Coaching Advice for Acing Those Employment Interview Questions
There is a huge body of information on preparing for the job search process, interviews, and marketing yourself previously posted at this site. Where should you go first? Be sure to survey the following blogs:
- The “alphabet soup” of current educational jargon – terms, acronyms, and trends
- Pre-interview preparation and marketing strategies
- S is for storytelling at interviews
- Criteria for selection of the “ideal” school teacher candidate
- A blueprint for success – Preparing for the job interview
- The do’s and don’ts of interviewing
- Planning the “perfect” professional portfolio
- All eyes on the job resume/music teacher resumes revisited
- Tips on personal branding
- Hints for the job search process
- Interview questions revisited
- Those tricky interview questions
- 21st Century job search techniques
- Body language & interviewing for a job
- inteREVIEWING the situation… and jobs
- Dressing for success at teacher interviews
- The professional website
- Job interview rubrics
What else do you think we should cover on this topic? How about some specific “coaching” in recommended answers to commonly asked interview questions… tips from the experts, HR staff, interviewers, supervisors, and the like. We give each resource “the baton” and “the podium” to offer a glimpse in the triumphs, pitfalls, and pratfalls of frequently observed interviewee responses. For grasping the full comprehension and context, follow-up by reading the entire article posted at each link.
Many of these suggestions are geared to “general education” teacher interviews, but you can apply them to whatever specialty or grade level to which you are applying. After all, the person sitting at the other side of the desk is probably an administrator or director of curriculum, not a current/former music educator.
Again, be sure to visit each website. All told, there are more than 108 sample questions and responses in these collections below!
What is your teaching philosophy?
Teacher interview questions like this ask, “Are you a good fit for our school?” It’s the teaching equivalent of “tell me about yourself.” But —
Don’t answer elementary teacher interview questions for an unstructured school with, “I believe in structured learning.”
Take the time to learn the school’s philosophy before the interview.
Example answer: “I believe in teaching to each student’s passion. For instance, in one kindergarten class, my students had trouble with punctuation. I observed that one student, Mary, suddenly got excited about apostrophes. I fueled her passion with a big book on punctuation. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and soon the entire class was asking bright and animated questions. Whenever possible, I try to deliver structured lessons in an unstructured way like this.”
That answer uses the S.T.A.R. approach to teaching interview questions. It shows a Situation, a Task, an Action, and a Result.
This is from a Zety “career toolbox” website. They also offer an outstanding app to “build” a resume, CV, and cover letter, all with excellent examples.
Why do you want to be a teacher/work with children?
You have to know who you are as an individual and as an educator, and you have to know what you can bring to the school… This question gets to the heart of that self-awareness and passion. The interviewer wants to know: What drew you to this field, specifically?
How to answer it: It’s obvious of course, but you don’t want to say, “Summer vacations!” This should be easy to answer simply because there’s probably something you can think of that made you want to get into education. Maybe you love teaching your friends new things, or are a facts wizard bursting with knowledge, or love connecting with children. Focus not just on what you like about teaching but also on what you can… bring to the table.
For example, you might say: “I really admired my third grade teacher, Mrs. Kim, when I was younger, and even after I left her class I still felt myself drawn to her for advice and guidance over the years. It’s that sense of warmth and acceptance she provided me that inspired me to become a teacher. I want to be that person others can lean on as they navigate the oftentimes tough waters of growing up.”
In addition, the site above shares several important pointers from Calvin Brown, Senior Recruiter at Alignstaffing, an education staffing firm, and Dan Swartz, Managing Director at Resolve Talent Consulting, LLC, a firm that specializes in education recruitment.
Reaffirming the blog S is for storytelling at interviews: “If you have a situation or a story with a great outcome, absolutely share [it],” says Brown. “Stories are also a great ways to highlight your expertise and skill set if you don’t come with a traditional background in education.” Swartz adds, “Even if you’re not a teacher with experience, you can still highlight how you go about your work by giving past examples and scenarios of engaging others.”
