Beginning and ending an interview

Every interview has a beginning, a middle and an end, but like every story, the beginning and the end are the most memorable. Make sure you get them right. The really good thing about preparing for the beginning and the end is that you can almost certainly predict what they will be like.

The greeting

You will usually be greeted by someone on the panel, perhaps the Head or the Chair of Governors. Try to have just a little bit of a sense of humour, even at this point. If the Head or Chair of Governors shakes your hand and asks: “How are you?” It’s perfectly ok to make the joke, “I’m a nervous wreck actually!” – as long as you say it with a smile…

You can even prepare to make some humorous small talk when you are walking up the corridor to the interview room. A light-hearted introduction will help break the ice and show paradoxically, that you have confidence.

Besides, self-mocking humour is both charming and disarming. Just make sure whatever you say is appropriate for an interview!

The first question

The first question at every interview is the one they give to warm you up. It will almost certainly be: “Tell us a little bit about yourself.”

With such a gift, you can prepare what you’re going to say down to the last detail. Because you should keep your answer reasonably brief, you can and should rehearse it too.

Talk about the course at the university or training centre you attended and the things you enjoyed most about the course as well as something personal – like a love of sport or music – that you pursued or developed while you were there.

If you are a career changer, give them a brief history of your career so far but again, include something personal, like what you enjoy doing with your family if you have one, or your love of a hobby or pastime.

The final question

One of the biggest mistakes people make at interview is that they don’t prepare for the ending. Just imagine – you may have spent an hour or so prior to interview doing various grueling exercises and activities to test various aptitudes, now you’ve just got through another 45 minutes or so of answering a range of challenging questions. You have flown your colours from the top-mast. Then the chair of the panel says: “Do you have any questions for us?” and you say: “Err… no I don’t think so…”


As this final question is a near certainty, it is something you can really prepare yourself for. Even better, you don’t have to answer it, except by turning the tables on your tormentors. Endings create impact and this is your last chance to leave a positive impression.

Be charming. Ask something complimentary. Ask the Head or even the whole panel to give you one sentence each about why they are proud of their school. Ask the Head what the people you’ll be working with – if you were to get the job – are like.

Alternatively or additionally, you could ask something philosophical. Ask the Head: “What’s your philosophy of education?” or ask the chair of the panel: “What’s your idea of an ideal school and respectfully, how far do you think you have got towards that ideal with this school?”

Such questions will again show your confidence and assurance. Since your interviewers will probably be meeting with lots of candidates, you should not miss this opportunity to ask such a question and make yourself stand out.

On your way out…

Don’t forget to smile and thank them for their time. When you leave, the panel will be talking about you of course. They’ll be filling out forms, ticking boxes and grading your experience, qualifications, communication skills and – more than they will be allowed to admit – your personality.

The reality, whatever interviewers say about impartiality, equal opportunities and equity, is that their decision will not just be informed by how experienced and well qualified you are; but also how memorable you are.

With some preparation on the questions you know for certain will come your way, that memorable person can be you.

Good Luck!

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk. His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) is published in March 2014.


5 thoughts on “Beginning and ending an interview

  1. This is great advice, some things we should all know to focus us and some extra insights. I would add utter honesty as an important factor.
    You really need to let the panel see the real you. I’m quite sure my new school know what they are letting themselves in for personality-wise and skills-wise.
    I was asked how I would cope with the large percentage of EAL and my answer was that I had limited experience and would need to have training and seek advice from established staff .
    I was also completely frank about my shortcomings as a teacher, and they still weren’t put off! This means I can start in September without worrying I have a facade to maintain, the job is hard enough without any extra pressure.

    1. Katherine – thanks for that and that is brilliant advice too – I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been reading some so-called advice on the TES and Guardian websites and thinking “some of this is creating a real rod for the backs of new teachers”. You are absolutely right – be honest and frank about your strengths AND your weaknesses. Then you’ll feel liberated. Good Luck for September!

  2. Just to say we had interview advice from my headteacher. He said explicitly he hates end of interview questions where you turn it around and ask them about philosophies or why their school is so great. He also said it is perfectly acceptable to not have any questions

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