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The Administrator’s Guide to Interviewing for Intangibles

The Administrator’s Guide to Interviewing for Intangibles

Filling slots in the teaching world is a necessary task for a school leader. Colleagues retire, move away, or unfortunately, leave the profession. As we all know, teaching is a very unique profession, and it’s important to find the intangibles within candidates that can signify success. Here are some things to look for as you’re interviewing this summer.

List the traits that can lead to success in your school

Is community outreach important at your school? How about multicultural understanding? Do you serve a student population with a wide set of abilities for which creativity is highly valued? Every teacher should possess the qualities of perseverance and calmness under pressure, but are there specific instances where those traits come into play at your facility? Ask yourself these questions and more in an effort to get an accurate sketch of a teacher who would be successful in your unique environment. 

Skip generalizations, and ask for more stories

Interviews often give a less-than-accurate picture. Skilled, experienced interviewees have an answer for anything, while the inexperienced may be nervous. One way to see a more authentic picture of the candidate’s potential is to stay away from questions like: “Would you say you are a diligent worker?” and instead ask for a story that could show the applicant’s diligence. The same goes for all of the traits you identified in the first step. Asking for specific stories can demonstrate a potential employee’s ability over hypothetical or “what if” responses.

Ask about mistakes  

Any teacher will tell you that days in which everything goes to plan in a classroom don’t exist. You want people who will admit to their mistakes because reflection is an integral part of growing as a teacher. Did the candidate take a risk that didn’t pay off? In many instances, that’s a great sign of someone with creativity and a determination to improve.

When things went sideways, did the applicant seek out help? This is a critical trait in a profession that loses half its members before the five-year mark. It’s incredibly sad to have to accept the resignation of a teacher who was having trouble or experiencing burnout that no one knew about. There are plenty of strategies to help struggling teachers, but they should feel comfortable enough to admit that they need extra support.

Bonus tip: Don't test people

We've all heard horror stories where someone who should have been perfect for a job missed out on the opportunity over some Willy Wonka-like test during the interview that they didn't pass. Things like judging a candidate by a handshake, seeing if an interviewee will send a thank-you note, or even a purposeful spelling mistake in the job description to see which candidates can catch it might seem like a clever way to sort through interviews, but these "tests" will ultimately do more harm than good. These "gotcha" moments generally don't look good to a potential employee, and can put unnecessary barriers between you and a quality candidate. Instead, be straightforward and honest in your interviews, and look for someone who is straightforward and honest with you back. 

Looking for resources on teacher retention? Check out this blog post on how to keep teacher retention rates up and increase student achievement!

This blog was originally published July 2018 and has been updated.

scott.sterling's picture
Scott Sterling

Scott Sterling is a former English teacher who worked in Title I middle and high schools in St. Petersburg, Florida who is now a freelance writer who focuses on education. He is also a stay-at-home dad to his 4-year-old daughter Lily, who will soon be starting her own educational journey.