Dress for Success at Teacher Interviews

Tips for Modeling the “Proficient Professional” Look

“Make no mistake — you are being judged as soon as you walk into the room and the interviewer has made an initial impression of you in the first few seconds they see you based on how you look. That may not be fair but it is reality in many cases. An interviewer is expecting you to dress appropriately for the interview. If not, you are showing the interviewer that you don’t understand the basics of what it takes to be successful in the workplace. If this is the case, you already have one strike against you.”  —  Andy Teach, author of From Graduation to Corporation, http://www.amazon.com/From-Graduation-Corporation-Practical-Corporate/dp/1438930631

Trolling online for a consensus on what to wear to school employment screenings, I found repetitions of the words “professional,” “appropriate,” and “comfortable,” but no single standard of dress. Most agree that you must exhibit an image of confidence, optimism-1241418-1competence, and responsibility, and should probably error on the side of more formal attire rather than day-to-day casual.

Dressing appropriately for your teacher interview makes your critical first impression on the interview committee. Betsy Weigle from Classroom Connection explains in a YouTube video how to avoid common mistakes plus tells you what to bring along for success at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1FvnI7Bivg.

  1. Dress comfortably but dressier than what you would wear teaching in a classroom.
  2. Your appearance should be professional and appropriate, and show that you really want to be considered for the job.
  3. The focus should be on you, not what you are wearing.
  4. Ladies should wear a skirt or slacks, blouse and a little sweater. A dress would be fine, too (but don’t be too dressy).
  5. Shoes and jewelry should be comfortable AND yet not be noisy or distracting.
  6. No perfume or cologne: Your presence should not enter the room before you do.
  7. For men, a collared shirt is recommended. Dress-up a little bit.
  8. Jeans are never appropriate for a job interview.
  9. For both men and women, adding a little color is a great choice.
  10. Do not wear a mini-skirt, t-shirt, shorts, or sport shoes.

Hannah Hudson shares six hints in “Real Teachers Spill: What to Wear to a Teacher Interview” from We Are Teachers. She provides good photographic examples of her thoughts maintaining style and comfort while exhibiting professionalism, so be sure to read the entire article at https://www.weareteachers.com/best-of-teacher-helpline-what-to-wear-to-a-teacher-interview/.

  1. sharp-dressed-breast-1241310Suits are always a good choice.
  2. If a suit isn’t an option, try a pair of dress pants or skirt with coordinating top and blazer or cardigan.
  3. Women, consider a black sheath dress.
  4. For men who don’t want to go the suit route, we advise a button-down shirt and pants.
  5. Don’t forget the footwear!
  6. Choose a fun accessory.

In a blog entitled “Teacher Interview Style” posted on Classy in the Classroom at http://classyinaclassroom.blogspot.com/2014/07/teacher-interview-style.html, a very upbeat Amy Disbrow personally models her professional attire with remarks on selecting specific styles and colors.

Pictures are also provided in “How to Dress for an Interview” by Alison Doyle from the balance. Start reading the entire blog-post at https://www.thebalance.com/how-to-dress-for-an-interview-2061163. Sample interview outfits and advice for men are posted at https://www.thebalance.com/interview-outfits-for-men-2061090 and for women at https://www.thebalance.com/interview-outfits-for-women-2061091.

Michigan State University’s Career Services Network “Dressing for Interviews” offers additional recommendations (some hopefully under the category of “common sense”) at http://careernetwork.msu.edu/jobs-internships/appearance-and-attire/dressing-for-interviews.html:

  1. It is rarely appropriate to “dress down” for an interview, regardless of company [or school district] dress code policy. When in doubt, go conservative.
  2. Avoid loud colors and flashy ties.
  3. Clothing should be neat, clean, and pressed. If you don’t have an iron, either buy one or be prepared to visit the dry-cleaner’s often.
  4. Shower or bathe the morning of the interview. Wear deodorant. Don’t wear cologne or aftershave. You don’t want to smell overpowering or worse, cause an allergic reaction.
  5. Make sure you have fresh breath. Brush your teeth before you leave for the interview, and don’t eat before the interview. Don’t smoke right before an interview.

