it a point to emphasize where you went above and beyond in your work, and how that helped prepare you for the classroom. Schools value employees who show initiative — not mentioning it is a mistake.

Speak in verbs

In interviews, many job candidates speak in abstract generalities regarding their teaching skills. For example, very often I will hear, “I studied Balanced Literacy in my coursework,” but the candidate who says, “I applied Balanced Literacy in my student-teaching experience by…” will be given special notice. Avoid the passive, engage the active and show me how you put your knowledge to work. Don’t hesitate to reach back into your personal experience and speak with authority about how you would teach a unit or manage a classroom.

Don’t treat it like an interrogation

The best interviews feel like conversations. Be engaging, make eye contact and remember that it’s OK to be friendly during the interview.

Yes, interviews feel strange when they first start (“Hi, we just met and don’t know each other. Can you tell me all about yourself?”), but coming across as interesting will give the interviewer a feel for what you’ll be like in the classroom.

Talk about your experiences, not just your knowledge

Most aspiring teachers don’t have a lot of actual classroom experience to refer to during the interview, but observation experiences, student teaching and practicum hours offer a base from which you can illustrate your classroom potential.

When meeting with a possible employer, you’ll strengthen your candidacy if you can enumerate both the positive things you saw during your observations (differentiated instruction, engaged students, etc.) and also the less-than-admirable qualities (extensive use of worksheets, passive students, etc.)

Whether you’re discussing student teaching, classroom observations or advanced studies, talk about what you will do, not what you have learned.

Beware of the portfolio

Very often a teacher candidate will plunk down a massive three-ring binder consisting of his or her entire undergraduate teacher-preparation program. Sometimes these portfolios will look more like art projects than exemplars of student work.

While the portfolio is a good way to engage your interviewer, I recommend that candidates consider distributing a much shorter, more individualized portfolio consisting of a few key experiences, projects and initiatives. This could be the jumping-off point to a high-quality discussion regarding your suitability for continued participation in the teacher-selection process.

Be ready for the group interview

School districts that receive hundreds of resumes for popular teaching positions often do group interviews with three to five job candidates so they can see as many good people as possible.

Be prepared to be assertive, take some initiative and project who you will be in the classroom in front of the other candidates. Don’t sit back and let the others do all the talking.

Dress, act and speak professionally

This cannot be said enough. Far too many candidates come in not wearing business attire, have weak handshakes and use slang during the interview.

Keep eye contact, speak clearly, avoid “umms” and “likes” when answering questions, and remember that your first impression will stick with the interviewer.

Put technology to work

Our society’s push towards more connection through technology is starting to move more and more into the classroom. Before you go for your interview, spend some time online learning about the different applications and types of technology that the district uses.

In the interview, speak to what you can do with the technology to improve student learning.

Revisiting your resume

You’ll need to interview for several teaching jobs before you actually get one. If you find you’re not getting much traction, it might help to update your resume to zero in on your best attributes and find a school that’s a better match for your abilities.

Far too many resumes cross my desk looking identical to the five that arrived before and the five that will follow. It usually goes like this:

I receive a standard cover letter listing accomplishments and attitudes. Next up is the one- to two-page resume that (typically in chronological order) lists undergraduate classes, student-experiences and work background. The format rarely changes — and nothing happens to help the resume stand out.

What can you do to help your resume make it beyond the initial reading and get you called in for the one interview that will land you a job? Try the following:

Write really well

For all the media saturation of our world today, the importance of writing has not gone away. Take time to read and review your cover letter and resume. Do your sentences flow? Have you eliminated unnecessary words? How often do you use “I” in your writing?

Tip — Go through your cover letter and circle in red each time you refer to yourself. Remember: The school isn’t just hiring you; it’s hiring your experiences and skill set. Focus on what you can do, not just who you are. The classic advice to “show, don’t tell” applies here.

Get feedback before submitting

I look at hundreds of resumes each year, and it amazes me how many of them are poorly written, contain grammar or punctuation errors, and just don’t seem to flow. Before you send your resume to anyone, ask your friends and family to review it.

They should look for more than just basic grammar and make sure it is appealing as well as functional. Emphasize that you need them to be honest with you.

Emphasize skills — not just experiences

This is a bit harder for newer teachers, as they can’t point to a strong base of experience in life and the classroom. Still, you can work as hard as possible to emphasize specific experiences that show your prospective employer just how valuable you will be as a staff member. One turn of phrase: “As a result of (this), I am able to do (this) in the classroom.”

Highlight what makes you different

Point to experiences and activities that help you stand out. Did you volunteer during the summer, run education-related activities for your college or spend time working with children?

An interesting example will help break the ice during an interview and lead to a more natural conversation. If you’re still in college and a couple years from applying for your first teaching job, make sure to participate in interesting education-related activities that will make you more marketable when you graduate.

I’m always on the lookout for a resume where the candidate has exceeded the minimum requirements. Perhaps it involves an after-school tutoring program, an independent research project or participation in an undergraduate student-centered club. No matter what you do, offering evidence that you’ve done more than the minimum speaks volumes about your motivation and desire to be a teacher.

Remember: It isn’t bragging if it’s true

The fear of looking like they are speaking too much about their skills sometimes causes candidates to downplay their academic or social success.

You’re expected to highlight your successes (without getting too carried away) when you apply, and to discuss them in depth if you make it to the interview process. You have worked hard to build a resume to be proud of. Put that pride into action.

Emphasize classroom readiness and/or work experience

School administrators want teachers who will hit the ground running. Be sure to speak directly about what you will be able to do from Day 1. Support those statements with examples from your previous work.

Also, spend time reviewing what you have done away from your formal teaching preparation. This will give you the opportunity to talk about your work ethic.

Consider going digital

While the resume and cover letter are still the standard way to apply for a job, I’m beginning to see more candidates who submit digital portfolios. They use an online service like Google Drive or Dropbox to store their work as well as pictures, videos and presentations. This becomes a powerful example of your work when prepared skillfully and shared with a prospective employer.

There’s no doubt that today’s economy and the increased pressure on teachers has created a more competitive hiring environment, but all candidates have the opportunity to distinguish themselves. The key is to create a presentation, through personal engagement and presented work, that demonstrates your high level of preparation, enthusiasm and desire to be an excellent teacher.

Brian P. Gatens is the superintendent of schools for the Emerson Public School District in Emerson, New Jersey. He has been an educator for more than two decades, working at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. In “From the Principal’s Office,” Gatens shares advice, provides insights, and gives guidance on everything from what principals look for when interviewing teaching candidates to how to work with overly protective parents. His front-line assessments supply candid perspectives on school life.

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