*Practice interviewing. Get a list of possible questions and ask a friend or colleague to interview you. Tape it and analyze your responses for both content and delivery. Listen for hesitation words and sounds like “you know,” “mmmm,” “ahh,” and “well.” Try to eliminate these from your answers. Make sure that you sound “professional,” using correct terminology and proper grammar.
*Be ready to respond to “Tell me a little about yourself.” This statement is an inevitable request from most employers who would like to know about what you will bring to the district/school. Memorize a synopsis of your experience and personal characteristics, emphasizing those that make you a “good fit” for the open position. This isn’t a time to be shy. Brag about your assets and don’t mention your deficits. However, always be honest about your capabilities.
*Confirm the date and time of your interview the day before your appointment. This shows that you are an organized professional who values the time of those conducting the interview. It also helps to foster communication and helps to prevent problems with last minute changes in scheduling.
*Take time to get organized even before you leave for the interview. Make sure you have all materials organized in your briefcase. In addition to your résumé and portfolio, make sure you have a notebook or tablet, a pen, business cards, and anything else you might need.
* Your attire should be conservative and something in which you feel comfortable. Women should be aware of the length of their skirt; men should wear a dress shirt and tie. Cover any tattoos, body piercing, etc.
* Arrive on time. Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early. Allow enough time to find a parking space, locate the room, and find the bathroom (check your appearance and take a deep breath).
* When you arrive, greet the secretary/receptionist and any other personnel in a professional manner with a smile and a handshake. When you enter the interview room, introduce yourself and shake everyone’s hand, making sure to maintain eye contact.
* Know your résumé and portfolio. Review both before your interview, so that you will be thoroughly prepared to answer questions, discuss your experiences, and integrate your philosophy into your statements.
* Be confident and poised, not arrogant!! (take pride in your experiences, but don’t make it sound like you have nothing else to learn, or that your way of doing things is better than someone else’s). Be sincere and listen to others involved in the interview.
* Assess yourself before the interview: Know your strengths and weaknesses, and be prepared to explain both to the interviewer. Practice explaining out loud in simple terms why you are the right person for this position. Consider your education, work experience, career goals, and personal qualities.
*When discussing your weaknesses, try to phrase them as positives. For example, “I have a difficult time delegating tasks because I like to make sure things are done correctly.” Or, “I may be too flexible, as I can change a lesson plan or class schedule at the drop of a hat.” When you discuss your weaknesses ALWAYS indicate how you have improved and your plans to further improve in this area. You can also discuss a weakness that you “used to have,” but have worked hard to grow in this area.
*Build and organize your portfolio to show the depth and breadth of your teaching abilities and goals. Include a table of contents to enable you to quickly locate information during the interview.
* Be positive!! *Smile and shake hands firmly with those you are interviewing as you enter the room and as you leave.
* Make note of those with whom you are interviewing and send each a thank you letter (often makes or breaks the chance on landing the job).
* Make eye contact with everyone and speak clearly and articulately (this is especially important if you are nervous — if your voice softens too much, interviewers may wonder if you will be able to handle a class). Use good diction and grammar throughout the interview. Articulate your thoughts clearly without interjecting irritating overused phrases, such as “you know,” “ok,” and “uh.”
* Get informed about the school/system with which you are interviewing (check the school’s web site, talk to others you know who have children in the school, get a hold of resources — newsletters, policies, philosophies, etc.)
*Know the district’s mission and philosophy, current issues, programs, and student population. If possible integrate this information into your answers and statements.
* Bring extra copies of you resume and references to hand out as you begin your interview (it is quite possible all the people on the interview committee haven’t seen your resume).
* Come to the interview prepared with some questions to ask!!!!!! (you may even have a short typed list to read from – so you don’t forget anything). You may want to ask about opportunities for leadership/committees to join; professional development opportunities. Don’t talk salary yet!!! Do end by asking when/how you will be informed of a hiring decision.
*Non-verbal communication – Watch what you’re doing while you’re talking. Make sure your body language conveys your professional attitude. Look the interviewer in the eye when you talk to him/her. Good posture will convey your poise and confidence throughout the interview. Nervous hands and feet can distract the interviewer’s attention.
* Give specific examples, whenever possible, to support your statements.
* Take your time! After a question is asked, rephrase it into a statement and spend a few seconds, formulating an answer. Don’t rush. Be sure that you don’t blurt out answers without thinking first.