Finally, it is probably worth reading excerpts regarding school institutional dress codes. Good examples include the following:

caring-teacher-1622554-1

  • From Education World at http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin422_a.shtml: “The staff policy prohibits jeans, see-through clothing, torn clothing, short or very tight-fitting clothing, sweat suits, shorts, hats, with exception of religious head-wear, thongs (flip flops), and sneakers or athletic shoes, although gym teachers are permitted to wear athletic shoes.”
  • From the Association for American Educators at https://www.aaeteachers.org/index.php/blog/802-teacher-dress-codes: “Litchfield Elementary School District in Arizona piloted a policy designed to prohibit rubber-sole flip-flops, visible undergarments, any visible cleavage, bare midriffs, clothes that are deemed too tight, too loose or transparent, bare shoulders, short skirts and exercise pants. Administrators in the district also suggested guidelines for natural hair color, limiting piercings, and covering tattoos — all of which can come across as unprofessional.”
  • From Teaching Community “What Teachers Should Never (Ever) Wear” at http://teaching.monster.com/careers/articles/8431-what-teachers-should-never-ever-wear: “How you choose to dress each morning reflects how you feel about your job — that you take your position seriously, that you are ready to work and that you pay attention to detail and know what you expect to encounter that day. You wouldn’t go to a construction site in your favorite four-inch stilettos, right? Of course not, you’d go in a hard hat, because it’s appropriate for the situation. Appearances matter!”
  • From Edutopia “How Should Teachers Dress” by Kevin Jarrett at https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/how-should-teachers-dress: “There is a LOT to consider between formal district dress code policies, personal taste and preference, teaching assignment, community norms, individual income levels, and even climate concerns. As a new teacher, you obviously are going to get your cues from the existing teaching staff, and will probably aim a tad higher, at least initially, while you get established. For most men, this will mean a long-sleeve dress shirt and tie, maybe even a sport coat too. A suit is not out of the question.”

Over the span of my 35+ years in education, I, too, have noticed a significant “slip” or shift to more casual and informal clothing. Some change was expected. After all, in the Rules for Teaching 1915 (see http://www.openculture.com/2013/09/rules-for-teachers-in-1872-1915-no-drinking-smoking-or-trips-to-barber-shops-and-ice-cream-parlors.html), these guidelines were strictly enforced (mostly for woman teachers):

  • You may not smoke cigarettes.
  • You may not dress in bright colors.
  • You may under no circumstances dye your hair.
  • You must wear at least two petticoats.
  • Your dresses may not be any shorter than two inches above the ankles.

interview-1238367-1My view? Teaching is still among the most conservative of occupations. That is how it is viewed by the general public, parents of school-aged children, School Boards, administrators, and interview panels. You can certainly exercise your right to wear whatever you want and show-off numerous body piercings or tattoos… but, like it or not, the school districts are within their rights to choose someone else.

In dealing with our most “treasured blessings” – the students and future hopes of mankind – educators’ ethics and code of professional practices should continue to reach for the highest standards of conduct and appearances. Why? Our kids deserve it!

Hope these online sources help to give you a balanced perspective! Check out the rest of my articles on “Becoming a Music Educator” (click here). PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits (in order) from FreeImages.com: Rita Mezzela, Michael Roach, Keith Syvinski, Heriberto Herrera, and Martin Boulanger

 

 

 

 

Networking Niceties

The “How to Schmooze” Guide for Prospective Music Teachers

key-to-success-1307591Do you have a business card, e-portfolio, resume, and professional website?

There are three critical skills you need to foster searching for a school music position, marketing yourself, interviewing, and landing a job:

  • Personal branding (who are you, what makes you unique, and what do you have to offer?)
  • Story telling (anecdotes) of your positive attributes and personal brand, and
  • Networking (associating with other professionals and getting your stories “out there”).
In previous articles posted in this blog series, we have discussed the essential need for the development and constant revisions of a professional e-portfolio, resume, and website. If you have not read them, click on the following:

connected-people-1165937Merriam-Webster defines “networking” (noun) as “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.”

The concept of networking is two-way communications. Just like collective sets of nerve synapses, two-way connections are expected to fire repeatedly in all directions. That’s actually the science behind memory. For professional networking, it is your “charge” to create multiple pathways to/from school administrators, HR managers and secretaries, music supervisors and department heads, and music teachers… and you – your skills, accomplishments, unique qualities, experience, education, and personality traits.

