by Paul Hammond
I deliberately use the term "selection day" because it is rare for the day of reckoning to be limited to a quick tour then an interview. Given the range of tasks that candidates now have to negotiate, it pays to be aware of the factors that can give you the edge over the rest of the field.
Tactics on the move
Much depends on how you feel, but I personally prefer not to leave too much to chance. It doesn't look good to carry piles of notes around with you during the day, so I always use prompts written on a series of blank postcards.
Each session of the day has its own card, which can discretely be carried round and taken out for reference as appropriate. For example, my prior research is designed to raise a number of general questions about the school, which I write down on a card.
This allows me to make reference to the questions en route around the corridors. In a similar way, the increasingly common "pupil panel" would find me turning to the appropriate card and selecting questions from the pool I had compiled earlier.
Obviously you cannot make reference to these notes during certain sessions such as interviews, but it does allow you to have a concise summary of your research to turn to should you have 15 minutes during the day.
Asking the locals
Go to any shops nearby the school and ask the shopkeepers what they think about the school and its students. A positive response is worth remembering and slipping in as appropriate during the day - all senior staff and governors warm to a pleasant word from the locals.
A consistent negative message from local traders could flag up an issue that you would do well to keep in mind. Remember that selection day is as much you scrutinising the school as the other way round.
If you have got this far the chances are you will do so with other applications so don't feel pressurised into making a decision you will regret soon afterwards.
A whole-staff approach
Remember, you are being judged from the moment you first park your car. I always make a point of introducing myself and having a quick word with the office staff. It is quite common for them to be consulted at the end of the day to ask which candidate took the trouble to be courteous and friendly.
If you are left in the staffroom during some lull in proceedings, don't bury yourself in your notes - speak to those members of staff around you. I was once told that I had ignored such an opportunity in favour of swotting up before the next session.
Touring round the school
These will sometimes be conducted by students, sometimes by staff. Assume that those involved will be asked for their opinion later, so be bright, pleasant, well-informed and interested.
Don't obviously butt in, but do make your presence felt. Try to spread your attention around all members of the tour leaders and when you enter a classroom try to interact with students as appropriate to the situation.
These are for many the most awkward part of selection day. Placed head-to-head with your opponents, it is hard to make preparations but tactics can come into play. Avoid saying something just for the sake of it - some candidates fill the time with peripheral points of view.
Instead, try to "boss" the situation. Staying on topic, pick up on the comment of another, make your own contribution and then pose a question to the group.
This is good on two counts - not only are you inviting contributions from others (a skill the panel will be looking for), but you will be forcing them to do so on your agenda. This might well allow you to repeat the cycle of "pickup-comment-question" in the near future.
Like a good essay, you should always stick to the question that is being asked. Timing is also important. If you go over time then the panel might be tempted to think that if taken on you will bore the pants off a staff meeting or carry your lessons past the bell.
Practice beforehand to stick to the time allotted. Presentation is important and so some expertise with PowerPoint is advised. If you are completely comfortable with a projector-laptop combination then fine, but remember the equipment is unlikely to be yours.
Here's a quick tip for structuring presentation slides so that they don't get too long or detailed: the three threes:
- Three sections
- Three slides per section
- Three points per slide
You can probably also get away with a title slide and end slide - make your name prominent.
Good preparation (research and practice) will always give you a head start when it comes to interviews. Speaking personally, the relaxed, confident candidate with an appropriate use of humour always attracts my attention.
I also look for the ability to reflect on their past experience and to draw upon their own knowledge-base as appropriate to the question. Appearance counts or more than you think. It is useful to quiz fellow candidates as they emerge from the interview room.
They may well give you hints about the kind of topics being covered that could be useful in last-minute preparation. In contrast, when you come out of the room make any excuse you can to leave the immediate vicinity so that your colleagues cannot play the same trick on you
If the panel is reasonably small, take some blank address labels with you. For an easy way of addressing them personally, ask the students for their names and write them onto the labels for the students to wear
Work out questions beforehand that are open-ended - avoiding the dreaded one-word answers that will leave you flustered. Try to think of topics that students are likely to have an opinion on.
Also remember that the content of question and response is not as important as the general impression you leave with the students.
After the result
If you are successful it is best to shake a few hands, dispense with a few preliminaries such as agreeing on a further meeting and then leaving. In the euphoria of victory you might say something you might regret, such as waiving re-settlement costs or a competitive salary. Fix a meeting date in the near future and head home.
If you are unlucky on this occasion, accept defeat graciously. Remember that you may well apply for a job in the same LEA or even in the same school in the future. Whatever your mood, ask for a debriefing on your performance.
Neither you or the head will be in much of a state to give or receive feedback after a long day, so book a time to either come in or (more likely) telephone in the next few days. Ask for a detailed de-brief across the full range of tasks - from letter to final interview. If the school is good, it will have kept notes on each.