How would you handle a difficult student?
Mary Findley, Senior Teacher Success Manager at Skillshare, former Teach for America Core Member and elementary school teacher, suggests this scenario and answer:
“When students are disengaged, it’s either because the content’s too challenging, it’s too easy, or there could be some outside-of-school factors,” explains Findley. A good answer delves into figuring out the cause, as that’s often the most important step.
Then, your response should show that “you’re meeting the student where they’re at and building on their strengths,” she says. It should also emphasize that you’re “collaboratively discussing” solutions with the student rather than ordering them around. If you have an example story to tell, that’s a great way to state your case.
You could say: “For me, the first step would be to pull them aside and address the issue privately. My biggest questions would be about deciphering what might be the root cause of this student’s bad behavior. Once I know what may be contributing to their difficulty, I really try to work with them to come up with a solution. I used this strategy in my last classroom, where I had a student who couldn’t seem to stay in his seat during lessons. We talked about how his behavior affected the rest of the class and why he kept moving around, and we agreed that when he was feeling really anxious he could raise his hand and I’d let him take a lap around the classroom, but only when it was appropriate. I also decided to make some of my lessons more active and hands-on so that other students could benefit from getting out of their seats every once in a while.”
How do you incorporate social-emotional learning in your lessons?
Many states and districts have added requirements for social-emotional learning into their standards. Explain how you will not only tend to the academic needs of your students but tie in lessons that satisfy the core SEL competencies. Describe how you will help students build their self- and social-awareness skills, how you will support them in building relationships, and how you will give them the skills to make responsible decisions.
If you have never heard the term “core SEL competencies” in your methods classes, peruse the online article “Building SEL Competency in the Elementary School Music Classroom” by Lindsey Jackson, posted on the NAfME Music in a Minuet website.
How will you meet the needs of the students in your class who are advanced or say they’re bored?
How will you engage reluctant learners?
School leaders don’t want to hear canned responses about how you can differentiate; they want you to give some concrete answers and support your ideas. Perhaps you help get kids prepared for scholastic competitions once they’ve mastered the standard (spelling bee or chemistry olympiad, anyone?). Maybe you offer more advanced poetry schemes for your English classes or alternate problem-solving methods for your math students. Whatever it is, make sure that you express the importance that all students are engaged, even the ones that are already sure to pass the state standardized test.
Teaching in an age when we must compete with Fortnite, Snapchat, and other forms of instant entertainment makes this question valid and necessary. How will you keep students’ heads off their desks, their pencils in their hands, and their phones in their pockets? Share specific incentive policies, engaging lessons you’ve used, or ways you’ve built relationships to keep students on task. An anecdote of how a past student (remember to protect privacy) that you taught was turned on to your subject because of your influence would also help your credibility here.
What are your greatest weaknesses?
Considered one of the “trick” or unfair questions by many, you should still be ready for it. One of the keys to sounding sincere is to personalize your response, and provide specific examples of the “problem,” self-improvement goals, and positive growth and progress.
At some point during the interview process, you may be asked to describe your personal strengths and weaknesses. Many job candidates are unsure about how to approach this question. However, by establishing the appropriate context, you can give hiring managers an honest, thoughtful answer that highlights both your self-awareness and professionalism.
Preparing ahead of time for this question is a valuable use of your time before the interview. Even if you aren’t asked about your strengths and weaknesses specifically, scripting out your response to this common question will give you a candid yet compelling description of what you bring to the table and how you wish to grow in the future.
Because we all have weaknesses but rarely want to admit to them, it’s best to begin with a truthful answer and build your script from there. Select an answer that a hiring manager would not consider to be essential qualities or skills for the position as well as qualities that you are actively improving.
