“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird

Interview day: how to create the best first impression on candidates

It all begins with empathy. You never get a second chance to create a first impression.

And it’s so easy to get it wrong. At Your School Jobs, we’re all about easy, actionable ways to win the recruitment advertising game. And this begins with empathy. 

Put yourself in the candidate’s shoes

Imagine… you’ve possibly come a long way. You’ve perhaps stayed in a local mid-range hotel. You’ve not had the best night’s sleep. 

And you’ve got a day of interviews and a sample lesson to get through before a long drive home. Now… wouldn’t it be nice if, along with the lesson brief, someone had sent you a sitemap with clear instructions about where to go? Perhaps it was personalised with a little note.

What’s more, when you arrive, you find a car parking space reserved and clear signposting for the reception. Or, better still, someone to meet and greet you. I’m sure you get the picture. Empathy goes a long way. Here are other considerations when putting yourself in the candidate’s shoes. 

Offer a warm welcome 

Arrange a welcoming committee, with just the right people: those who are most approachable, those who put others at ease.  A smile and a friendly hello will commence proceedings on the right foot.

Get the tour right 

In a similar vein, your best pupils – prefects or members of the school council – are often the best ambassadors for your school. 

The tour should show off all the school has to offer ambitious teachers: new facilities, especially those relating to the applicants’ subject; or anything of interest that’s taking place that day, such as rehearsals or concerts. Teachers don’t so much want to join schools as join communities. Culture matters.

Give applicants a basecamp

Over the course of a long day, a suitable base, with easy access to refreshments and comfort breaks, will offer continuity and put candidates at ease. 

Don’t overfill the day

Shape the day to suit everyone. Teachers we spoke to, however, feel their time isn’t always respected by some schools in the interview process. And for some it’s a deal-breaker. 

Don’t rush candidates from pillar to post. An overfull, overbusy schedule is a red flag for many. 

And candidates will always be grateful if you timetable proceedings so that they get the sample lesson out of the way early on in the day.

Make sure the sample lesson counts

The right classroom, with the right pupils, and an interesting topic will make just the right impression, as will a sound brief with just the right balance of direction and flexibility to give candidates the freedom to show their competence, independence and creativity.

Interview with empathy

It’s surprising that so few schools cover this in Inset or Head of Department meetings. New Heads of Department often have to chase colleagues for help with interviewing. The interview will provide some of the most memorable and quotable moments of the day; it’s so important to get it right. 

Role-playing, videoing and peer-reviewing will improve how your teachers approach interviews, especially panel interviews, which unsettle some candidates, making them feel outnumbered. The interviewers are, effectively, tag-teaming, so it makes sense to allow for time between each interviewer’s questions. 

Show them you know them 

Do your homework: where they currently study or teach, how far they’ve travelled that day, mutual acquaintances in the profession. Rapport talk and establishing common ground goes a long way to making a connection and the right first impression. 

Cite their CV. Ask thoughtful questions that move beyond the obvious and allow applicants to showcase their knowledge, interests and beliefs. Stuff that surprises and doesn’t just tread the usual ground gets remembered. Furthermore, they’ll offer valuable insight into how candidates think on their feet. After all, that’s what teaching is all about. 

That said, you’re not trying to catch them out. The best interviews are closer to good conversation, not an interrogation. 

Interviews are a two-way street

It’s an employees’ market out there. They’re assessing you as much as you’re assessing them. Give them time at the end to ask questions of their own. Answer them fully.

Think not what the applicant can do for your schools as what you can do for the applicant. Some interviewers could be a little more empathetic and a little less “what’s in it for us?”

Candidates should leave the interview excited by the possibility of working in an environment where they’ll feel supported, trusted, and stimulated.

Set up lunch with all the department

This gives candidates a feel for the department. Diversity is the watchword these days, and rightly so. Candidates are hoping to see friendly, interesting people who generally get on. It gives applicants further opportunity to ask questions and make a connection with the school.

End the day on a high

Some interview days… just tail off… 

It’s a busy day for all concerned, but it makes a real difference if there’s someone to say goodbye and mark the end of proceedings. What psychologists call the recency effect dictates that last impressions matter as much as first impressions. 

Returning to empathy, the candidate will want to know when and how they’ll receive feedback from the day, and hear whether they’ve been successful with their application. 

Furthermore, sending a personal, handwritten note to each interviewee is seldom forgotten. Little touches like this go a long way. Whether their application is successful or not, each and every interviewee should join your school’s legion of brand ambassadors. 

Final thoughts

If you make everything easy for interviewees, they’ll give a good account of themselves on the day, and a good account of the school down the line. You’ll see their true potential and, just as importantly, whether they and your school are the right fit for each other. 

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou. For more on this interesting subject, have a read of this guest blog that former teacher, Ben Masters wrote for Ambleglow, talking about exactly what teachers look for in a school.