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The New Teacher Advisor

The Hiring Process: Be Prepared

Part Three of a Five-Part Series

If you've ever held a job -- any kind of job -- then you've been through the hiring process. You filled out an application, interviewed with the manager or business owner, were hired, and began working. A piece of cake, right? All you needed to do was dress neatly and seem capable of doing the job. Obtaining a teaching position is a little more involved. In order to successfully navigate the hiring process for schools, you need to prepare yourself with the right information, dress, attitude, and words.

The first step is to gather all the information you'll need to complete the applications. If you're remembering the brief applications you've completed in the past and are thinking you're prepared enough, think again. Most school district applications are between four and ten pages long. In addition to the basics, your school history, and your work history, a district application also most likely will include short and long essay questions, past work references, and written references from people who actually have watched you teach.

You'll be required to submit transcripts from your university as well. Go ahead and purchase several copies of your transcript to keep on hand. Many districts also require a video showing you teaching a lesson. To save time, you might want to type out all the usual application information in a Word document and save it. When filling out your first application, type the essay questions and answers into that same document. Do this for every essay question you answer.

I also highly recommend that you make a copy of every application you fill out before you mail it. You never know when an application will get lost in the mail or even lost within the confines of the Human Resources department. File the copy of the completed application in a manila file folder -- one per district.

Many districts will include a check list of the items to be completed for their application packet. Use the checklist to make sure you've completed and mailed everything. The district will not call you for an interview unless the entire packet is complete and they will not send reminders about missing items.

Before you begin filling out applications and attending interviews, take time to think about and write down your philosophy of education. That might sound like an assignment from one of your education professors, but it really is an excellent exercise to help you define what you believe about teaching. It is a question that will definitely come up in both the application and interview stages.

Your philosophy can simply be a set of I believe statements. For example, I believe students learn best when they actively manipulate the information being learned, both visually and mentally. You can have as many I believe statements as you need. In fact, the more specific your statements, the better able you will be to communicate them to others. Keep this page where you can easily access it.

The next item to prepare is your wardrobe. Find your most professional looking slacks or skirt, and blouse or shirt. Simply looking neat will not work in this situation. You also need to look poised and prepared. Attending an interview, even an entrance interview in nice jeans and button down shirt won't cut it. If you don't have professional attire, beg, borrow, or buy something.

Wardrobe isn't the only part of your appearance you need to prepare, however. You also should take some time to practice posture, body language, and eye contact. Those non-verbal forms of communication affect the final decision of the interviewer. If your verbal answers are a little shaky from nerves, but you sit up tall and look the interviewer in the eye when speaking, you are more likely to be called back for a second interview. Memorized answers given to the floor, wall, or ceiling are less likely to receive a call-back.

Don't be afraid to practice in front of a mirror. Practice sitting down: How is your posture? Do you lean forward or back in the chair? Leaning slightly forward shows engagement in the conversation and is the sign of a risk taker. Leaning too far forward shows aggressive or highly assertive behavior and can be disconcerting to an interviewer. Leaning back with your arms crossed gives the impression that you could care less about the interview. If you aren't sure how you come across to others when seated and engaged in an interview, ask a friend or parent to help out with a critique session.

Another important element of your demeanor is your attitude. Although your attitude is silent, it is written all over your face, hands, and body as you interact with others. If you are prone to nervousness, are shy, or often find yourself afraid in new situations, you might not make a good impression. Again, practice is very important in helping you overcome those kinds of issues. Administrators are looking for individuals who show confidence, a positive attitude, and an ability to work with others. Sitting up straight, making eye contact, and showing enthusiasm answering questions communicate confidence. Practice those skills when speaking with others.

Finally, you need to prepare the words and phrases you plan to use during the interview. If you've researched the district and school, then you might have some phrases in mind from the districts mission and vision or from the administrators letter to the community.

By browsing the school district Web site you can learn what teaching strategies are held in high regard. Does the district focus on learner differentiation, discovery learning, or mainstreamed education? If so, those are the strategies you want to learn more about before interviewing. Read your personal educational philosophy and be familiar with your own beliefs about teaching and learning. You might find during the course of the interview that the school embraces some of those same beliefs. In the next two columns, well discuss specific questions you might be asked during an interview.

Taking the time now to prepare for the hiring process will save both time and headaches. There's nothing worse than waiting for a call for an interview only to find out your application packet was not complete. Ordering necessary forms ahead of time and following up with those who promise written references ensures that your packet will be completed in a timely manner. Having information written down helps cut down on the time-consuming process of completing multiple application packets. Preparing a set of belief statements and practicing interview questions helps you answer questions quickly and clearly. In the end, all of those preparations work together to help make navigating the hiring process a little less painful.

The Hiring Process Series

Be sure to see all the articles in Emma McDonald’s series on finding a teaching job:

* Myths and Truths of the Job Hunt
* A Little Research
* Be Prepared
* Questions! Questions!
* How to Answer the Tough Questions