Surviving the Search: Strategies for Success in the Job Hunt

Tchers' Voice Great ideas from passionate educators just like you.

It’s important to be clear up front: there’s no magic wand, no fool-proof plan, no “if you just do this” to getting a job. The entire process has too many variables. From the personal preference of the person making the hire, to the policies and procedures of the district’s HR department, it would be almost impossible to distill down the exact moves to make or things to say to guarantee success. However, over the last six years as department chair, I’ve personally made nine hires and been part of the interview teams that have hired 12 different administrators, including a superintendent. During that time, I’ve learned a few things that might help you in your search for the perfect teaching job.

Getting the Interview

This, honestly, might be the hardest part of the process. It’s also the part that has the widest range of personal preference variance based on the person making the hire or participating in the first wave of screening the candidate pool. Some of the people leading the search enjoy getting emails from potential candidates, and some hate it. Some will only look at resumes from candidates who come recommended to them from their professional network, and others actually don’t like getting personal recommendations at all. Some pay more attention to the cover letter, and others to the resume or application. Simply put, it’s almost impossible to give advice on this part of the process because of all these factors; however, there are a few points you might consider.

African American man dressed in business attire

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  • Does your cover letter represent who you are and your personal passions as an educator? Or is it a generalized statement filled with all-too-often heard “edu-buzz words?”
  • Consider what story your resume tells. Remember — it will be read for what it says, but also analyzed for what it doesn’t say.
  • Do the answers to the essay questions on your application give specific examples? Or do you speak in macro-level philosophies?
  • Did you proofread your writing? I know this one seems obvious, but you would be shocked at how many cover letters, resumes, and application questions I’ve seen that are littered with typos or grammatical errors. Please do yourself a favor and ask at least one, ideally two or three, other people to review and proofread anything you submit.

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During the Interview

If you’ve made it to this part of the process, congratulations are in order — but now what? While the personal preferences of an interviewer will still play a part, I’d argue that there are more concrete pieces of advice possible for this stage. So here are a few things you should consider as you go into your interview:

A woman and man shaking hands at the beginning of an interview

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  • Always give specifics. There will probably be certain questions where the interviewer will ask you for specific examples and others where he or she will not. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t provide them. Any time you’re asked to share your “philosophy on x,” share that philosophy, but then be sure to give an example or two about how that plays out in your classroom. The biggest critique I hear around the post-interview debriefing table is, “I just didn’t get a chance to really ‘see’ how that person is in the classroom because he didn’t provide any examples. He just spoke in generalities.”
  • Always answer all parts of the question. Over the course of a 45-60 minute interview, you’ll be asked approximately 15 questions, but you can be certain that at least half of those questions will have more than one part. When those multi-part questions come up, be sure to answer each part of the question. Part of the reason I ask questions with two or three parts is to see if the candidates answer the question completely. Teaching is a complex art that requires the ability to navigate a multitude of factors on the fly. Asking a question with two or three parts is one way I can attempt to simulate that. If you need to, jot down the three parts of the question. If the team doesn’t give you a heads up before asking that the question will have multiple parts, ask them to repeat it so that you can jot all the parts down. This way you can reduce your cognitive load, relax, and refer back to your notes to make sure you’ve answered the question asked. Besides, nothing looks sillier than bringing a notepad to an interview and never using it.
  • Always have good questions to ask. Virtually every interview will end with a chance to ask questions, and you must take advantage of this opportunity. However, do keep some rules of interview etiquette in mind. It’s okay to ask about their hiring timeline if they haven’t covered that or told you that they will, but don’t make that your first question. Remember, everything you do in an interview reveals your values, so asking this first means all you really value is getting a job. And while you may be very excited about getting a job, it’s probably not what you want to project in an interview as your primary motivator. Further, since everything in an interview does reveal your values, think of having the opportunity to ask questions as a way of showing the interview team what you do value. Passionate about assessment? Ask what their philosophies are about things like homework, giving zeros, or common assessments. Champion for equity? Ask what the department, school, or district is doing to help make their curriculum reflect the wide-range of diversity in the world. Whatever it is you want to project, be sure that you have questions ready and that those questions reflect what you value, not just what you think you should ask (e.g., “Do you have a mentor program for new teachers because I would really love that type of support”).

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After the Interview

This is a place where traditional interview protocol still seems to make sense. A hand-written thank you card is still a great touch. If you interview with a panel of people, you could hand-write a thank you card to the person leading the team, and then email the rest of the team a thank you — but sending handwritten notes to the whole interview team doesn’t hurt either.

Additionally, technology can allow you to do more than just send “thank yous.” If something came up in the interview that you had a lot to say about and maybe even referenced a specific example, it isn’t a bad idea to send the person leading the interview team an email with a specific example of what you shared. This could be student work or a copy of a specific unit, lesson, or assessment. Worst case scenario, the person doesn’t read it. Best case, it could be just the evidence needed to help put you on top. Now, don’t go overboard and send an email with 15 different attachments, but sharing one specific example of something from the interview can be very effective.

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As I said to start, there is no magic wand to help you land that job, but if you think about some of the tips shared here as you prepare for the job search process, you just might have a leg up. Good luck!

And once you do land that teaching job, Teaching Channel is here to help. Check out these great resources to help you get off to a great start:

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New Teacher Blog Posts on Tchers’ Voice:

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Christopher Bronke is a ninth grade honors English teacher and Department Chair at Downers Grove North High School in Illinois. He evaluates teachers, oversees the literacy coaching program, plans and implements professional learning, and works with district leaders on CCSS integration, implementation, common assessments, and rubrics. Christopher is an innovative literacy leader who has experience with CCSS integration across content areas, blogging to empower teacher voice, collaborative and teacher leadership, literacy leadership, and social media in the classroom. He was a member of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council, a Community Manager and Innovation Coach for the Redesign Challenge, Community Manager Lead for Sevenzo, and he currently serves on the Executive Committee as a member-at-large for the Conference on English Leadership. Christopher has served on several Executive Planning Committees for national and regional ECET2 convenings, and is a Co-Founder, Director, and Writing Coach for the National Blogging Collaborative, a non-profit organization that cultivates and supports the capacity of all educators to use their unique voice to elevate the craft of teaching and learning. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @MrBronke.

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