Final Tips to Land Your First Music Teacher Job
“I hate interviews – but you have to do them.” – Jackie Chan
You just received that blessed, long-awaited phone call… “XYZ School District has reviewed your application and résumé, and would like to call you in for an interview.” Hooray!
Okay, but now what?
There is no perfect formula for “acing” a particular interview or clinching employment opportunities. Like music auditions, there are a lot of variables and factors even outside the control of the job seeker. One might say there’s a lot of “luck” involved in the inspiring a warm and productive chemistry/atmosphere at the interview, and “clicking” with members on the HR review panel. There is no magic “pill” or perfect process to communicate your strengths and experiences to the interviewer and matching them with the needs of the position.
When I ventured out the first time into the public school music teacher job market (1978), there were many more potential candidates than openings. The competition was very high. I had to be aware that selling myself as a “total music education professional” was essential, not allowing myself to be branded (and eliminated from the running) as a much more limited “music specialist” (string teacher, vocalist, band director, etc.). I had to “prove competency” and provide evidence (portfolio of my personal philosophy of music education, stories/anecdotes about my experiences, certifications, sample lesson plans, music programs, recommendations, and other documentation) that would support my mastery of the institution’s teaching standards, positive personality traits, and overall suitability for the job. I’ve said it before! This is everything about “getting noticed,” “making connections” with the interviewers, and demonstrating that you have “what it takes” and would be a “good fit” for their school district.
So, how do you get a job during hard times? Embrace and model the “five P’s” to employment success: Persistence, Professionalism, PR savviness, a “Powerful” organizational system, and (of course) Patience!
Hope these recommendations help! Feel free to share your thoughts. Let’s here from YOU!
DO THE PREP: A Thorough Sequence for Planning and Practice
“Rarely does an interviewer ask questions you did not expect. I have given a lot of interviews, and I have concluded that the questions always look alike. I could always give the same answers.” – Italo Calvino
Practice makes perfect, they say, and preparation is the name of the game.
Trying to analyze and provide insight in developing the skill sets necessary for positive employment interviewing and “personal branding,” I have written several other blogs about marketing professionalism, formation of a unified philosophy of music education, current trends and “buzz words” in education, learning storytelling skills, the attributes of a “model” music educator and assessment of prospective candidates, and sample interview questions. At the bottom of this blog, please click on the links. (It is suggested to read the entire sequence in order for the best effect!)
DO THE GROUNDWORK: Research, Lead Time and Advance Leg Work
“Failing to prepare for your job interview is, in our experience, the most common reason why people fail at interviews. In fact, recent research found that 95% of job interviewers believe 90% of interviewees come to job interviews ill-prepared. You want to be in the 10% of interviewees who do prepare. Right?” – Catherine Jones, Recruitment Expert, at http://www.job-application-and-interview-advice.com/preparing-for-an-interview.html.
- The job opening and responsibilities;
- Previous employees in this position;
- General information about the music program;
- School district’s mission statement and administrative support of the arts;
- Work climate;
- Community support.
Discover in advance and/or ask a few of these questions at the interview:
- What do you know about this school district?
- What music classes and extra-curricular activities are offered?
- How many periods (not counting lunch) are scheduled daily?
- Are any specialties emphasized e.g. Kodaly, Orff, Dalcroze?
- What is the average make-up of the community (education and socioeconomics)?
- What educational, cultural, and sport/leisure activities are available in and around the community?
- What position(s) is(are) open and what duties are required?
- What avenues of professional development exist?
- What percentage of students are in the music program?
- What percentage of the students own instruments, take lessons, seek outside ensembles, etc.?
- What indicators of cooperative parental and community support exist (concert attendance, private teachers, booster groups, community arts organizations, etc.)?
- What resources are budgeted (sheet music, music technology, field trips, piano tuning, instruments and instrumental repair, teacher in-service, festivals, etc.)
- How often is curriculum updated?
- What is the school district grading scale and music grading policy/practice?
