Innovation in education should not be limited to what happens in the classrooms, but is needed for leadership. This means that we need to relook at what we do as organizations and ask questions on whether what we have done ultimately serves what we want to do. One of those areas that I really am interested in is the interview process. Are we expecting something different while hiring the same?
The traditional process of the interview has been one that has not made much sense to me. In education we talk about things being more than just about the right answer while also having a huge focus on relationships. Yet so many interviews that I have seen involve inviting people into stale environments with several people firing off questions to someone they barely know, and looking for the “best answers”. There is obviously more to an interview than what people say, but when would educators ever be in this type of high stakes environment again in their career? Even worse, sometimes the interviews are conducted for teachers by people that do not even work in the school (ie. central office staff). Interactions between one another in the process are crucial for both sides, not just the person applying. If we truly want the best people in our organizations, they will have choices. Do you create an environment where they come out of the process wanting to work for you?
Here are three things ways that we can really create a much better interviewing process, not only in education, but in all areas.
Make Them Comfortable
I remember one interview process where I walked into a giant boardroom and there were twelve people sitting around a table and I was sitting at the head of the table by myself. It was one question after another, simply fired at me, while they took in what I said and wrote notes. I went home after and felt violently ill, and although it seemed coincidental, the process had given me such anxiety, that honestly I felt there was a correlation to the process and how I felt.
Another interview I had was the polar opposite of this experience. The two administrators of the building invited me in early, and gave me fifteen topics that I could discuss during the process. I didn’t have to do all fifteen, but where I felt I had something to offer. I had about thirty minutes before the process, and I walked in, and it was a conversation for an hour. When it was over, I wondered where the time had gone, and although I felt nervous at the beginning, it seemed like a conversation between colleagues and friends. What was interesting about the process was that we all had the chance to get to know each other in a way similar to if we were in a staff room talking about education, which is what we would experience after the fact. It was more real than the firing squad process of questions. It also allowed them to find out where I was strong, and since they left some openness on the position (middle school teacher) the focus was not on hiring the best grade six teacher, but the best person, and shaping a position around them, instead of the other way around.
If a person is too scared to show their strengths in an interview, you never know what you will lose in the process.
As someone who has interviewed many educators, one of the important points of this process is how do people handle when someone disagrees with what they are saying? As discussed prior, making them feel comfortable is crucial to this component, but simply listening to an answer and writing down notes is not something we typically would do in schools.
One of the things that I would do in the interview process was challenge people on their answers and get them to dig deeper into why they were saying what they were saying. There are multiple reasons I would do this. For one, I wanted to see if someone went beyond the “carbon copy” answers and really knew what they were sharing. The other, much more essential, was seeing how they would deal with conflict. Would they defend their answer with evidence, would they be open to hearing different insights, or would they just adapt to saying what they thought I wanted to hear. The last one was a big red flag for me. I wanted to know that I was hiring someone who was a critical thinker and would make all of us better, not just simply bend to someone else’s will. How they handled conflict was crucial as well, but again, if you do not make people feel comfortable, of course they will just tell you what they think you want to hear, not necessarily what they believe.
Leave People Better Than When They Started
The tough thing about the interview process is that usually only one person will get the job. If that is the case, what about the others in the process? Did they become better teachers in the process and did we create a learning experience that would raise up the profession as a whole, or was this just an interview for a job? I would choose the former over the latter each time.
After the interview, I would call each candidate and I would go beyond simply telling them whether they get the job or not, but talk about specific components of the process, and ask them to look deeper into some areas, so that they would become better teachers. I remember one candidate who did not receive a job with me, calling me a month after telling me that she received another opportunity and that the interview with my school was one of the best learning experiences she had, and it really challenged her thinking about education, and helped her to become a better teacher. If you think about this logic, you never know who might end up leaving your school or teaching your child. If we look at the interview as an opportunity to help someone become a better teacher, whether they get the job or not, we all win.
If you are about to partake an interview, and use this post as a guide, you might be in trouble. There are still many people who look for “yes” candidates who will simply do what they are told, and to me, if we want our kids to ask questions, why would we not want our educators to do the same? But if you are the one who is giving the interview, hopefully this helps you think about it in a different way. We do not simply have to do what we have done, and if we want the best educators in our schools, we have to really rethink the process of how we hire them in the first place.