While many of us are adapting to working from home, school leaders and recruiters are gearing up to hire staff whilst facing the possibility of further restrictions on movement, both nationally and internationally. (As if school recruitment isn’t facing enough of a challenge!) 

We wrote recently about how schools are dealing with closures due to COVID-19. The outbreak has come at a critical time when many teachers have handed in their notice and vacancies for the next academic year need filling. 

With the continuing spread of COVID-19, some interviews will need to go virtual. 

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Recent sharp rise in remote interviews 

Google, Amazon and Facebook ramped up online interviewing earlier this year, well before the WHO declared a pandemic, as did recruiters PageGroup and Robert Walters. 

And let’s not forget, schools here and abroad have long used video interviews for overseas candidates. 

The technology is there. Video conferencing apps, including Google Hangouts, BlueJeans, Zoom and Slack, facilitate both one-to-one and panel interviews. 

The need to train staff

The technology is up and running. Are the staff? This new situation calls for coaching and practice.

School leaders may be less comfortable with video calls than their counterparts in industry, who may well do it on a weekly basis. 

They will want advice on how to present themselves and their institution in the best possible light. Role-playing remote interviews will make a world of difference to how school leaders perform in the real thing. 

The commonest rookie error is looking at yourself on the screen rather than looking at the camera. But this tendency lessens with time. 

Practising with colleagues will bring greater confidence. We all learn by doing and working through feedback from those who have more experience and expertise.

Consultation, collaboration, teamwork

Working with those in marketing or those with skills in video and editing will ensure the school makes the right impression. 

It is essential to get the lighting and the background right. Do you wish to show books, trophies, plants, or a photograph of the school or its crest? 

You don’t want anything too intrusive or cluttered which will detract from face-to-face interaction and eye contact. 

And what about dos and don’ts before, during and after the remote interview?

Before the remote interview

Technical support staff to be on standby to double check tech and resolve issues if they later arise. That will give greater confidence to school leaders conducting the interviews. 

Similarly, make sure interviewees are comfortable with the technology and the process. Clear communication from the outset, through emails and/or phone calls, will put them at ease. As we’ve written before in a previous blog:

“Job applications are fraught with numerous difficulties. Make things easy and frictionless. If you appear friendly and approachable from the outset, it’ll go a long way to attracting the best fit for your school.”

So, don’t just send links out of the blue. Clearly outline the timetable for the recruitment process, key deadlines, and how long interviews will last. 

You want candidates to show the best possible versions of themselves, and not be thrown by glitches. Otherwise you may miss out on the best staff. 

Have a plan B in case the technology lets you down and make allowances for those who are less comfortable with remote communication. 

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During the remote interview

Reduce distractions. Make sure that other programmes and notifications are turned off on your devices. 

Some find it helps to use post-its for prompts, and pen and paper to make notes. Explain this to candidates so they understand why you might occasionally turn away from the screen.

A friendly, approachable manner, and starting with a smile, will set the tone and put the candidate at ease. 

Turn-taking requires complex visual clues which are sometimes lost online. Accept that, without these clues, online conversations occasionally break down. 

Give the candidate lots of time to answer each question. Avoid the tendency to race from question to question. Use non-verbal signals such as gentle nodding to reassure the candidate. 

End the interview with a recap of the main points. Ask the candidate if they would like to add to any of their answers or revisit any topics. 

Explain to them what the next stage of the recruitment process will be, and the exact timeframe. 

Make sure you give them the chance to ask questions about a school they are perhaps yet to visit themselves.

After the remote interview

A quick follow-up email will reassure the candidate that technology did not stand in the way of them giving a good account of themselves. 

Write a response while the interview is fresh in your memory. Agree the content with others involved in the recruitment process. You could outline two or three of the candidate’s strengths or reiterate some areas of common ground or agreement.

Wish them well and outline once again what the next stage of the interview process will be, and once again the exact timeframe.  

What about the interview lesson? 

At the time of writing, it seems schools will be closed for months rather than weeks.

The interview lesson is an important part of assessing prospective teachers. You need to see how teachers get on with students. How they establish rapport. How they bring their subject to life in the classroom.

It is too soon to say whether teachers will be asked to deliver interview lessons online.

Online tutoring is a growing and successful global market, but online interaction is so different from face-to-face communication. Suffice to say, virtual teaching is tiring and brings with it a whole host of other issues and challenges.

Let’s see how teachers across the land fare when they try out Google Hangouts next term. 

Don’t forget that it wasn’t so long ago, perhaps only 15 – 20 years ago, that teachers were hired solely on the strength of a solid CV and a good interview. 

Bryony – Guide

ambleglow expert

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