This post was written by Jon Tait @TeamTait.
As we approach the traditional recruitment season in education we may find ourselves taking a sneaky look in the TES for more than just its stimulating educational content. Currently there are 4,610 available jobs listed in the UK, but with less than 10% of those (387) listed as leadership positions. The very nature of leadership positions, the skill sets required and the lack of opportunities compared to main scale teaching posts means that the environment is extremely competitive. Schools are on the lookout for the very best candidates – leaders of people, expert practitioners, visionaries, ambassadors etc, etc. You may feel you fit the bill for these roles, but will your ‘performance’ at interview stack up against your credentials that have gone before you?
If you’ve been settled in your current position (like me) for a fairly long time, you may feel out of touch with interview experience – a bit like I imagine people feel after a long term relationship when they have to get back in the ‘dating game’. There’s always a certain ‘knack’ to these experiences and you can feel a little rusty if you’ve not been thrown into that unfamiliar environment for years. Not only are they unfamiliar, but they now seem to be a ‘survival of the fittest’ exercise, intent on weeding out the cans and cannot’s like a 1990’s Clive James Japanese game show!
Having experienced and been successful at interview for a deputy head’s position very recently, I’d like to outline some key areas that may help you prepare for that all important opportunity.
It is completely unacceptable to not have done your homework on the school. At this level, if you haven’t laid your hand on every publicly available document about the school, then you’ll be starting 20 metres behind the rest of the competitors at the start line. The school will expect that you know about them and will be asking you questions to check this. You can’t pull the wool over the eyes of a head teacher when they are asking questions about their school.
Seek help from colleagues
In your current school you will have experts on every area of education. If you are not 100% happy with your knowledge on a certain aspect of school leadership, get the expert to give you a lesson. Whether it’s RaiseOnline, school budget, performance management or data tracking, make sure you use the team around you to plug those gaps.
You may also find that you can use the experience of others to try and pre-empt some of the questions or topics that will be asked on the day. Some of your colleagues may have been out on interview recently, whereas others may have been a part of a leadership interview process. Use their experience and try to get a head start in the preparation you might need to do.
Rest & sleep
I mentioned earlier that the current style of senior leadership interviews is like a survival of the fittest exercise. Most interviews are now spread over two days with tasks and different interview panels usually getting into double figures. There is no doubt that it will be a mentally and physically tiring experience. Give your brain and body a fighting chance by getting sufficient rest, sleep, energy and nutrition in the days leading up to it.
Snacks & supplies
As an educated adult you probably know how your body works by now. Are you somebody who needs a coffee before you get going? Do you need to drink water throughout the day to offset a headache? For me I know that a bottle of Pepsi and a bar of chocolate gives me my second wind, so I made sure I had two of each in my bag during the interview days! Simple, but very effective.
Clear the decks
You need to understand that if you are successful on day 1 of the interview, you’ll no doubt have to either complete some tasks overnight, or be preparing for a presentation. Clear the decks at home, cancel any arrangements already in place and call in support from your family. Preparing for this in advance makes it so much easier to do, rather than flapping around when you realise the amount of work you have to do between day 1 and 2.
Make an impression
What you wear on the first day is bound to have a major impression people. Although we say ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ we all know that it is not that easy. Your first impression is vital. Think carefully about the message you want to convey with your outfit/suit/tie etc. Do you want to go bright colours to show your outgoing and confident side, or do you go for something more toned down to reflect the more business-like approach. Whatever you decide, decide it early. Don’t leave that decision until the night before. You’ll have enough to worry about at that stage.
Above everything else, the school are looking for a person. A person who they feel can fit in with their team and a person who they think they can work with. Be yourself, show your humorous side every now and again and don’t be afraid to smile, laugh and lighten the mood when appropriate. This will usually make people warm to you and let them see the real you behind the false environment that you’re in.
Don’t be intimidated
Wherever you go for interview, you’ll always come across Mr or Mrs ‘I Know It All’. It’s easy to let these people’s persona intimidate you and make you feel like they are the favourites for the job. Take what they say with a pinch of salt and try to shut off when they are talking shop about all of their ‘achievements’. Find a quiet space in the staff room or your interview base and just focus on you and how amazing you are. All you need to do is showcase the best YOU. If you do that, then you’ve done everything you can. Don’t get caught up in to trying to compete against other people. Let other people waste their energy on that.