Prefessional development:

Ace the interview

Remember that we’re not trying to catch you out – we want to find the best person for our students and discover the strengths you will bring to our school.

Are you a graduate teacher seeking your first job? The principals on our expert panel shared practical advice for every teacher, writes Professional Officer Patrick Devery.

As the hiring season gets into full swing, student members of the IEU gained some valuable insights into landing their dream job from four of the IEU’s most experienced principals.

The 90 minute online session covered topics including how to make your CV to stand out from the crowd and practical advice on how to handle the dreaded job interview.

Standout letters and CVs

The principal of Korowal School at Hazelbrook, Barbara Fitzgerald (see “Dealing with double trouble”, page 2) emphasised the tone of the application letter. “Write in the first person so your CV tells me about you as a person,” Fitzgerald said. It needs to be both professional, but also indicate your individuality. “Also, do your research and know the school,” she said.

Sidonie Coffey, who has 19 years’ experience as a school principal, said attention to detail is important if there are many applicants for a school to choose from. “I like to see that someone has actually done the courtesy of knowing my name,” Coffey said.

Former principal of De La Salle College, Cronulla, Phil Gane, made the point that a CV should have no gaps. “Even if there are some life experiences that aren’t pretty, they should be in your CV,” Gane said.

“Not everyone’s journey to teaching is smooth and clinical. There may have been some bumps along the way, but they tell us about you and can provide evidence of you having grown as a person.”

Lisa McSweeney, Principal of St Edward’s Primary School in South Tamworth, advises applicants to be concise and authentic. “We are aware beginning teachers don’t have a long professional CV to present so put in any of your work experience,” McSweeney said. “Retail experience, for example, shows you can deal with people, which is so important in a school environment.”

Now for the interview

The panel also provided some constructive advice on how to handle the interview process.

“It’s OK to be nervous,” McSweeney reminded the student participants. “We’ve all been in the hot seat.”

Bring your passion with you and make sure your enthusiasm for teaching comes through. “If the words ‘students’ or ‘children’ don’t come into your answers in the first few minutes I would be concerned,” Coffey said.

Gane advises applicants to dress professionally but, most importantly, to show professional engagement. “Don’t just tell me what you’ve done, tell me about the impact of what you’ve done,” he said. And if things haven’t gone well, Gane adds that he’ll ask you what you learned from it.

Fitzgerald reminds applicants that their interview commences as soon as they arrive in the front office. Support staff at the front desk will notice things about you. As anyone involved with schools will tell you, for every principal who thinks they are the most important person in the school, there are two support staff who know otherwise!

“Remember that we’re not trying to catch you out,” Coffey said. “We want to find the best person for our students and discover the strengths you will bring to our school.”

Coffey advises potential applicants to “be aware of all stakeholders in the room and if you hear a question you’re not sure about, ask for clarification”.

Expand your horizons

The principals also strongly encouraged the students to look outside the metropolitan areas for employment – three of the panelists had either worked or are working in regional or remote areas. “Flexibility of employment opportunities is one of the great benefits of being in the teaching profession,” said McSweeney, who teaches in Tamworth.

Fitzgerald agrees. “While leaving the city may be painful, it’s one of the greatest things I could have done,” said Fitzgerald, whose school is in Hazelbrook, in the Blue Mountains. “Until you’ve experienced significant disruption, there’s no way you are going to find yourself. There’s so much more to life than Sydney.”

For Coffey it’s about experiencing the reality of life in the regions. “I think some undergrads believe they’ll never find a latte on the other side of the Harbour Bridge!” she declared.

From a practical perspective there are some compelling reasons to consider applying for roles outside of Sydney, not least because a teacher’s salary tends to stretch a lot further in a country town, and country schools often don’t receive the hundreds of job applications their city cousins do.

Engage with your union

The principals urged the graduate teachers to maintain their active engagement with the IEU. “Schools can be tricky and complex places, and the union is imperative to your success,” Coffey said.

Coffey related her experiences as a beginning teacher having to vacuum her classroom and burn rubbish in the incinerator. “The conditions which we enjoy now are a direct result of union action,” she said.

Ace the Interview session moderator Pat Devery told the young participants that many older teachers, especially women, will remember losing their leave entitlements as they moved from diocese to diocese, or being forced to resign when they married or became pregnant.

“The entitlements young teachers will experience when they commence in the profession were hard won by union members over many decades,” Devery said.

“Just as we had to fight to achieve them, we must work hard to maintain them. They can easily be lost.”

Ace the Interview is still available on demand at the IEU Zone: For members only.