Some examples of weaknesses include:
- Perfectionism (Note: this can be a strength in many roles, so be sure you have an example of how perfectionism can be a problem to demonstrate that you’ve thought deeply about this trait)
- Shy/Not adept at public speaking
- Competitive (Note: Similarly to perfectionism, this can be a strength)
- Limited experience in a non-essential skill (especially if obvious on your resume)
- Not skilled at delegating tasks
- Take on too much responsibility
- Not detail-oriented/Too detail-oriented
- Not comfortable taking risks
- Too focused/Lack of focus
Example weakness: Perfectionism
“I tend to be a perfectionist and can linger on the details of a project which can threaten deadlines. Early on in my career, when I worked for ABC Inc., that very thing happened. I was laboring over the details and in turn, caused my manager to be stressed when I almost missed the deadline on my deliverables. I learned the hard way back then, but I did learn. Today I’m always aware of how what I’m doing affects my team and management. I’ve learned how to find the balance between perfect and very good and being timely.”
Example weakness: Difficulty with an area of expertise
“Math wasn’t my strongest subject in school. To be honest, as a student, I didn’t understand how it would be applicable in my adult life. Within a few years of being in the working world, though, I realized that I wanted to take my career in a more analytical direction. At first, I wasn’t sure where to begin, but I found some free online courses that refreshed the important basics for me. In my most recent job, this new foundation has enabled me to do my own goal setting and tracking. Actually, getting over the math anxiety I had when I was younger has been incredibly empowering.”
One final resource, perhaps more focused on business or company interviews, but still applicable to education positions, is the work of author, career counselor and interview coach Robin Ryan. Knowing that college students are by necessity drawn to “free stuff,” I would first view one of her YouTube videos such as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_lgyK37JJM or venture into reading her “how-to” articles at http://www.robinryan.com/index.php/articles. There are some excellent gems perfect for “collegiates” here:
- Interviewing — AVOID Getting Rejected by the Employer
- How College Grads Can Land a New Job FAST
- 25 Interview Questions You Can Ask
- Your Resume Needs to Advertise These Skills
- Five Questions You Should Ask in Your Next Job Interview
Focusing on Robin Ryan’s “interview tools” such as “the five-point agenda” and “60-second sell,” her book 60 Seconds and You’re Hired ” is inspiring and provides much greater depth (76 pages!) on answering those “thorny” interview questions. Nearly all of the sample questions above are also analyzed, offering easy-to-understand comments and recommendations for specific career paths. For example, Robin Ryan also weighs in on that inquiry “What is your greatest weakness?” – first offering to joke about it “I cannot resist chocolate!” and then, if it is reiterated, endorsing a strategy to share a work habit problem (like being a “Type-A” person) on which you are currently improving but is not critical for the position they are seeking to fill.
To sum up the book, these are my favorite sections:
- Chapter 2: The Five Point Agenda
- Chapter 3: The 60-Second Sell
- Chapter 5: Interview Etiquette (including tips on proper dress, good manners, nonverbal and verbal communication, the hand shake, and eye contact)
- Chapter 7: 60-Second Answers to Tough, Tricky Answers
- Chapter 12: 12 Pitfalls to Avoid
In conclusion, as stated throughout all of this literature on interview techniques, the keys to success are preparation and practice… just like getting ready for your semester jury or senior recital. After studying these materials, collaborate with your peers to hold “mock interviews,” video-record yourself answering the questions, and take time to review and self-assess. Yes, you CAN and WILL do well at future employment screenings!
Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com:
- “job-interview” & “entrepreneurship-planner-solopreneur” by Sue Styles
- “woman-office-teacher” by Jared Soto
- “interview-superior-staff” by Gerd Altmann
- “resume-cv-resume-template” by mohamed_hassan
- “job-interview-colleagues-business” by Ibrahim Adabara
- “child-education-fear-terror” by Ulrike Mai
- “women-university-you-bored-young” by Diana Serna
- “job-interview-tie-smart-man” by shauking
- “target-dart-aim-success-goal” by Deedster
- “men-employees-suit-work-greeting” by Werner Heiber
© 2020 Paul K. Fox