Successful Interviewing

Part 1: A New Hiring Framework

Employees are the single greatest factor in determining the success of a business, company, or organization. They champion the mission, strengthen the culture, embody the values, and perform the daily tasks and functions necessary for success. People matter most.

 And just like any business, company, or organization, people are a school district’s most valuable asset. Finding excellent employees, whether they are administrators, teachers, classroom aides, bus mechanics, or custodians, should be the number one priority for a school district. Therefore, the educational recruitment and hiring process must be focused on identifying and selecting a person whose character and values align with the school district and community.

When an educator is not performing well, it’s usually not because of licensure, years of experience, or level of education. It’s often because of character traits and values. School districts rarely want to terminate a teacher for not writing solid lesson plans, but they do want to terminate a teacher who is negative, divisive, unprofessional, and/or inappropriate. 

When a school district begins the hiring process to fill an open position, it is important to identify candidates that are positive, selfless, honest, loyal, and trustworthy. Ideal candidates have a servant’s heart, value relationships, and show compassion for others. A person’s opinions, practices, and knowledge will grow, develop, and change over time, but a person’s personality, character, and values are a lot less likely to change over time. 

Several years ago, I realized that our district’s antiquated hiring processes would have to change to guarantee that our schools were being filled with quality educators who add positive attributes to our learning environment. After research, experimenting, and practice, I developed the following successful hiring framework. 

Screening Process Traditionally, school districts narrow the application pool down to 8-12 candidates for the sake of maintaining an efficient and manageable interview process. But the problem with this screening process is that school districts have a much higher chance of initially eliminating quality candidates.

Instead, I suggest including every qualified candidate even if this results in twice the number of first-round interviews. Investing the extra time in this first step of the process will be worth it in the end when your district finds the right person for the job.

First-Round Interviews Since the first round of this new interview process will most likely include a large pool of candidates, it’s impossible to conduct the typical 45-60 minute interviews for each one. Instead, the first-round interviews in this process only last about 15-20 minutes each.

While first-round interview questions traditionally focus on a candidate’s philosophy of education, classroom management practices, opinions on discipline, and content knowledge, I suggest asking questions that help identify the character traits, personality traits, and values that would be the best fit for the position. This may include several open-ended questions asked by a small interview team. The best insight often comes from creative questions. Sometimes the way a candidate answers a question gives more information about the person than the actual answer.

Second-Round Interviews The second-round interviews are longer (about 45 minutes), allowing more time to get to know the core intrinsic values of the candidates. It’s important to remember that the goal of this process is to find the best person for the job, not necessarily the best qualifications for the job. While it’s wise to develop a list of questions to ask all candidates to compare their answers, I think it’s also wise to go “off script” by asking follow-up questions that dig a little deeper. I find that I get to know a candidate deeper when the interview turns into a conversation.

Final Interviews As the interview rounds progress, the interview team can transition from asking questions that assess who the candidate is to asking questions that assess the necessary knowledge, experience, and skills you hope to find in the perfect candidate. By the final round of interviews, questions about experience, content knowledge, philosophy, and practice take up most of the time. However, I suggest that the team continue to make a conscious effort to watch for how the candidate’s intrinsic qualities will affect the application of their knowledge and skill sets. 

Final Decision When making a final decision, I suggest calling as many references as possible, listening to both what is and isn’t said. “Tell me about the candidate” serves as a great opening line. Hearing that the candidate is hard-working, punctual, and knowledgeable, is great, but hearing that the candidate loves children, is constantly positive, and is a joy to be around is better. 

If an interview team feels unsure about a young and inexperienced candidate, I encourage them to consider if they would hire the candidate in five years with more experience and an additional degree or license. If the answer is an emphatic yes, then I recommend hiring the candidate. 

Since the team has narrowed the final candidates down to quality, virtuous people, no matter who the team chooses, he or she will be an asset to the district.

The Perfect Fit... Last year, our district began the hiring process for three new fourth-grade teachers. The principal screened dozens of applicants and presented an initial pool of 18 candidates. Concerned that the pool was too limited, we reexamined the applications to identify every viable candidate and ended up moving over 30 candidates to our first round of interviews. In the end, one of the candidates that did not make the initial pool selected by the principal ended up being a perfect fit for one of the open positions.
Batman vs. Spiderman... A few years ago, our district was interviewing candidates for a high school assistant principal position. Since it was a first-round interview, we focused on determining the applicant’s personality traits. At the end of one of the candidate’s interviews, we asked, “In a fight between Batman and Spiderman, who would win?” The candidate thought for a moment and said, “I don’t know superheroes very well, but if I have to pick between a man in body armor and a teenager in tights, I’m going with the man in body armor. Batman.” Her response as well as her delivery demonstrated that she could thrive in unpredictable situations, easily develop relationships with students, and fit well into our administrative team. Ultimately, she became our new high school assistant principal!

With over 20 years of classroom and administrative experience, Mike serves as Assistant Superintendent for the Amherst Exempted Village Schools in Ohio. He is active in his church and community.


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Successful Interviewing

Part 2: Tips for the Candidate