Saturday, 7 February 2015

"Please just give me a job!" Part 3: The interview

I've collated advice from my current HT (primary school), my mum (primary school DHT), her two friends (one a chair of governors, the other an infant school HT) and used the experience of the three interviews I had when interviewing for my job to compile this blog post to hopefully help current trainee teachers in preparing for a job interview. When I was at this same stage, I was constantly scouring the internet for advice, so I hope this will be of help to someone!

Most interviews consist of two parts: a lesson observation and the interview itself. The way this is structured obviously varies hugely from school to school, but it is rare that a school won't ask to see you teach. Some may also ask you to present something; however, this will be made clear once you are accepted for interview.

The Lesson
The lesson you are asked to teach could range from a 15 minute activity to a whole hour's lesson. Sometimes the school will dictate the subject you have to teach and sometimes they will give you a choice. (My first interview was a 20 minute Year 3 maths lesson; my second was a half-hour Year 5 maths or literacy lesson (I chose maths again); for my third interview, I was given the choice of what to teach, but I had to deliver the first half of the lesson and leave a clear plan for the teacher to deliver the second half once I had gone.)

  • E-mail the school beforehand to find out: how many children you will be teaching, what the children have already learnt in relation to your topic (so you can be sure you will actually teach them something!), if you will have any TAs (if you do, make sure you give them a copy of your lesson plan before you begin to teach) and if there will be any SEN children in the class for whom you will have to adapt the resources. The school may not give you all this information, but at least you have shown initiative to ask!
  • Beware of interview lesson plans on the internet; they are usually brilliant lessons, but depending on how popular they are, schools may have seen them before. Be original and creative!
  • Have well-planned, differentiated (if necessary) resources
During - what the observers are looking for
  • Building relationships with the children - try to remember their names. You could hand out name stickers, but this wastes time, especially if the children write their own. When you ask the children a question, ask them their name first and then try to remember a few to use throughout the lesson - this shows you are trying to build a relationship with them. Don't forget to tell them your name, so they can use yours too!
  • Engagement - if some children aren't on task, quickly re-engage them. It's okay if they drift off, but show the observers that you have noticed it
  • Pace of lesson - don't spend too long on the carpet, especially if the lesson is less than half an hour. Get the children involved as quickly as you can. Equally, don't have them writing silently for too long - in that time, you aren't moving their learning on
  • Behaviour management - establish a strategy for gaining the children's attention at the beginning of the lesson: this could be a call-and-response, a clapping rhythm, an instrument etc. When you use it, don't continue until all children are quiet. They will quickly realise if they can talk over the top of you and you won't be able to move the lesson on at all!
  • Controlling noise - I suppose this goes hand-in-hand with behaviour management. At my first interview, I was picked up for not stopping the children when they were too noisy, even though all the talking was about their learning
  • Time management - a key skill for teachers! Keep your eye on the clock/your watch to make sure you don't overrun
  • Thinking on your feet - if something goes wrong, don't panic. The observers won't judge the mistake; what they will judge, however, is how you cope with it. Always have a back-up plan - especially if you are using a PowerPoint in a lesson - I have heard of interviews where the computer hasn't been working and the interviewee has had to adapt last minute!
  • Being a good role model - this is hard to show in a short lesson, but one way of demonstrating this is by speaking English well. I have heard of interviewers who have not employed someone because they made numerous grammar errors when talking to the children (using double negatives, dropping 'T's etc.)
  • Reflect on your lesson - you will almost definitely be asked about this in your interview, so be prepared before you go in. Identify what went well as well as what didn't, and therefore how you would change it next time. Try to remember how individual children performed in the lesson - interviews will be impressed with comments such as, "I could see XXX was really engaged in his work" or, "I saw that XXX already knew how to XXX, so next time I would challenge her by XXX"
The Interview
The interview could be before or after your lesson; it makes sense for it to be after, as the interviewers can then discuss your lesson and your teaching style after seeing it themselves. I found it extremely useful to prepare answers to questions like these, as most questions are a variation on a theme; if you have an idea in your head of what you're going to say, you will come across a lot more confident and prepared (obviously!) Don't rehearse answers word-for-word - you don't want to come across like a robot! In all honesty, in reflection, my first interview was a bit of a shambles. I had memorised answers and had subsequently, thanks to my nerves, forgotten them, which caused me to panic! My second interview was a lot better, and in my third, I felt almost calm! The majority of the questions had all been the same, so I'd had a fair bit of practice by that point. (However, each school had their own "red-herring" question thrown in - be prepared for those!)