Their website is an excellent resource to find out information. If the district has “teacher pages” or sections that the faculty may post information, review all submissions by the music staff and administration. Make sure you are aware of the mission and vision statements of the district and have a workable knowledge of the strategic plan, goals, and recent curricular/program innovations… almost always available as a public record.
Plan ahead! Learn the name, title, and level of responsibility of the administrator(s) and/or interviewer(s). Make a trial run to visit the site of the interview, observing first-hand any potential traffic or construction issues that could affect your arrival time. Arrive early, at least fifteen minutes prior to the appointment. (Punctuality is absolutely essential!) Dress to project an image of confidence and success. (Yes, this means wear a suit! If you are a guy, wear a tie!) Bring additional materials, such as transcript, portfolio, updated résumé, etc.
DO THE POSITIVE: Self-Confidence and a Self-Assured Mindset
“Emphasize your strengths on your résumé, in your cover letters and in your interviews. It may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people simply list everything they’ve ever done. Convey your passion and link your strengths to measurable results. Employers and interviewers love concrete data.” – Marcus Buckingham
“One of the most common mistakes for an entry-level job interview is to take the position: ‘What is this job going to do for me?’ You should be saying ‘Here’s what I can do and here’s what I want to do to help you.’ ” – Norah O’Donnell
Many say that first impressions are critical during the interview. According to Business Insider at http://www.businessinsider.com/only-7-seconds-to-make-first-impression-2013-4, “you only have seven seconds to make a strong first impression.” I have also heard that after four minutes, it’s all over!
The research also suggests that during the interview, the evaluation of your “merit” is based 7% on what you say, 38% on your voice or how you say it, and 55% on our facial expressions and non-verbal cues.
Do your best to relax and promote a calm, positive, and cheerful attitude. Share a warm greeting and firm handshake. Build rapport and demonstrate an attitude of openness and sensitivity to the interviewer’s style. Show a feeling of mutual responsibility for creating a comfortable atmosphere and establishing common ground.
Treat the interview process as an exchange of information between two (or more) individuals. Bring your questions! It is important you show you are motivated to learn about the details about the program and the position.
Be yourself, and demonstrate relaxed speech, posture, and body language. Angle your position so as not to sit directly in front of the interviewer. If possible, select the chair beside not across the desk, avoiding the creation of so-called “invisible barriers.”
Use the person’s name when talking. It is the best way to get/keep his/her attention.
A few more positive nonverbal cues to adopt include the following:
- Respond to the interviewer with an occasional affirmative nodding of the head.
- Sit erect in the chair with hands, feet, and arms unfolded, leaning forward slightly.
- Offer good eye contact and smile appropriately.
- Maintain a pleasant facial expression.
- Look interested in and listen to the interviewer.
Provide thoughtful, professional, and firm answers to the interviewer’s questions:
- Back up statements with specific examples.
- Share the outcome or solution to a specific problem.
- Summarize to emphasize your strengths.
If you don’t know the answer to a particular question, be honest and admit it. Inexperience is not a crime! And, be sure to say what you mean! If you end up getting the job, you may be “stuck” with your own words!
Finally, it’s all about feeling and projecting self-assuredness – and remembering “the three C’s of interviewing” – be Calm, Concise, and Congenial. No matter how you feel inside, you need to show you are a confident and competent candidate worthy of their consideration.
Check out additional advice at “Acing the Interview” – http://www.myfuture.com/careers/articles-advice/acing-the-interview.
DON’T DO THESE BOO-BOOs: Bloopers, Blunders, and Bad Habits to Avoid
“I picked up an issue of Cosmopolitan the other day that had tips for job interviews, because I was like, ‘I need to get better at interviews.’ The article was basically about how to get someone not to hate you in 20 minutes. Every single thing they told you not to do, I was like, ‘I do that every day.’ ” – Jennifer Lawrence
- Repeated verbal pauses, or exclamations of “Umm” or “Ahhh” or “Like…”
- Unsubstantiated or unsupported statements
- Use of “weak words” that suggest a lack of conviction (“kind of” or “sort of” or “I feel like”)
- Failure to look directly at the interviewer(s)
- Verbal clutter (too many long run-on statements)
- Any form of fidgeting (tapping your foot, spinning a pen between your fingers, wiggling in your seat, etc.)