* Be firm in your answers, don’t try and answer questions the way you think they want you to. Be honest!
* Most of all, relax. Be yourself and remember it won’t last forever.
*At the end of the interview be sure to restate your interest in the position and ask the interviewer if he/she needs you to submit additional documentation.
* Keep an interview journal. After the interview write a brief summary of what happened. Review and analyze your dress, conduct, and answers to questions. Note any follow-up action you should take and put it in your calendar.
* If you are offered a teaching position, be cautious in accepting it immediately. Thank the person who contacted you and ask him/her for some time to consider your options. Once you sign the contract, a school district can legally keep you until you have fulfilled the responsibilities delineated in that contract (sometimes a 3-month notice is necessary). If you have multiple offers within a short period of time, carefully weigh your options. Consider the district philosophy, school/classroom conditions, location, support, resources and provisions for professional development, as well as salary.
Types of Interviews
The interview structure varies among districts, schools, and instructional units. Knowing the type of interview in which you will participate helps you better prepare. Therefore, it is important to understand the following formats frequently used in the hiring process.
- Screening (Preliminary) Interview – This type of interview is used to identify candidates for further consideration. Since there is usually an overabundance of applicants for any one position, the prospective employer must quickly reduce the pool to efficiently find the right person to fill a vacancy. The main purpose of these interviews is to weed out unqualified applicants. The interviewer is often simply verifying that the applicant has the basic qualifications and experience. Therefore, these interviews are typically very short (20-30 minutes) and somewhat general in nature. Examples of this type of interview include job fairs, on-campus recruiting, and telephone interviews.
- Tips: Make sure that you have a professional message on your answering machine/voice mail. Keep your résumé or notes with pertinent information handy so that you can accurately respond to questions asked in an unexpected telephone call. Be pleasant and neutral, answering only the questions asked. Offer no strong opinions. Your main goal should be to cite your qualifications and interest the interviewer enough to invite you to a traditional face-to-face interview. You should highlight those accomplishments, skills, and personal traits that make you stand out from other applicants.
- Informal Interview – Sometimes the candidate initiates and interview by calling or hand delivering a résumé. Whether the candidate is making a “cold” contact or is familiar with the school, it is essential to present a professional image. First impressions are important and just might lead to a more intense interview.
- Tips: Dress professionally when meeting in person. Smile, shake hands, and make eye contact. Give the prospective employer your business card, résumé, and mini-portfolio. Highlight personal contacts that he/she might know (another teacher in the school, a prominent community member, another principal, etc.). Your main goal should be to learn more about vacancies and to show interest in becoming a valuable part of the staff.
- Traditional (Directed/Selection) One-On-One Interview – This is an individual interview that is generally longer than the screening interview and focuses on your specific knowledge and qualifications for the vacant position. The interviewer will ask questions to better understand your education, experience, and knowledge. While asking you questions, the interviewer will also assess your interpersonal skills, attitude, strengths, and unique characteristics that would add to the qualifications cited in your résumé.
- Tips: Your main goal should be to establish a rapport with the interviewer and demonstrate that your qualifications and skills would make you a good fit for the open position. Connect all of your qualifications with the position’s requirements. Listen carefully to the interviewer and follow his/her lead. Sometimes it’s possible to pick up on interviewer’s areas of interest and personal predilections that you can use in response to his/her questions.
- Demonstration Interview – Sometimes the applicant will be asked to teach a lesson for a specific grade level/class. This typically occurs when the employer has narrowed the pool of candidates and wants to further assess the instructional skills of the applicant. Following the lesson, the interviewer may meet with the candidate to gain further insight into the lesson. The main purpose of this type of interview is to see how the candidate applies his/her knowledge and skills in a real-life situation.
- Tips: Make sure that you have a good understanding of the type of lesson you are being asked to teach. Spend lots of time planning a lesson that truly reflects your teaching philosophy and personal skills.
- Serial Interview – This involves a series of interviews by different people within the district/instructional unit. For example, the candidate might have separate interviews with the Director of Human Resources, the Principal, Department Chair, and other teachers. Afterwards all the interviewers meet to compare their notes and discuss what they learned about the candidate before making a collective decision on hiring.
- Tips: Work hard to carry the same exuberance into each segment of the interview. Treat each interviewer with the same sense of respect and sense of importance. As you gain insight into the district/school through earlier interviews, use that knowledge in subsequent interviews to demonstrate your familiarity with the district/school.