"Tell us about yourself."
Use this time to talk about your life outside of teaching - the interviews want to know about you as a person.

"Can you reflect on the lesson you have just taught?"
Remember - the good AND bad! Sometimes it's easy to pick out just the bad things, but being a truly reflective practitioner (the buzz word from uni!) means identifying the strengths of your lesson, as you will want to do these things again!

"Why do you want to work at this school?"
Make sure you have done your research about the school - read the website and perhaps even the school's Ofsted report before you go. The interviewers want to know you have chosen their school for a reason, and not just because you're desperate for a job anywhere! (Which may be just the case, but don't let them know that!)

For NQTs applying to church schools - "Why do you want to work at a church school?"
You don't have to be religious to work at a church school, nor are the interviewers particularly looking for that type of answer. However, the church is a huge part of church schools and they may want to know how that contributed to your decision to apply there.

"What do you think you could bring to this school?"
How are you going to separate yourself from the other candidates? How could you use your expertise in other areas to contribute to extra-curricular activities, school clubs etc?

"If I walked into your classroom in a few months' time, what would it look like?"
Consider answers such as: children engaged in their learning, learning matched to individual children's needs, pupil voice, children questioning the teacher just as much as the other way round, visible and accessible learning resources, tidy and up-to-date displays, teaching the children and not the lesson plan, regularly checking the learning and adapting your teaching accordingly, TAs involved in the lesson and aware of what they should be doing... etc.

"What would you do if a child makes a disclosure to you?"
DON'T make any promises to the child. DON'T tell the child you won't tell anyone else. Make the child feel safe, follow the safeguarding policy at the school and pass the information on to the school's Child Protection Officer. (There is no other answer to this question!)

"What would you do if a child refused to participate in your lesson?"
Gently, then firmly, remind them of the consequences according to the school's behaviour management policy. If this still doesn't work, talk to the child individually (I wouldn't say that you'd do this during the lesson - there are probably 29 other children in the classroom who are doing what you're asking, and deserve your attention just as much as that child. A TA could take the child during the lesson if necessary) to find out the root of the problem and tackle it from there.

"How would you work effectively with other adults?"
Use them to work with groups or individual children, ask them for feedback on children you won't necessarily get to spend time with during the lesson so you can adapt your next lesson accordingly. Work with their strengths: one TA may be brilliant at doing displays, whilst another prefers to do more admin based jobs, such as photocopying and laminating.

Other questions that require answers based on your teaching experiences and individual personality might include:

"In a year's time, what would a colleague say about you?"

"Can you give an example of a lesson you have taught that was successful? Why was it successful?"

"Can you give an example of a lesson you have taught that was unsuccessful? Why was it unsuccessful? How would you change it next time?"

"What are you most proud of in your teaching experience so far?"

"Can you give an example of when you have made a significant impact on a child's learning?"

Use your experiences of teaching as much as possible in backing up your answers - this will make them sound much more authentic. Interviewers are aware that answers from NQTs are, of course, going to differ from those from more experienced teachers - that is expected, as we have a limited experience of teaching.

If you don't get the job, don't worry. Use it as a valuable experience - mine definitely were! Ask the interview for feedback to help you improve for your next interview - their advice is invaluable.

I really hope this helps! If anyone has any more advice/any more common interview questions that I may have missed, please add them in the comments below!

Happy interviewing :)

View "Please just give me a job!" Part 1: Choosing the right school here:

View "Please just give me a job!" Part 2: The application form here: 

Find me on Twitter @_MissieBee (previously @Miss_RQT)


  1. Can I just say how helpful these posts have been! I have had this one opened in my browser since I started applying for jobs and as of Thursday I now have my NQT year sorted! :D Thank you! Especially the tip about emailing the school beforehand, I would never have thought to do that!

    1. Yes, I would agree. Thank you.

  2. I am really struggling to even get past the lesson. I am surprised that this being my 4th or 5 th interview I have really improved and I know that. I had emailed the school before hand, guided a non engaging pupil but couldn't stay with her for too long as there were other needy pupils (maybe that was taken as a fault) but everybody was working (and I was still told that my lesson did not a good pace and some pupils were sitting idle doing nothing)

    Don't know when I'll find a job!!!

  3. Thanks so much for this!!

  4. This has been so helpful, thankyou so much! Interview next week so fingers crossed.... x

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