Wednesday, August 18, 2010

job interviews - hints for getting noticed

This photo has nothing really to do with this post, except I always like to start with a photo. This one makes me smile, because the young lady with her lovely painting of bluebirds on a branch was a first grader then. She is now entering 7th grade, and spent a week this summer as my teacher's helper in my PTSA summer camp yarn craft class. That means I was 6 years younger then too... and 6 years skinnier, and 6 years less gray... She, however, is still that skinny though a bit taller. I'm going to miss her sunshine this year, but she'll have as her teacher the new person that will be hired as a result of our the interviews held yesterday - so I guess this photo is a good lead-in for this posting anyhow!

Yesterday we interviewed 7 candidates for the last-minute opening for a grade 7-12 art teacher in my district. (We are a small district, with just two art teachers.)

So here are a few thoughts for those of you who have found yourself without a job,due to budget crunches and/or dropping enrollment, and who are now seeking a new position.

Even in our rural community, we had many applications to chose from. Why were some not even selected for interviews?

  • Misspellings and/or typos on the cover letter. If you REALLY want the job, take the time to PROOFREAD and have someone else proofread it too. We tossed aside those with obvious mistakes. Some of the typos included: a lower case letter "i" when saying "I am inquiring about the job..." ; the word "process" spelled "proces" (or maybe it was the word "success" - either way, the 2nd "s" was left off); an apostrophe before the "s" in a plural (such as "teacher's in your district").
  • Not including the items requested in the job posting or advertisement. Some of the applications we received did not include letters of recommendation, transcripts, or copies of certifications. All were requested in the advertisement.
  • Criminal record files. Let's face it; if you have a criminal record, you have an obligation to include it with your application, since (at least in NY state) if you get the job you'll be required to be fingerprinted. So the one we tossed had a conviction for DUI. The solution? DON'T DRIVE WHEN DRUNK OR INTOXICATED. Is it worth losing a chance at the career you have worked for? We had enough good applicants to toss this one aside.
  • Not submitting the application by the due date. Two applications arrived the next day; because of the tight time frame, interviews had already been scheduled and they were not even considered. I happen to know that at least one of these applicants had a very strong recommendation from an old friend who had been her art teacher in high school. A big shame that we couldn't consider her!
  • if you include a student teaching CD with your letter of interest, it probably shouldn't have a 'sound track' with songs like Survivor on it. We're not looking for an MTV video.
Once you've made it to the interview:

  • If you were requested to bring a portfolio to the interview, it's ok to include some of your own artwork, but what we REALLY want to see is student work. Whether or not you are a spectacular artist is not as important to the interviewer as whether or not you can get kids to produce. Even if you just finished student teaching and have not held a job yet, you should have photos of student artwork from student teaching. Two of the 7 candidates we interviewed only brought their own artwork. The others all brought a selection of student work and some included their own work as well.
  • When we are done asking you questions, we'll ask you if you have any questions for us. We were impressed with the candidate that came with some questions written down that she wanted to remember to ask. We want you to be interested and have questions to ask!
  • Have a couple of sample lesson plans that you have done (again, they can be from student teaching) to show us, with pictures of student outcome.
  • Don't respond "I'll do whatever you want me to do" - We want you to show some initiative to do your own planning, and allow us to see that you are ready for the job and the independence to get right to work. If you are hired, you will be mentored, but not babysat. When school starts, none of us will have the time to tell you what to do every day. We'll assume you've had the education and training, and expect you to have the know-how to develop your own plans. This is especially important in a small district like mine, where there is no other art teacher next door for co-planning. You've got to be confident that you can do it, and show us that confidence!

With all that said, I must commend our applicants, especially the 7 candidates we interviewed. They were all on time, nicely dressed and groomed, and carrying a portfolio. They were articulate, interesting, unique, and creative. They all remembered to thank us, and I would love to see each of them find a job, though I know that's not likely this year. We were very pleased to find more than one applicant that we felt could both handle the job and fit in nicely in our district. We had a tough decision to make, and I felt badly for those we could not hire. The final two candidates were spectacular, intelligent, and obviously ready for and capable of handling this potentially challenging job.

As luck would have it, all 7 applicants interviewed were women. Some were younger, some older, some married, some single, but for some reason, they were all female! You rock, gals!!!


  1. Another tip would be to USE your portfolio to answer the questions. It's TORTURE to sit through a whole interview wondering what is in that thing, then at the end hear "would you like to see my portfolio?" Sure, but now there's another candidate waiting in the hallway and we have 2 minutes to whip through it. If we ask about your teaching style, open that thing up and SHOW how your style of teaching produces student learning. WE ARE A VISUAL CONTENT! Use that to your advantage!

  2. Me and my husband are laughing so hard that someone used "I'm a Survivor" as their soundtrack. That must have made the day go by a little faster! That's hilarious.

  3. Great comments, and Jodi,great advice. The top applicants all did just that -used their portfolio to illustrate their answers to our questions. The others - we had to ask to see what they had with them and I was disappointed to have to ask.

    Erica, glad I had you laughing, but not sure we'e talking about the same song, though both choices are funny. The song(one of several songs) actually used was I guess BY a group called Survivor - the song was "Eye of the Tiger" - which, with the lyrics "it's the eye of the tiger, the thrill of the fight..." should get you and hubby rolling on the floor with more laughter! It certainly did me in.

    And by the way, the video was from an applicant who did not get selected for interview, but I'm betting I'm the only person on our committee who actually took the time to watch the video. I guess I should add the hint that you shouldn't expect administrators to bother to look at your enclosed CD's, or online portfolios. I did it anywhere they were offered, but I think the administration mostly read application cover letters, resumes, and references.

    I should also add that we did not invite for interview the candidate who had resigned from a different job every year for 5 or 6 years. He gave 'reasons' but still, it's highly suspicious and we want someone who will stay (and who we will WANT to stay after the first year!).

  4. good tips! You should post them to one of the art teacher listserves. Are you a part of any of them? yahoo groups has a couple and the teacherartexchange from getty.

  5. No, Marcia, I'm not on a listserve - not even sure what they are! (I'm such a technological ninny - too old, I guess to keep up with how quickly new stuff comes along...) How does one go about becoming a part of one?