- Panel or Committee Interview – This involves an interview in which the candidate meets with several people within the district/instructional unit all at one time. The panel can include district and/or building administrators, teachers, school board members, and sometimes community members. Although this type of interview may be intimidating, it is important to project a confident, professional image. A candidate should pay close attention to the person asking the question, but when answering it, should make eye contact with all members of the panel. In this way it is similar to a teaching situation in which you must communicate information to several people at once. As with the serial interview, the panel compares notes after the interview.
- Tips: If you know who will be on the interview committee ahead of time, research their basic biographical information. Treat each person on the panel as an important individual and recognize their role in the district/instructional unit. Give each one your business card and a copy of your résumé. Listen carefully as each one speaks, so that you can gain insight into personal agendas/perspectives.
- Group Interviews – This type of interview in which several candidates are interviewed together by an individual or committee. The interviewer(s) will assess both the quality of the candidate’s answers and interpersonal skills. This format gives the interviewer an opportunity to compare all candidates at the same time and to observe how individual candidates interact with each other. It also gives the interviewer an idea as to whether you’re a “team player” who will work well with the other staff members.
- Tips: Treat everyone with respect. Before you begin the interview introduce yourself to the other candidates. Although you want to take this opportunity as a chance to shine, you do not want to be overly assertive or rude to the other candidates. If another candidate makes a good point, think of a statement that expands this information. This demonstrates that you are an active listener and can think on your feet. Being courteous, but firm and focused, will demonstrate your style, professionalism, and leadership qualities.
- Follow-up Interview – Sometimes prospective employers will ask candidates to return for second, third and even fourth interviews to confirm their first impressions or make the final choice from their “short list” of suitable applicants. Usually the interviewer has already established that you have the necessary skills and qualifications to fill the position. So, the follow-up interviews are often more about personality. The employer wants to make sure that you’re the best fit for the specific position.
- Tips: Be confident and accent those qualifications and skills that make you the best applicant. Show your interest in the position by mentioning things that were discussed in prior interviews. If there was something you forgot to mention in an earlier interview, bring it up in the later interview. You may also want to expand upon your earlier responses.
During an interview, you want the interviewer to pay attention to your words, not your dress. Your clothing should support your professionalism and send the message that you take the interview seriously. When in doubt, make the choice on the side of conservatism, rather than make the error of wearing something inappropriate. The interview should focus on discussion, not distraction. Keep in mind that image is everything when getting ready for an interview. First impressions do matter and they are established within the first minute of an interview. The way you dress for an interview could have a major impact on whether or not you get the job.
Clothing – Your clothing should be professional, comfortable, clean, and well pressed. Make sure there is no lint, dangling threads, missing buttons, holes, or stains. You should wear a coordinated outfit that is tailored for your body. If you’re borrowing clothing, make certain that it isn’t so large that you look sloppy or so tight that you feel uncomfortable. A two-piece matched suit in a conservative color and fabric is a perfect choice. Women may choose a skirt or slacks as part of their suit, as either presents a professional image. Don’t combine a jacket with pants or a skirt that doesn’t match. Empty the pockets so that your clothing doesn’t bulge or contents jingle. A woman’s skirt should be at or just above the knees and the blouse should not show cleavage. Avoid bright colors and bold patterns. Men should wear a long-sleeved shirt and a conservative necktie. A classic look is preferred to making a fashion or personal statement in dress.
Shoes – Wear leather shoes that are polished and comfortable for walking. Women should avoid open toed shoes and sandals with straps. Low to medium heels are recommended. Men should wear dark socks and women should wear neutral hosiery.
Hands – Make sure that your fingernails are clean and manicured. Women should avoid distracting fingernail polish and accents.
Jewelry – Keep your jewelry conservative and remove it from body piercings. Pierced jewelry should be limited to a single pair of earrings. Definitely remove nose, eyebrow, and tongue jewelry. Remember that simple is best and select items that are minimal and muted. Avoid large earrings and wear only one ring on each hand.
Scents – Use perfumes and colognes sparingly or not at all, as many people are allergic. Bathing with a good quality bath soap is usually enough to leave a light scent. Always use deodorant or antiperspirant. Make sure you don’t smell like cigarette smoke.
Bags – Carry a portfolio or briefcase. Do not bring a backpack or book bag. Women should carry a small conservative purse with only the essentials.
