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Put Your Best Foot Forward (The Nonverbal Edge)


According to several professionals in human resources, most of the hiring decision about a specific candidate is typically made in the first three to five minutes of a face-to-face interview, even though the entire interview may last several times that long.

If you read the statement above, you will quickly gather that your success in an interview situation—particularly in a screening interview (please see Chapter 3)—is made very quickly. What you say, how you say it, and what you do are quickly assessed, quite often before you even have a chance to respond to the first two or three interview questions. Yes, first impressions do make a difference! As I'm sure your mother told you many times, "You don't get a second chance to make a first impression!"

While the bulk of this book is focused on the typical questions you will be asked, and the answers that will set you apart from everyone else, you also need to be aware that how you present yourself—particularly in the initial minutes of an interview— will have a significant bearing on whether you move forward or not. Even before you sit down in the interviewer's office to answer the first formal question, your interviewer has already begun making up his or her mind about you. What you do (and how you present yourself) in the first five minutes of an interview may have more significance than what you might say in the last 40 minutes of that interview.


Communication studies reveal that approximately two-thirds of what is communicated from one person to another is primarily through nonverbal cues. We frequently learn more about people through nonverbal means than verbal ones.

The Essential Seven

Let's take a look at the seven most critical nonverbal behaviors that can establish you as a candidate worthy of an interview (or two) and one worthy of a position with a particular school or district. But first, a word of warning! You might look over this list and my suggestions and say, "These are all fuddy-duddy ideas. They don't apply to me." But indeed they do. Keep in mind that teaching, as a profession, still tends to be a little on the conservative side—your appearance, your speech, and your behavior as a teacher are often measured by a different set of criteria than those of, say, a carpenter, a politician, or a burger-flipper at the local fast-food restaurant. Teachers are often evaluated with a different set of expectations or values than those in other professions.


You may find these rules for teachers (circa 1915) interesting. You should be pleased to learn that they are no longer being enforced (at least to my knowledge):

You will not marry during the term of your contract.

You are not to keep company with men.

You must be home between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. unless attending a school function.

You may not loiter downtown in ice-cream stores.

You may not travel beyond city limits unless you have the permission of the chairman of the board.

You may not ride in a carriage or automobile with any man unless he is your father or brother.

You may not smoke cigarettes.

You may not dress in bright colors.

You may under no circumstances dye your hair.

You must wear at least two petticoats.

Your dresses must not be shorter than two inches above the ankle.

You may say that the differentiated expectations for teachers are unfair, and you'd probably be right. But it's the way things are...and the way things will continue to be for quite some time. Pay close attention to the suggestions in this chapter. They come from a wide range of administrators from across the country, and they have been used in countless teacher interviews for many, many years. While you may not like them, you ignore them at your peril! You want to impress any interviewer from the first time he or she lays eyes on you all the way until you leave the parking lot after the interview is over. Your first impression (and your final impression) carries significant weight in your overall evaluation. Think of these ideas as a blueprint for success. Mess up on any one, and you may mess up your interview.. .and your career.

Here are the seven nonverbal behaviors you need to work on before and during any interview:


Clothing and attire






Body language


Body parts and adornment


Eye contact



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