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Preparing for the Interview—10 How To's

Like millions of other people, I enjoy watching the summer Olympics on television every four years. The competition is always first-rate, and the intensity frequently puts me on the edge of my seat. These are world-class athletes at the peak of their athletic prowess. It's often the best against the best.

As a former athlete myself, I know that Olympic athletes don't just get up one morning a few weeks before their events and say, "Hey, I think I'm going to compete in the marathon" and then go out and run 26.2 miles in two hours and five minutes. They have to prepare—for many years—if they have any chance of success in their chosen events. Long hours of practice, months of intense workouts, and years of sometimes painful and excruciating physical conditioning are necessary if an athlete wants to have any chance at winning an Olympic medal. Often the key to success is the amount and level of preparation that occurs long before an Olympic event.

So it is with interviews. The time and effort you put into getting ready for an interview will often be reflected in the success you enjoy in an interview. And take my word for it, an interviewer will quickly know who has taken that time and who has made that extra effort to get ready for an interview. That effort will be revealed in the depth of the responses and the breadth of experiences brought to the interview.

Thorough preparation before an interview is just as important as what happens during an interview. Ignore the preparation, and you are essentially "shooting yourself in the foot"—putting yourself at a distinct disadvantage even before you say your first word. World-class athletes prepare for their events years in advance of a competition. Why shouldn't you? You've prepared yourself for teaching; now it's time to prepare yourself for the interview.


Adequate and sufficient preparation before an interview will

Significantly lower your nervousness and stress during the interview;

Give you an extra dose of self-confidence;

Improve your communication skills; and

Give you the extra edge over your competition.

So here's your training schedule, your preparation "homework" well in advance of any interview. Read the following ten principles and make them part of your training routine. Integrate them into your daily activities, and devote sufficient time to each one. Think of these as your "Interview Decathlon." Spend time "sweating" these ten principles, and you may find yourself with an educational gold medal: a teaching position!

Know Your Strengths

You've probably completed several weeks of student teaching. Or you've been involved in a pre-service field experience program through your college or university in which you worked in several different classrooms. Or you may have volunteered for various positions in some of the local schools through the requirements of one of your courses or the outreach efforts of your local student education association. By now, you should have some idea of your teaching strengths. In fact, one of the first things you should do (long before any interview) is to make a list of your strengths, evaluating your personal skills, attitudes, abilities, and accomplishments.

Do you create dynamic and exciting lesson plans? Are you able to handle a room full of rowdy kids? Are you a whiz at integrating technology into any aspect of the curriculum? Can you motivate even the most reluctant of readers to pick up a book? This is a good time to make a list of all your teaching strengths. This information will help generate some useful language you can effectively share with an interviewer.

Make a list—right now—of your six teaching strengths. Share your list with your cooperating teacher, your college supervisor, a favorite professor, and/or a member of your family. Explain why each item on your list is one of your strengths. If you can't vigorously defend one of those items, then cross it off the list and substitute another.


Limit the size of your list to 4-6 items. (It will be easier to remember those specific strengths in an interview than it will be to conjure up a list of 15-20.) Write those strengths down, each one on an individual index card, and carry them around with you in the days preceding the interview. Review them regularly.

One of the most important things you can do in advance of any interview is a self- assessment. This evaluation of your abilities, skills, and talents will help you know what you are good at, and it is essential in communicating that information to interviewers. With this list you will be in a better position to demonstrate how your unique set of abilities can be used to educate youngsters in a particular school or district. Arrive at an interview with your strengths in mind, and you'll arrive with the confidence to do well.

Remember, school administrators are most interested in hiring your strengths. The interview is an opportunity to let a potential employer know what those strengths are and how they will serve the immediate and long-range needs of the school/ district. So take the time to self-assess and be ready to share the results of that assessment with any and all interviewers.

Do your homework! Find out about some of the challenges or concerns that are part of the school or district with which you will be interviewing. What are some of the pressing needs of a particular school? What are some of the issues that occasionally pop up in the local newspaper? Then be prepared to show how your unique abilities can be used to meet those challenges, with examples of how your strengths relate to specific needs.

Tailor your strengths to the needs of the school/district. For example, if a school is experiencing low reading scores, show how you got kids engaged in an after-school reading program during student teaching.

Keep your focus on what you can do for the school/district rather than on what they can do for you (give you a teaching job).

Support your accomplishments with several teaching-related examples of your accomplishments.

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