Are you thinking of trying to find a new job? Is it time for you to move on from your current position?
Yesterday, one of my management trainees asked me: “What advice would you offer me before my next interview? Typically, I would say this is an ideal opportunity for a coaching conversation! But as this was not possible in this case, this is what I recommended: prepare good questions to ask about the school.
Of course it is really important to be fully prepared for an interview: see my interview tips here.
And part of that preparation is finding out as much about the school as you can. Remember, interviews should be a two-way exploration – the school management want to find out about you, and you should want to find out if the school is the right place for you. Will you fit in? Is the organisational culture one that suits you? Will your job provide you with the right level of challenge and stimulation? Will you be able to grow and develop there?
Preparing a few relevant questions will offer you the opportunity during your interview to find out what it’s actually like working at the school. The questions that you ask should be providing you with some information about these things:
These three questions (and they are just examples) provide you with valuable insight into school life, and help you see how you would fit in:
1. What do you think the staff would say are the best things about working here?
2. Can you tell me what developmental opportunities the school provides for middle managers?
3. I have a particular interest in (e.g. educational technology, formative assessment, collaborative learning, special needs, etc.) – can you tell me how this fits into your school? Can you see a role for me in this area?
Then, if there’s something that would really put you off working in the school, it is wise to try and find out about it before you accept the job. But do this in a positive and constructive way.
A question like the one below helps do this:
4. Can you tell me a bit more about the working week outside the actual teaching hours – what duties do teachers have outside of the classroom?
You can be more specific if you have a particular topic in mind. I won’t give you a suggested list here as then I’d be giving away too much about the things I don’t like! And besides, what one person hates, another person loves. Please note, I’m not talking about the simple niggles and grumbles of everyday working life; these are pat of any job. I’m talking about something that would be an instant red light for you; something that would contradict your values and make you unhappy at work. I’ll give you an example.
I was interviewing someone a few years ago who asked me how much technology was used for educational purposes in the school. He explained that he thought that technology was an unnecessary distraction in education. This rang an alarm bell in my mind. I explained that technological development was central to our strategy and that, for example, we expected teachers to use interactive whiteboards in every classroom. Now, you might say he was a foolish man for bringing up this subject. He pretty much lost any chance of getting the job. But on the contrary, I would say that was an important part of the interview. It was the best question he could have asked to find out if the school suited him. I admired his honesty. At that point, we both knew that our school was not the right place for him. What he believed was neither wrong nor right. He was simply suited to a different kind of school with a different type of teaching environment. If, on the other hand, he had simply expressed his concerns about technology but was keen to learn more, then assuming he also had the other competencies we were looking for, he would have been an ideal candidate for us – showing a keen yearning to learn and develop, despite his lack of experience in this area. But this was not the case, and if we had not explored this topic together, and we had given him the job, I suspect he would very soon have become quite stressed and unhappy in our school.
So, to summarise, it is important that you try to find out whether the school is a place you'd like to work. It’s not just about whether they want to recruit you. It's a reciprocal relationship. The school needs to be happy with you; and you need to be happy at the school. A successful career pathway starts by being in the right place at the right time. You need to be challenged, stimulated, growing your skills and competencies, and happy at work. Of course, you can’t see the future, but you can be ready in the present.