Process vs. Product
Many candidates make the mistake of assuming that the purpose of the interview is to get a job. Wrong! The purpose of the interview is to "sell" yourself to a potential employer—to demonstrate how your unique skills, talents, and abilities can be effectively used to teach children. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the interviewer is not interested in giving you a job; the interviewer is interested in providing the best education possible for the students in his or her school. Whether you are the one to do that is of little consequence to the person doing the interview. Principals and other interviewers want to educate students with the most qualified teachers they can hire; they are not interested in ensuring that you, for example, will "live happily ever after."
In short, don't focus on getting a job offer (simply because that's not what the interviewer is focused on). Rather you should focus on how your particular strengths can be used to ensure a quality-based education program for the students in a particular school. Demonstrate to the person conducting the interview that you know how to teach kids, not that you want a job.
At every opportunity in the interview, demonstrate how your talents are a "match" for the school. For example, show how the work you've done as a camp counselor can be used to develop an after-school orienteering club. Or show how your love for biology can be used to establish a "stream adoption program" at the high school.
Be aware of how often you use the personal pronouns "I" or "me." Instead, concentrate on using more "you's" or (more important) "we's."
Demonstrate how you are willing to become part of an educational team, a team of professionals dedicated to a quality-based education program. Good teaching is a long-term process rather than a quick fix. You aren't there to save them; you are there to contribute to the greater good. At all times demonstrate how you are willing to work with them, not necessarily for them.
• You need to demonstrate to interviewers that you are more concerned and more interested in their specific agenda than you are in yours. In short, demonstrate what you can do for a school rather than what the school can do for you. Be sure to keep your eyes on the appropriate prize: the benefits you can bring to the school and to the teaching profession. Be sure your responses are school-centered rather than self-centered.
Stories—Tell 'Em Stories
Stories have the power to capture the imagination, excite the senses, and stimulate creative thinking. Stories bring life, vitality, and substance to words. They are part and parcel of the human experience and a way of connecting humans as few activities can. And here's the most important element of stories for you, the potential interviewee—stories are better remembered than facts. In other words, candidates who weave stories into the interview are remembered positively. We seldom remember the facts; but we always remember the stories.
For a moment, think about the worst course you took in college. I'm willing to bet that that course was nothing more than a constant barrage of facts and more facts. You had to listen to facts, memorize facts, and regurgitate facts on all those quizzes and tests. Now think about one of your favorite courses. Chances are the instructor took time to share anecdotes, tales, adventures, and vignettes. As a student, you were enthralled with those stories because they brought a topic alive; there was a human connection. You may even recall some of those stories better than you do facts.
Stories are powerful because they establish and build a "bridge" between humans. They allow humans to mentally and emotionally focus on what is being said. In short, you will be remembered more for the stories you share than you will for the facts you tell.
Here's a little secret: In all likelihood a seasoned administrator (e.g., a principal who has served for ten years or more) will have heard many of the same answers to established interview questions a hundred times over—perhaps even more. What they will not have heard is your unique stories, your special anecdotes, and your engaging tales. Provide an interviewer with the same old answers to the same old questions, and you will blend in with the crowd. Spice up your responses with a few stories, and you'll be remembered!
Think about all the educational events and encounters you have experienced since you started college. Turn some of those into stories about yourself that are relevant to issues and concerns critical to teaching success. Make sure they are short and specific. The ideal use of a story is to answer a question and then add a small story to the end of your response. Here's an example:
Q: Why should we hire you?
A: I'm a hard worker and a multitasker. When I know there's a job to be done, or several jobs to be done, I go out and do them. While I was in college I was a reporter for the student newspaper, I was on the college soccer team, I was an R.A. in my dorm, I was the parliamentarian for the Student Senate, and I delivered pizzas on the weekends. I was able to do all that and maintain a grade point average of 3.76.
A few key points:
Don't go overboard on the stories. Develop four to five stories in advance of an interview, and be prepared to share about three to four of them.
Make sure any stories you share are relevant to the question being asked and the needs of the school or district. Don't tell about the time you got disoriented while spelunking in a cave in Puerto Rico over Spring Break— unless it has something specifically to do with the question being asked.
Don't forget that stories and personal anecdotes will set you apart from all the other candidates applying for the same position. You'll be remembered; they may not!