I had an exciting, albeit tedious, opportunity today to experience the “other side” of the interview table. I have had many past experiences being the one getting asked the hard questions, feeling somewhat awkward, and scrambling to think of “the right answer”, but before today I have never had the perspective of the interviewer.
For those of you who have been on the interview panel, feel free to chime in thoughts, feelings, or tips to the readers in the comments – but if you have yet to had the pleasure of being on an interview panel, let me give you some of the behind the scenes secrets.
Without going into many details or breaking the confidentiality agreement (which most interviewers have to sign), let me tell you that for hiring at any level, the process is long. I was not involved in the job description creation, publicizing the position, or screening pre-interview candidates so I can only imagine the work behind that part. We interviewed a total of 5 people for the position and it took the whole day…about an hour per person with setup, debrief, and the actual interview. If you get to an interview later in the day and your panel looks bored, they probably are not, but they are probably tired and hungry. Tip #1: Try to schedule an early interview (if possible) as the panel will be most fresh and attentive. You also set the stage.
Many times, the questions you are asked are not from the interview panel (or may be from a select few). If you have someone good at writing questions, like we did, you get lucky. Others are not in for such a treat. For the sake of fairness and equality, the panel is usually asking the same questions to each candidate. Some will allow room to ask clarifying questions others may not. Tip #2: Think about your audience – are there teachers, students, parents, administrators in it? What info would they want to know? Think about that as you answer your questions. Also, be observant of body language. Sometimes you can sense that a panel member wants a little more info by how they sit, move their head, or their facial expressions. If you are not sure if they got the info they were looking for – ask!
You may be God’s gift to education, but if you look like you just woke up or did not put too much effort into making yourself look professional – people notice. It is not typically a deal breaker (but could be!), however it may mean the difference in getting a job offer or not if the contest is close. Think about how you want to portray yourself and what image you want the interview panel to get as you walk in the door. Do you want a just out of the gym look with messed up hair and blue jeans or a professional go-getter wearing business to business casual wear. I would caution on the side of dressing up than down whether you are going for a minimum wage position or half a million dollar job. Tip #3: Be mindful of your posture and body language. Counselors – use your SOLER and attending skills you learned. Sit up straight, face the speaker, make eye contact, don’t close your body language, etc. It helps.
You will be asked to give specific examples in 9 out of 10 interviews you go to so try to think of some good ones from your past that can possibly be applied to many situations. Create a list and practice what you would say. Standard questions may include strengths/weaknesses, problem solving with a co-worker, and communicating with clients or partners. Thinking about it early will help you provide a polished and appropriate answer – many will freeze up or stumble over their answers if you don’t think about it ahead of time. Tip #4: Provide data if possible when giving these examples. How many students did you help? What types of feedback did you get after helping someone? Was there an increase or decrease in a goal or objective? The specifics help show your effectiveness.
After the questions are all asked and answered, the panel then has another difficult decision – who to recommend. This was much harder than I thought. I did not think there were any bad candidates, but I wanted to combine aspects from all of them to make a super-candidate. Sadly that is frowned upon so we have to think about what strengths and abilities will most benefit our school and the position.
I hope that the little review and other side perspective can help those of you looking for work think about what the interviewer is thinking. Be mindful of it when interviewing and if you are ever a part of the interview panel – try to remember how stressful and intimidating it is being the interviewee. Best of luck!
ADDITIONAL READING: Public Speaking Tips for School Counselors: Tools for Totally Awesome School Counselor Presentations