Trawling the job adverts should have been the last thing on my mind, a mere two weeks after moving house (with boxes still unopened in one of our rooms), a few days after the boy had been violently sick and one day after he had been throwing up all over the place again. But there I was, determined that 2017 should yield exactly what I wanted from it, and found one of the few job ads looking for someone to fulfill exactly the type of job I wanted.
So, with the smell of baby sick still all around, I filled in the lengthy application form, wrote my personal statement and sent the whole lot off at 8am on the day of the deadline. I really didn’t hold out much hope for hearing from them. Imagine my shock, when – a mere 5 hours later – I received an email inviting me to attend an interview in 3 working days’ time.
Lots of things needed to be organised. The first, and most important, was childcare. We have no family around, so I went on to beg the childminder we’d organised for April to take care of my two on the day – which, with a baby, is easier said than done. Then I needed a car, and after finding out that you cannot hire one on a 3-month-old full license, my husband offered for me to drive his one and he would get a lift. This just left the question of what to wear. As it happened, I still didn’t fit into my clothes properly, but with a little creativity I managed to hide my belly and the fact that my blazer wouldn’t close over it without looking like Bob Fossil.
To cut a long story short, I got the job! Here is how I did it:
- Do your research
I cannot stress enough how important this is. You need to know what the company are looking for and – more importantly – whether they will also suit you. Sure, if you just desperately want any job you may not care about the latter, but if you don’t fit in, believe me: you’ll be miserable in the long run.So do whatever you can to gain an insight into the ethos of the company and the people you’ll be likely to work for.
The first thing I did was to re-read the job description and the person specification. I highlighted areas I was good at (even the bit where it asked for a good sense of humour – I still like to convince myself that I’m hilarious. Don’t write in) and areas where I could do with more training. Was is really feasible for me to work there? I decided it was.
I then went to find out more about the company. This could be anything, but usually, customer reviews give you a decent insight into many areas for improvement. Less about strengths, though, mind, because it’ll be mostly disgruntled customers bothering to review a company. In my case, it was probably easier, as Ofsted had, of course, done a thorough review for me. I printed off the report, read through it a few times and made notes on ways I could potentially help out. This is bearing in mind I went for a middle management job – if you just want to stack shelves, then make sure you can explain fully why you’re the better at stacking shelves than Jack next door.
My last bit of research involved the people who’d interview me and the interview itself. I wrote in and asked for a few more details. I’d be teaching a class – pretty standard in any teaching interview, so I went on to find out more: how many children would there be, what ability range did they have, was there anything else that was important for me to know? Luckily, the school were great and sent me all the data I asked for. This would prove a major advantage later on.
I also googled the names of the people I already knew – namely, the head, the head of department, the PA. Linkedin is a great professional network, which can give you an overview of who the people are you’d be likely to work with. Word of advice, it will show who you’ve been stalking, so keep it to one visit and take mental note there and then rather than keep coming back. The latter just makes you look creepy.
- Look the part
This one is so painfully obvious, but there are still so many people who ignore this. If you are invited to an interview in a tattoo studio, you don’t show up in a suit and tie. Likewise, if you are interviewing as Richard Branson’s partner, you don’t show up in a Hawaii tee.
In my case, the position I went for was middle management (i.e. required a blazer), but not the top, so a formal outfit with a boldly-coloured blouse and tailored trousers worked well. My trousers didn’t necessarily match my blazer, but they didn’t clash either.
Then there was the hair. I had recently chopped a good part of it off, but with naturally curly hair it’s a bit of hit and miss what it would look like on the day. I had over an hour’s commute, so any blow dry would be likely to be lost, and the drizzly rain meant that straightening was out of the question. In the end, I simply tied it back. It got rid of the straggles and allowed for a professional look, even if my curls were out of place.
Shoes were flat and practical, mainly because I needed to concentrate on driving and my only pair of heels I can do that in are not suitable work wear anymore.
Oh, and I made sure I gave myself a thorough manicure.
- Have a portfolio
It’s one of the few things that will truly make you stand out as so many people simply don’t have one, unless they are actively seeking a role in the Arts or modelling industry. The beauty of a portfolio is that it can be made up of anything you want to show off. This interview I had a collection of lesson observations, book trawls, schemes of work I produced and a number of thank you cards off staff and students.
A great portfolio showcases all your strengths, and it does so much better than just saying ‘Yeah, so I’m good at putting together my lessons’ and ‘I have good relationships with colleagues’. Instead of saying, you can impress by showing evidence.
Keep it simple and organised. What are your would-be employers looking for? If they want you to be organised, show them an example of a timetable you created. If they want you to deal well with behaviour, show evidence of records you have kept and postcards you have sent. If they want you to be good at using a certain IT system, print off a screenshot of a completed program, or even one that you have put together yourself.
Your portfolio is a personalised collection of achievements – use it to your full advantage.
- Observe carefully
Remember that you are interviewing this place as much as they are interviewing you. Have a good look around – what is general resourcing like? Do the rooms look bare or are they full with equipment? Is it all out in the open or safely locked away? (You can tell a lot about a school by the way it displays their work and equipment!)
Take note of the staff – do they seem open and happy for you to look around or are they subdued and cagey? Is there a good mixture of different ages and ethnicities? What are the staff doing when they appear to be on their breaks? Do they gather in a staff room full of snacks and laughter or are they bent over their books, frantically working away?
Listen carefully – what kind of conversations are going on? Are they mostly positive or are people moaning away?
Have a look at the general environment. Is it well-kept? How? I was impressed to see one senior member of staff casually pick up some litter she saw in the corridor and throw it into the nearest bin. That kind of thing tells you a lot about whether that person sees herself as ‘above’ the rest or a part of the whole community. It also potentially tells you about how the students treat the place.
And, most importantly: ask lots of questions. Not just of the people interviewing you – they want you to see the place in all its glory, real or not. Ask the customers, the students, the caretakers. Away from prying ears, of course. And if you don’t have that opportunity to speak to them by yourself or to wander off by yourself, ask yourself why that may be.
- Be genuine
People smell if you pretend to be someone you’re not. If you are normally Mr misery pants, then a smile just won’t look right on your face. And if you’ve always been the next Peter Kay, then pretending to be sensible and uptight will look ridiculous.
Look, you need to be able to fit in with an organisation – school or otherwise. It may not seem like it when you’re desperate to land a particular job, but if your personality doesn’t fit – even if you do get the job, which is much less likely if you play pretend – you’ll never be entirely happy. Believe me, I’ve been in a job where my face just didn’t fit and it’s not a nice situation to be in. Once you start pretending to be someone you’re not, you’ll have to constantly watch your back, both in the interview and afterwards. Or be called a liar. Relax, be yourself and if you’re a good fit, you’ll be taken on.
I stood my ground in my last interview. Mind, I did have the comfortable knowledge that if I didn’t get the job I’d still have one to go back to – and that there’d be plenty of others out there within the time frame I was looking to move. That also meant that I didn’t put on a show when it came to my lesson. I took a risk and taught how I normally would – no frills, no ‘wow’ moments: just genuine teaching coming from an enjoyment of knowing my subject and extracting that knowledge from my students. My interviewers loved it.
So these are my top tips on getting through the interview. If I’ve left anything important out, do write in.