Telling Your Story: Interviewing Effectively

12By Joel O’Brien — Today on my bike ride to work I reflected upon my experience last month at the Wisconsin Educational Recruitment Fair in Madison.

At the event, I had the opportunity to review resumes and observe the floor as anxious and eager teaching candidates scurried from one school district table to another. Observing the candidates took me back and made me wonder, did I look like this six years ago as senior in college?

While many candidates seemed well prepared and professional in appearance and demeanor, I could not help but also notice some red flags popping up throughout the day.  Consequently, I will discuss strategies for interviewing effectively through incorporating professional dress and implementing the STAR Method during the interview process

1)      Dress for Success
While this might come across as being cliché, my observations revealed that professional dress and wearing suits does not come natural to many young educators in a society that promotes bright neon colors and form-fitting clothing.  A couple specific candidates wearing shirts that resembled my fluorescent, reflective biking jersey come to mind. If you are questioning whether an outfit is too colorful, change it. I recommend finding an outfit a little less flashy, consider a standard primary color. Additionally, a former teaching colleague reaffirmed the importance of professional dress upon informing me about a recent staff email sent out to address appropriate teaching attire for faculty members when a new teacher wore a short revealing dress during the first week of school. In terms of professional dress, it is better to err on the side of conservatism to the point that the issue is not mentioned during the interview process.  If professional dress becomes an issue during an interview, it typically results in a candidate being passed over. Your attire should never speak louder than your experiences.

2)      STAR Methodstar
During career counseling appointments, I frequently conduct practice interviews to better prepare students for future interviews. When meeting with students, a typical disclaimer is “I am not a very good interviewer.” Fortunately, interviewing is a skill that can be learned. Think back to a hobby or sport that you took up at a young age. Consider your skill level now versus when you started; for most there is not much comparison due to the significant level of improvement.  One strategy that can produce such results when interviewing is the STAR Method.  One challenge to interviewing is being able to accurately describe specific experiences. It is easy to forget details and talk in circles, especially if you have not spent much time reflecting about an experience. The STAR Method is most beneficial when answering behavioral questions, which ask for specific examples to describe past situations highlighting specific skills.  For example, describe a disagreement that you had with a colleague or parent and how you managed the situation?  This method can also be effective when providing examples to demonstrate specific strengths.  Here’s a specific example utilizing the STAR method.

Situation- (1-2 Sentences) – EX: While student teaching, a parent called and questioned me about my teaching abilities and fairness after issuing their student a detention for….

Task- EX: In order to come to a common understanding, I organized a meeting between myself, my supervising teacher, the concerned parent, and student.

Action- (You took) – (1-4 Sentences) – EX: During the meeting, I described the events that transpired in the classroom and compared them to the account provided by the parent via the student. After discussing the issue, it became evident that the parent did not have a complete account of why the student received the detention…

Result (Most important, Quantify, if possible) – EX: After the meeting, the parent appreciated the time taken by myself and the cooperating teacher to clarify the situation and was supportive of the disciplinary action taken. These expectations resulted in improved behavior and classroom performance for the remainder of the semester, as the student raised their grade by a whole letter grade and earned no additional detentions during the remainder of the semester.

In closing, utilizing the STAR method makes stories much easier to follow for administrators.  Make sure to include the results of your experience, even if things did not go as originally planned, describe what you learned from the experience. While administrators consider the result to be the most important, they are the most commonly forgotten part of candidates’ responses. Lastly, make sure to practice delivering your responses to questions.  As alluded to in the introduction, practice makes perfect, or at least results in improvement. In order to accurately sell your skills and experiences to administrators, you must first know them yourself.

If you have additional questions or would like to schedule a practice interview, Marquette University students and alumni can schedule a career counseling appointment with the Marquette University Career Services Center (MUCSC) by calling (414) 288-7423. Online interviewing resources are also available on the MUCSC Webpage.

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