- Fast talking or dropping the ends of your words
- Answers that are too casual, personal, or informal, or “flip” conversation
- “Bird walking,” changing of the subject, irrelevant or unclear responses to a question
- Touching of your hair, clothes, nose, mouth, or anywhere else on your body
- Responses that go overboard and/or volunteer too much
- Forceful, dominating, one-sided, opinionated views or arrogant attitudes
- Nonverbal cues that reflect nerves, insecurity or lack of confidence (slouching or poor posture, looking down, failure to smile, clenching or keeping hands in lap)
- Hollow, insincere, or disingenuous conversation
DO THE ANALYSIS: The Post Interview “Postmortem”
“I sometimes find that in interviews you learn more about yourself than the person learned about you.” – William Shattner
“I can count on one hand the number of people who wrote me a thank you letter after having an interview, and I gave almost all of them a job.” – Kate Reardon
After the interview, debrief yourself! (Do this on the same day – don’t wait for the memories to fade!) Write down everything you felt you handled right and wrong. Critique your “performance,” and document the details (including all names) for future reference. Learn from your mistakes. Look up the terminology or jargon on which you “stumbled” or with which you felt unfamiliar… so you will be ready for the next interview!
If you did well at the first job screening, you may be asked to come back for a second interview or “demonstration lesson.” In most cases, a member from the first panel or a music staff member may contact you and tell you what they want to see taught… perhaps leading a general music class on a specified concept, conducting a small ensemble, or teaching beginning instrumental music or jazz. Get ready! Look at your notes. Practice and drill (again) on those lists of interview questions, paying particular attention to possible content-area queries. If you did the research on the school district’s curriculum and focus areas of the music program, it will help you to prepare for the demonstration lesson.
Note information you need to include in future correspondence and follow-ups. This is where the “power organizer” in you should come out. Every communication you have “from” and “to” the school district should be recorded in a journal, and include the name/e-mail/extension of the secretary/interviewer/administrator involved and date of receipt and your response.
Write a personalized thank-you letter to the individuals on the interview committee. (Set yourself apart from the other applicants!) In your letter, you could offer to send them a(nother) copy of your digital portfolio or DVD video files of student teaching and/or other samples of your interaction with students (leading a church choir, conducting a small instrumental ensemble, coaching a marching band sectional, providing a private lesson, playing a piano accompaniment, etc.).
Follow-up your visit by making phone calls, fulfilling additional paperwork as requested, mailing materials (e.g. official transcripts) if asked, validating completion of coursework and clearances, confirming availability, etc. However, be careful not to become a “nag” or nuisance by making repeated calls and e-mails.
Break a leg! We are counting on every excellent music educator to become successful in marketing themselves and landing a position! Frankly, regardless of the current job market and status of arts education in the schools, we need more dedicated and inspiring music teachers to “get out there” and facilitate the spread of creative self-expression!
© 2015 Paul K. Fox
Additional Paulkfoxusc Blogs on Interview Preparation
Marketing Professionalism (getting a music teacher job)
- The definition and “best practices” of professionalism: BLOG 2
- Unified philosophy of music education and avoidance of “specialization” in focus and teacher prep: BLOG 4
- Pre-interview preparation and marketing strategies: BLOG 6
- The “alphabet soup” of current educational jargon – terms, acronyms, and trends: BLOG 11
- S is for storytelling at interviews: BLOG 14
- Criteria for selection of the “ideal” school teacher candidate: BLOG 15
- A blueprint for success – Preparing for the job interview: BLOG 18
- (Added on 11/15/15) Planning the “perfect” professional portfolio: BLOG 22