Recruitment: Getting the Best Out of Interviews

What am I looking for in my new staff member?

Looking for a new member of staff is a very challenging task. From a relatively small window of time, you need to be able to judge if this person sitting in front of you has the right skills and knowledge and is the right fit for your school.

Here we explore how to get the best out of candidates at an interview so you can make the most informed decision possible. This will involve deciding what questions need to be asked, what tasks are appropriate and how to assess each candidate.

The key starting point for recruiters is ‘What are we looking for this staff member to bring to the school?’.

What questions should I be asking in an interview?

We have all been to interviews, where we get to the end and wonder if we know any more about the candidate than when we started.

Interviewing, as well as being interviewed, are skills that some struggle with more than others. The key for interviewers is being prepared – knowing what you are looking for and designing your questions around this – having an idea of the responses you are seeking.

The starting point is your basic set of questions exploring the candidate’s qualifications, knowledge, skills, experiences and, of course, safeguarding.  However, these will largely be anticipated and may not be enough for you to learn about a candidate. As an interviewer, do not hesitate to ask follow-up questions or explore a topic that interests you or is particularly relevant in more depth. Ask for real-life examples of what they have done or how they have approached things. Hypothetical questions will illicit hypothetical answers and may not tell you about the candidate’s true approach or attitude.

The role of the interviewer is to enable the candidate to share as much relevant information as possible in a limited timeframe – not to try and catch them out. It is essential to keep in mind that nervousness in an interview is every day and does not necessarily translate to nervousness in the job.   Do what you can to help the candidate to give a complete response by rephrasing or giving prompts.

Should I include a task in an interview?

Using a task during the selection process is now a reasonably well-established tool across many different roles within schools. There are a variety of tasks that may be beneficial to your interview process, such as:

  • 10-minute presentation on a relevant topic
  • Delivering a short session to some of your students (with supervision in place!)
  • Designing a lesson plan on a given subject
  • A case study or in-tray exercise

What about remote interviews?

Over the last year, COVID-19 has forced a lot of schools to adapt their recruitment practices. As we hopefully move away from the need to maintain distance, you should think about the adaptations you have had to make and assess their place moving forward.

Remote interviews can work well and can be beneficial for employers and working candidates.  Bear in mind that you can also do interviews in multiple stages – you could follow a remote interview with face to face one for the candidates you are most excited about. This allows you to build an interview process to attract as many strong candidates as possible. One note of caution here is that you want the interview to be a fair process, so the selection process should be the same for all candidates, even if the style varies.

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How do I assess candidates in an interview?

Let’s face it – we all know that decisions will, at least in part, be made on a feeling or instinct.  The key is to translate these into objective judgements, and here we go back to our initial question: “What are we looking for this teacher to bring to our school?”.  The answer to this question forms the selection criteria against which each candidate will be scored, so getting this right is key.  You are not just looking for technical competency or subject knowledge but attitudes such as flexibility, enthusiasm and passion.  Articulating your needs from the outset will lead to a fair and objective selection process.  It is always good to have more than one person involved in the selection process, as this helps to moderate and bring objectivity to those gut feelings.

Overall the selection process should not be a static box-ticking exercise. Savvy schools will adapt their recruitment process between jobs and update their questions based on the school’s current needs. This will help to ensure the right person gets employed.

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