Note on Clothing: You don’t have to spend a lot to look great. If you’re unsure of current styles, check catalogs and online stores for ideas. One of two outfits should be enough. If you’re on a tight budget, consider shopping at Good Will, the Salvation Army, thrift shops, and consignment stores. Use different accessories with each outfit to change the look of it.
Additional Suggestions – Hair should be styled and trimmed. Don’t use unnatural hair colors or styles. Men should be freshly shaven. Women should wear minimal makeup that gives a natural look. Cover tattoos whenever possible. All accessories (purse, belt, shoes, etc.) should match. Make sure that your breath is fresh, but don’t walk into the interview with gum or a mint in your mouth.
During the process of searching for a teaching position, you will invariably make and receive telephone calls. In writing cover letters you may call a district/school to identify the name/title of the person in charge of hiring. You may also need to ask for further information about an open position or explore the possibility of future openings. There will be other times when a prospective employer will call you. Whether you are making or receiving calls, it is imperative that you always use proper telephone etiquette. It could make the difference in actually getting hired!
- Show respect to everyone, whether it be the secretary or administrator. Even if the person to whom you speak is not officially in charge of hiring, you can be certain that word of any rudeness or inattention will get back to the person in charge.
- Always initiate a call or respond to a call by first stating your name. Don’t assume that the other person will recognize your voice, even if he/she has spoken to you earlier in the day. When making a call, say something like, “Hello, this is Elizabeth Jones. I’m calling to…” When answering a call, say something like, “Hello, Elizabeth Jones speaking,” or “Good afternoon. This is the Jones residence. How may I help you?”
- Ask the caller for his/her name, even if it isn’t the person who does the hiring. Then when you’re talking to the person, use his/her name in the conversation. This demonstrates that you have taken a personal interest the caller and that you are paying attention.
- Keep a note pad and pen next to the phone. That way you can jot notes as you’re talking. At the close of the conversation “recap” what was said to avoid confusion.
- If you are initiating the call, immediately state your purpose for calling after you have given your name. Give a short summary of any previous communication, so that the other person can make the “connection.”
- If you are making the call, ask if this is a convenient time. If not, ask for a convenient time to call back.
- Do not eat or chew gum when talking on the phone. If your mouth is dry, take a few small sips of water.
- Put a “professional message” on your answering machine or voice mail. Avoid messages such as, “Out partying right now. Leave your number and I’ll get back to you when I’m sober.” Use a message like “You have reached Elizabeth Jones. I’m not available to take your call right now, so please leave your name, number and message after the beep. I’ll return your call as soon as possible.” Then make the return call within 24 hours. Remember, the prospective employer might be calling other people the same day!
- If other people live with you, make sure that they know how to answer the phone and take a message. This is especially true if you have young children who may answer the phone.
- Keep your notes/files near to the phone in case you need to refer to them during your conversation. That way you can quickly look up information that you may need during the conversation.
- Speak at a moderate pace and enunciate clearly, so the other person can easily understand what you are saying. Never interrupt the other person.
- Give your undivided attention to the person on the other end of the line. Turn off the TV or stereo, so there are no disrupting noises during your conversation. If you are using your cell phone, make sure that you’re not making/taking the call in a public place. For example, if you’re in a restaurant, excuse yourself and go outside to talk. This shows respect for both the people you’re with and the person on the other end of the line.
- Always end the conversation pleasantly by saying something like, “Have a nice day!” Make sure that everything is clear and that you’ve provides all the necessary information.
- When leaving messages, speak slowly. Say and spell your name; repeat your name and telephone number to make sure that it is recorded correctly. Keep your message as short as possible to avoid confusion.
- Do not call too frequently. If you become a “pest,” your application will go to the bottom of the pile.
- What do you believe are the three major challenges facing special education today?
- Tell us/me a little about yourself, including professional experiences.
- Describe your student teaching experience. What did you find most rewarding/challenging when you student taught? Describe the best lesson you taught and one that didn’t work.
- Describe “professionalism.” What does it mean to you?
- What are your short- and long-term professional goals and plans? How do you plan to achieve them?
- How would you decide what should be taught in your classroom?
- Tell us/me about your planning habits. If there a particular format that you use? Do you plan on a weekly basis?
- Scheduling is tricky and difficult at times. How do you approach conflicts that arise in regard to scheduling with your colleagues?
- A special education teacher must be both organized and flexible. Give examples of ways that you have demonstrated both of these characteristics.
