Effective Interviewing

The single most effective tool for finding the right teacher is the interview. But the art of interviewing is a subtle one. You need to prepare the ground first. Only if you sow the right seeds will your interview bear fruit.

It starts with the job ad. Be clear in your own mind what teacher profile you are seeking. If you are offering an entry-level post be sure you can give support in your organization from a Director of Studies used to nurturing newbies. Be precise in the ad:

    * state exactly what qualifications and level of experience you expect;
    * make sure the salary offered is appropriate—don’t offer peanuts if you want a top flighter because they just won’t apply;
    * give details of your location and the size of the establishment;
    * mention any special advantages that will make your job attractive to good candidates;
    * give a deadline for applications.

A precise ad will allow you to carry out stage two easily. After the deadline sift the applications discarding all those that don’t meet the qualifications and experience required. Next draw up your shortlist of three or four candidates from the remainder. Choose the applicants that have that special something: a well-presented resume; a good reason for wanting the job. Be cautious about candidates whose family circumstances might make it hard for them to relocate. Lots of jobs fall through at the last minute because the candidate decides against uprooting a family. Look for relevant experience: a candidate who has been working in large, state-run school might find it hard to adapt to a small organization, and vice versa. Somebody who has taught only adults may have problems if you require them to teach children. Look for round pegs!

Next structure the interview. Have a warm-up phase when you make the candidate feel welcome and relaxed. Teaching is a ‘people’ activity and you need to see how the candidate operates in normal circumstances. Ask open-ended questions to give the candidate scope: how would you…/what do you…/why do you…? Field some questions that probe their professional competence: ask them how they would explain a particular language point. Ask them questions to reveal how they would handle difficulties in the classroom: a student behavior problem or a sudden failure of equipment. Include a phase that allows them to ask you questions. Don’t forget to ascertain whether they would accept the job if offered it. Draw up a checklist that you can tick or cross to help you remember how the candidate performed.

Now you have to interpret the results. First look at the person as a whole: did the candidate come across as enthusiastic, lively, well informed? Remember that this teacher has got to motivate a class. That’s as much to do with personality as professional expertise. The candidate can have all the diplomas in the world, but if that spark is missing, your students won’t learn. Did the candidate seem resourceful? You need a teacher who can cope with the day-to-day niggles without blowing a fuse. Ask yourself if the candidate would relate well to your existing staff. And trust your instincts. If you find yourself left with nagging doubts about somebody, don’t take the risk. Finally, don’t be unrealistic. The perfect teacher doesn’t exist, but plenty of personable and competent ones do. Happy hunting!

By Brenda Townsend Hall

Brenda Townsend Hall has over twenty-five years' experience in ELT including school management, teacher training and consultancy. She is now a freelance consultant, trainer and writer. Her online training course, Teach Business English (www.teachbusinessenglish.com), for teachers of business English can also be delivered in person and she is available for consultancy on cross-cultural awareness (certification to deliver the Culture in the Workplace questionnaire) and management issues.