Business Cards – One of the Earliest Known Methods of Networking

Do you know the history of the business card? How long ago was it introduced?

You might have guessed it was first “kicked-off” in the 1980s, the decade that corporations expanded on the adoption of the 3.5 by 2-inch rectangle business card format we know today.

However, according to Design Float Blog [Source: “A Brief History of Business Cards” posted at http://www.designfloat.com/blog/2012/04/02/history-business-cards/], its origin can be traced back to 15th century China. They were first known as “visiting cards” and used to announce one’s intention of meeting with another individual.

king-louis-at-versailles-1553663During the 17th century, especially during the reign of Louis the 14th, the “calling card” made its heyday in Europe. “…An individual’s success or failure in society often depended on the strength of their personal promotion.”

Etiquette was involved in the deployment of “acquaintance cards” in the 17-18th century.

“…A strict protocol existed to ensure that calling cards were employed correctly. If a gentleman wished to call on a lady, he had a lot to think about. On making a first call, he had to make sure there is a separate card for each lady of the household. Alternatively, he could fold his card down the middle to indicate it was meant for all members of the household. Cards had to be left with the servant; admission to the house would only be permitted after the hostess had examined the card. Calling cards were to be collected on a small tray kept in the hallway, which would be presented by a servant on the palm of his left hand. While a gentleman may carry his cards loose in his pocket, a lady should use a card case. If the gentleman received no acknowledgement of his card, he had to accept that there would be no continuation of the acquaintance. And on no account was it ever acceptable to sneak a peak at cards that had been left by other callers.”

Later in the 17th century, London merchants used “trade cards.” At a time when street numbers were not in popular use, these cards were crucial in promoting the business and hands-3-hand-holding-a-card-1440323informing customers of its location and services available.

So how do you collect and distribute your business cards? What methods do you use to record and store the contacts you meet on a daily basis? How is your contact information given out to every professional you meet, especially at conferences, mass employment screenings, or job fairs?

Business Card Basics

Today’s professionals still exchange this “old-fashioned invention” called a business card as part of employment and business networking. (Who knows? Maybe someday we will be doing this electronically. Perhaps, our new “super-smart phones” will automatically talk to one another and seamlessly pass on our contact information.)

According to Ivan Misner, contributor to the online Entrepreneur website (http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/159492), “The business card is the most powerful single business tool – dollar for dollar – you can invest in. It’s compact, energy-efficient, low-cost, low-tech, and keeps working for you hours, weeks and even years after it leaves your hands!”

He outlines what it does in support of person-to-person networking:

  • The business card tells people your name and the name of your business.
  • It provides prospects a way to contact you.
  • business-card-1525590It gives others a taste of your work, style and personality.
  • It can be so unusual or attractive or strange or charming or funny that it tends to stick in the memory of the prospective employer like a great radio or television ad.
  • It can be reused, passes from person to person, giving the same message to each person who comes in contact with it.

What data should be shared  on a business card? The quick (and obvious) answer is your name, mailing address (street, city, state, zip), cell phone (and if you still have a landline telephone number), email address, and extremely important – a link to your professional website (and password if needed).

Your Personal Brand Displayed on a Piece of Cardboard

Huffington Post provides some insightful recommendations on the design of business cards (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/12/designing-a-business-card_n_997449.html):

  1. Your card should look professional and project your image.
  2. Do not use clip art.
  3. Consider printing a QR code with direct access to your webpage.
  4. Resist a cluttered business card layout.
  5. Do not try to save money and buy cheap business cards.

Like it or not, your business card will convey (accurately or inaccurately) your image – possibly an instant snapshot of your professionalism, proficiency, and personality – to potential HR people and the decision-makers that hire future staff. What do you want to business-card-1237839display… traits of artistry, collaboration, commitment, discipline, even temperament, goal-minded, initiative, leadership, mastery of music and music education, organization, positive outlook, style, tact, and/or teamwork… or just the opposite?

Check out the unique examples and design elements (size, shape, color, style, materials, effects, printing methods, etc.) at http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2010/06/how-to-design-your-business-card/. A wooden business card? How crazy do you want to be? Just remember, educational leaders are generally very “conservative” in the search for filling teaching positions in the public schools.

