In my admissions tutor role I occasionally undertake interviews via video-call. Those of us tasked with this job agree that, whilst video-calling is an incredible C21st development, it in no way replaces the valuable, nuanced interaction of a face to face interview. In teaching, where interpersonal skills and classroom credibility are so vital, trying to establish suitability via a screen can be very challenging indeed. Video-call interviews are tricky for both interviewer and interviewee for a whole host of reasons: the distraction of watching your own face floating around in front of you; the unexpected interruption because you are not in a controlled environment; the feeling of informality that comes with being in your own home.
So, as we enter a period where more web-based interviewing in education is a likely reality, how can we prepare our beginning teachers to compete for their first NQT posts through a camera? I thought I might share some thoughts gleaned from the ‘other side’ of a similar process.
Tips for online interviews
When you are being interviewed via video-link, any pre-interview tasks you may be called to complete matter all the more. Take these tasks seriously and prepare carefully. Make sure you follow the instructions for submission and meet the deadline set for returning them pre-interview. It is possible that you will be asked to expand upon/ explain your thinking behind these tasks, so keep a copy and have it ready to refer to during the interview.
A pre-interview task you should set yourself is to undertake a bit of web-research – both about the school and your own web presence. Get to know the school by reading everything you can find on the school/ MAT. Look at the school’s website, Ofsted reports, newsletters and articles in the local paper. As you this jot down questions you might have about the school. Then search for yourself on the web and ensure that the impression someone might glean from such an internet search is positively professional; if a school can’t meet you in person they are much more likely to try and gain an impression of you from the resources they have to hand. Also, make sure your video-call handle is professional and the image suitable.
Choose your spot and your look
Think carefully about where you will conduct the interview. An interviewer can cope with wild wallpaper, but slightly dubious posters on the wall or clothes spilling out of your wardrobe might not convey the impression you intended. Similarly, if you are conducting the interview in a house inhabited by lots of other people, make them aware that you’re about to have a job interview and choose somewhere away from the dog and where you won’t be interrupted by people constantly walking into shot or slamming doors.
Dress as you would if you were attending an interview in person (and not just from the waist up). This allows you to show you are taking it seriously, demonstrate your understanding of teacher professionalism, and tricks your mind into switching into formal mode.
Preparing for presentations
If you have been asked to give a presentation, take care to understand and follow the instructions given. Before the interview seek clarification of anything you are unsure about – if you are asked to ‘present a lesson’ are you meant to teach it as if the children were there, or are you precising your plan and explaining your thinking? If you have a PowerPoint or resources make these available before the interview so that interviewer can print them/ refer to them whilst the presentation is taking place. If you would like to use a prop, then use it! Interviewers can use their imagination (on one occasion I had a box passed to me ‘through the screen’, it told me a lot about the candidate’s personality and potential). Standing up to deliver the presentation can feel a bit strange, and lead to issues with angling the camera, but if it helps you to feel more formal and prepared then do so. If you remain seated, sit upright with a nice straight back – remember you are presenting yourself as well as your material.
Always maintain eye contact with the interviewer
Your own floating face is so incredibly distracting during video-calls, and it is so tempting to look at yourself rather than the interviewer (I once had a candidate effectively do their hair in the camera whilst talking to me). Don’t. If you can, close the window with your own face in it. Focus on the camera and therefore the eyes of the interviewer.
Similarly close all other programmes on your computer and mute notifications so that you’re not distracted by emails buzzing in – you wouldn’t look at your phone whilst in a face-to-face interview and this situation needs to be approached in a similar vein.
Have a practise run
Video-calls are peculiar. There are often issues with connection and setting up the call. There might be a time-delay, which can feel very awkward. Asking a friend to give you a practise run, even if just to check the logistics, is incredibly useful. Getting them to give you a mock interview to practise your responses is all the more useful!
In this practise interview, work out how you can ‘engage’ the interviewer – How can you pause to check they are following without it becoming an uncomfortable silence? How loud and frequently should you make expressive interjections? Think about your body language and how you can have a good posture without looking stiff. Consider how your gesticulations are translating on the screen.
Remember this is still an interview
It can be tempting to think that, because the interviewer can’t see everything in the room, you can have notes or prompts just out of shot. As a rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t do it in a face to face scenario, don’t suddenly think that you can get away with it via video-call. It may make you more anxious to not forget anything, and therefore less focused in your responses. It will definitely be distracting and lead you to break your eye contact.
Prepare questions you might like to ask about the role and the school – all the more important if you aren’t able to visit.
Be your best self
The thing I find hardest about web-based interviews is not being able to get a sense of the person I’m interviewing. As unsettling and unusual as this scenario is, smile, show how personable you are and, as some of my tutees are fond of saying, ‘be your best self’.
Remember that any ‘unofficial chat’ at the start or the end of the interview is STILL THE INTERVIEW, in the same way that meeting the department, or going to lunch or being taken on a tour of the school by some sixth formers is still very much part of the interview. Continue to ‘present’ yourself as an outstanding candidate even during those times.
A new (but hopefully temporary) reality?
I do not envy school colleagues as they enter this unusual season, however, it is possible to recruit really brilliant prospective teachers via online interviewing. For current ITE students going into this arena as NQT candidates, please be assured that everyone’s aim is to ensure that the right people end up in the best places for them and the pupils they will teach. Go into this scenario confident in the preparations that you have undertaken so far to enter the job market. We’ll all have to work this one out together.