- Discipline is an integral part of teaching. What are the characteristics of a well-managed classroom? What approaches and models do you plan to integrate into your classroom management plan?
- Describe the ideal learning/classroom climate that you strive to attain.
- Describe your teaching style. What techniques would you use to better reach all of the students in your classroom?
- Describe any multicultural, gender fair classroom practices you have used in the past and how you would ensure equality among your students.
- What do the terms “team teaching” and “co-teaching” mean to you?
- What does “teamwork” mean to you as a special education teacher?
- How would you communicate with the parents of your students? What issues would prompt you to contact them?
- What will you do to engage parents? How will you get them actively involved in their child’s education?
- How would you delegate responsibilities to a paraprofessional and monitor his/her performance?
- State your educational philosophy. How do you incorporate it into your daily instruction?
- How do you evaluate your own teaching skills to insure continual growth and refinement?
- Paperwork/documentation is a strong concern in the area of special education. How will you manage those demands, in addition to your teaching responsibilities?
- Describe the components of a reevaluation report.
- Describe the main components of an IEP and what should go into each section.
- One of the challenges for a special education teacher is documentation. How would you collect and record necessary data for the students’ ERs, IEPs, and NOREPs?
- Describe how you would determine and deliver appropriate individualized instruction to the students.
- What types of assessment have you used? What assessments would you use to document student learning and plan for future instruction? How would you use assessment to develop and modify IEP goals?
- What are the three most important characteristics of an effective educator/teacher?
- How do you motivate students and keep them actively engaged in the learning process?
- Unfortunately, there are some negative elements that you will encounter within the profession. How will you interact with those individuals so they will not alter focus?
- What extra-curricular activities do you feel comfortable directing?
- To what specific area of special education are you most attracted and why?
- Why do you feel you are qualified for the position for which you are applying?
- What do you believe is your major strength?
- What area do you need to improve the most?
- Aside from your coursework, what additional reading have you done that is pertinent to your field?
- The US Department of Education now recommends that schools use the RTI (“Response to Intervention” or “Response to Instruction”) Model rather than the Discrepancy Model to identify children with specific learning disabilities. Tell us what you know about this model.
- How do you integrate technology into your teaching? Have you had any experience with specific technology to support the needs of special education students?
- Given a wide range of ability levels in a classroom, how do you assure compliance with each child’s IEP?
- Have you had any experience supporting students with IEPs in the regular classroom? How have you or would you do this?
- What are your views on inclusion versus self-containment of special education students?
- What would you do to address inclusionary support with the general education staff? How would you deal with a general education teacher who refused to honor IEP modifications for the special education students in their classrooms?
- A general education teacher is concerned that a child with an IEP does not belong in her classroom due to behavior problems. How do you respond?
- What do you feel is the best service delivery model for special education students?
- How familiar are you with the IDEA guidelines for special education? What are some of the timelines related to IEPs?
- Explain the impact of the Gaskins’ settlement on special education in the public school setting.
- Describe both a successful and a challenging collaboration experience with a general education teacher.
- How will you coordinate/facilitate instruction to meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals?
- Please describe FBA (Functional Behavioral Assessment) and/or Behavior Support Plan?
- Aside from coursework, what additional reading/literacy and math programs are you able to discuss?
- Why do you want to work in this district/IU? Why should we hire you? What distinguishes you from the other candidates who applied for this position?
Questions to Ask Interviewer It is important for you to learn as much about the district/school/position as you can before you go to the interview. However, you cannot learn everything you need to know in your preliminary research. It’s appropriate to ask general questions at the conclusion of the initial interview session. In fact, you may be asked if you have any questions. Have a few questions in mind when you go to your interview. It’s best to refrain from asking questions about salary and fringe benefits until you are actually offered a position. Consider asking questions centered on the following topics:
- Programs, textbooks, and supplementary materials currently used in the building/classroom
- Availability of technology in the classroom
- Number of other professionals in your grade level/department
- Paraprofessional support for your students
- Assistive technology currently used in the classroom/program
- Counseling, guidance, social work personnel and services
- Demographics of student population
- Opportunities for staff development
- Reason the position is available (resignation, newly created position, retirement, etc.)
- Associated responsibilities with open position (after-school programs, clubs, coaching, tutoring, committees, etc.)
- Teacher mentoring program for beginning teachers
- Parent and community support for school programs
- District requirements for residency of staff