Readability and clarity are important (#4 above). After retirement, I had a lot of fun designing a new business card. Many retirees (myself included) lean towards putting more information than what is generally needed on their card. I was also guilty of printing a hodgepodge of all of my past school positions. Ironic, isn’t it? The business card is not really the device to archive past successes, especially for a retiree who is not trying to find PaulFox_Logoa new full-time job!

I even went as far as to hire a professional layout artist to create a new personal logo. Can you tell my focus areas and favorite composer from the image to the right?

The Act of Sharing

When you meet someone for the first time, the unspoken code/decorum of networking and professionalism directs you to flash your most charming smile, look the person in the eye, introduce yourself (“hi, my name is…”), and offer/give a firm handshake. Repeat his/her name (place it permanently in your memory), and use it to strike up a short conversation to familiarize/update each other about where he/she works, and where you have most recently graduated or been employed.

First impressions mean a lot. Experts say that early judgments about you are made in the business-man-modified-1241003first ten seconds, and after four minutes, it’s all over. For employment consideration, others have written that you are evaluated by 7% what you say, 38% by your vocal tone, and 55% by your facial expressions.

Be very positive and be sure to closely listen to the other professional, responding to his/her questions or topics. Be outgoing and energetic (but not pushy) and friendly (but not overly personal). My former superintendent commented on a music teacher interview he experienced that did not go very well. The potential candidate did not seem to show personal initiative or self-direction, and lacked any overt displays of excitement or energy. Administrators want to see that you are truly committed to making a music program successful (“will go that extra mile”), have creative ideas to help “grow the program,” and love to work with children.

Before you close your “network connection,” be sure to swap business cards (have yours handy – nothing slows things down more than fumbling in your wallet or coat pocket), and make a promise to touch base with him/her again.

Gathering Data from Your End

One of the most important concepts about networking is how you use the information you collect. You need to “tag” or catalog the names of individuals with whom you come in contact, to help sort and create an easy-access index of professional resources.

stocking-for-business-1240257After the opportunity presents itself to exchange business cards, you need to save and organize his/her data in a way to be able to place/find the acquaintance for future reference. Why was this professional important to you to remember his or her name? How, when, and where did you meet? Reference the subjects you may have discussed, school affiliation, title, and locality of the contact, so at some point, you can lay your fingers on the name in your file; just search on the “key” word or phrase like “choral director” or “XYZ School District.”

As soon as possible, copy the new contact’s name, information, and subject areas into your smartphone’s (and computer’s) contact app. If he/she was a potential administrator, department head, or teacher in the district, you are well within your rights to follow-up with an e-mail. “Do you know of any possible future music positions (or retirements) in your district?” “Should I send a letter to the superintendent for his consideration?”

Now Get Out There and “Meet and Greet!”

According to Devora Zack in her blog “Ten Tips for People Who Hate Networking” (a great read, see http://www.careerealism.com/hate-networking-tips/), “…Real networking is about establishing mutually beneficial, lasting connections, one person at a time… This new and improved definition of networking means being true to you, capitalizing on your strengths, and tossing aside ‘rules’ that don’t match your temperament.” She proposes several unique “rules for the road” for making positive peer connections from the book Networking for People Who Hate Networking (Berrett-Koehler 2010):

  1. Be true to you
  2. Realize less is more
  3. interview-607713_1920Plan your first impression
  4. Volunteer
  5. Get in line
  6. Set challenging yet achievable networking goals
  7. Show, don’t tell
  8. Research
  9. Listen
  10. Follow-up, or forget about it

Another good resource for quiet/unassuming personality types is the online article “Twelve Tips for Shy People” by Meredith Levinson: http://www.cio.com/article/2437488/relationship-building-networking/how-to-network–12-tips-for-shy-people.html.

Conclusion

Take advantage of any chance you have to present your personal brand, “sell yourself,” and connect with colleagues in the field of music education. Practice a few “schmoozing” techniques, but really try to be open, positive, true to yourself, and well-organized. The business card helps you to “call on” and make a lasting impression to potential employers. Good luck, and happy job hunting!

business-card-1238267

Sources for this article and additional hints on the use of business cards and networking may be found at the following sites. Here’s YOUR homework for further reading!

PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox