No matter how many times I do it, sitting down to make the phone calls at the end of a long day of interviews is never a task I look forward to. I normally make one very pleasant call, passing on the good news to the successful candidate, before I turn to the four or five people who haven’t got the job. I know that they will have invested a huge amount of time and energy into the process, probably discussed with their partner, taken the huge step of letting their current school know that they were looking to leave, maybe even checking out houses and schools in the area if they’re moving locations as well. They may well have spent most of the weekend preparing their model lesson or presentation, rehearsed the questions they thought most likely, asked for advice from trusted colleagues and maybe even have shared their excitement on social media.
Then it’s my job to bring them down to earth. ‘I’m sorry, I’m not ringing with good news’ is my opening gambit, operating on the basis that the sooner I pass on the news, the better. I can honestly say that in the many, many hundreds of times I’ve done this, there have only been a couple of occasions where I have felt a certain frostiness or anger – the most common response is for people to thank me, and wish the best to the successful candidate. People are basically nice, in my experience.
I always try and pick out a nugget of advice that is easy enough to remember given the nature of the call, and useful enough that it might make a difference next time. But there’s something I say that I’m not convinced many people hear: ‘It’s not about who is the best person, it’s about who is the best fit for this job.’ This is why the most important piece of advice I can give anyone going for a job is to ‘Be Yourself’. Obviously, on the day of an interview, you will want to present the best version of yourself, but yourself nonetheless.
‘What did I do wrong?’ is an obvious question, but the wrong one. The simple truth is likely to be ‘You did everything right but you still didn’t get the job – you’re the right person, but not for this particular role.’
By the time everyone arrives for the interview, the application process should have established that all the candidates are performing at the right level to do the job and have a good enough track record to be appointed. Of course, a large part of the purpose of the day is to ensure that the candidate has the appropriate skills and knowledge, and a record of good performance. Equally, that they have the ability and willingness to develop experience and knowledge through training and development.
(NB A plea to those doing the interview – make sure you’re not designing a process that will simply reward performance on the day or highlight skills that are really only applicable in a limited range of situations, such as an interview day. You’re not looking for a used-car salesman, someone who can spin a line – far more important to find out who they really are.)
The most important thing, both for the candidate and those interviewing is to be certain that values and ethos are compatible. Context changes, policies come and go, but values are something that is integral. There is nothing more damaging in the long term to mental health and self-esteem than working in an institution which does not share the same values as you.
In a good interview process, this will come out, but it can very be tempting to say what you think your potential employer wants to hear even if it’s not what you truly believe. Behaviour, inclusion, curriculum, governance, leadership style and a host of other areas are hugely influenced by the philosophy of the school.
You may think it’s the role of school leaders to have a visible presence in and out of classrooms all day, or you may think teachers should be left alone to get on without interference. You may want to use the role as a springboard to further development, or you may want to be allowed to consolidate and achieve some stability, without the pressure to advance your career. You may want the encouragement to lead extra-curricular and enrichment activities after school, or you may want to protect your work-life balance by being home early enough to spend time with your own children after school.
The point is that none of these positions is inherently right or wrong, but in each case, finding that your standpoint is diametrically opposed to the school ethos is going to cause difficulties down the line. Much better for both parties to find out before you make a decision that you’re both committed to for a long time to come.
So, if you’re going for an interview, my advice is to do three things – show them what you know, show them what you can do, but most importantly, show them who you are. If you’re then offered the job, you can be confident that this will be a good fit for you, and you can look forward to being happy and successful. If you get the rejection call, thank them for their time, breathe a sigh of relief, and carry on looking for your perfect match – it’s out there somewhere!