Recruitment is a bit of a minefield. Getting it right takes time and sometimes a lot of patience. By following the Axcis Guide to Good Recruitment Practice, you can increase your chances of finding that perfect candidate the first time. In part four I talked about effective shortlisting. Part five covers the interview process.
There are many different philosophies on how an effective interview should be conducted. Some people prefer a very relaxed style, while others prefer a formal structure to their interviews. Some employers will use an agreed set of questions so as to keep the process entirely fair for every applicant. Others will use a competency base for questions and others might use value-based questioning. As this is a blog and not a text book, I will focus on giving some key tips on how to run an effective interview, rather than going into lots of detail on the different models available.
Only interview the best
If you have followed the Axcis Guide to Good Recruitment Practice so far, you will have a strong Job Description, a detailed Person Specification and will have been through your advertising and shortlisting process. If you have used telephone pre-screening to whittle down your list of potential applicants, you should be left with only the most suitable candidates to invite to a formal interview. This is important because interviews are very time and labour intensive. They usually involve several managers or more senior members of your team. As time is money, every interview you set up should be for a candidate who shows real promise for the role. Interviewing for the sake of interviewing or meeting target numbers of applicants is a huge waste of your resources and should be avoided at all costs.
Involve relevant managers
It is a very good idea to ensure that the prospective line manager is present at all interviews. While the final decision might be made by a company director/school head teacher or other senior employee, nobody will understand the role (and hence what sort of person is required) like the line manager. So, if, for example you are recruiting a SEND TA, you should involve the SENCo in the interview process.
Understand the role you are recruiting
It is important to remember that you are not just looking for the best candidate, you are looking for the best candidate for this particular job. So, just because someone might come across as a potential star employee, think carefully whether this person will be a star employee in this particular role. If the answer is no, try to avoid increasing your head count as this will have a negative impact on your budget and will not resolve the vacancy you currently have. If you have a good Job Description and Person Specification, this will help to keep you on track, so refer back to them often.
Remember that interviews are a two-way process
There have been huge staff shortages in the education sector in recent years, and these look set to continue for the foreseeable future. So remember, the interview process is as much for potential candidates to ask you questions and find out about the role/organisation as it is for you to find out about them. Many schools seem to make the mistake of treating applicants as if they should be grateful for an invitation to an interview and really grill them during the process. Although pressure-based questions and asking about tricky situations should form part of your interview, you should remember that your aim is to sell your vacancy too and to get applicants excited about the prospect of joining your team as well. So make sure that you give applicants the chance to ask plenty of questions if they want to.
I have actually come across schools who manufacture classes of their best students for the interview process in order to create a good impression of the school to prospective teachers.
This might sound like a silly tip, but it is SO important. Filling a vacancy is all about making that perfect match between a person and a job. You can’t do this if you are not honest with all applicants. If the classes you expect them to work with are very challenging, be clear about this. I have actually come across schools who manufacture classes of their best students for the interview process in order to create a good impression of the school to prospective teachers. While this may yield more staff prepared to accept a job offer, it doesn’t give an honest representation of the school and is destined to end in disappointment on the part of your new recruits. In addition, nobody likes to feel that they have been misled or lied to, so it doesn’t get things off to a very good start. As a result, issues with trust will develop and staff turnover is bound to increase – the end result will be having to start the entire recruitment process again which will waste all the time and money invested the first time round! So although it is tempting to over-sell the role or school/company to make sure you don’t lose great applicants – NEVER DO IT! That’s not to say you should put your organisation in a negative light, but you should be clear about what challenges any new employee may face, and ensure that they are keen to accept such challenges as part of their role. Of course, you should also make sure you include all the positives and great things you have to offer as well so as to balance the scale.
A day or two before the interview is to take place, you should sit down with any other individuals who will be present and do two things:
- Review the applicant carefully – Don’t wait until just before the interview to have a quick glance at the CV/application pack. Instead, spend a bit of time actually reading it through carefully and thinking about areas which need probing. If you have received references, read them through along with any other available information, such as notes made during a telephone pre-screen. The better you understand your applicant, the more likely it is that your interview will be effective.
- Plan questions to ask – Don’t stick to the same old formula or list of questions that are used for all interviews. All people are different, so why shouldn’t all interviews be different? That’s not to say that you might not have a few standard questions which need to be asked of all applicants, but you should be prepared to probe/examine and push for detail when answers are given which require it. At Axcis, we would recommend that you include some competency based questions, as well as some value based questions, as recommended by the NSPCC.
Schools routinely include a practical task as part of their interview/selection process. Teachers will often be required to teach a sample lesson, and TAs might be observed while working with an individual or a group of students. At Axcis, we feel that this is a very valuable part of the process. This has two major benefits:
- It gives individuals who become nervous and do not perform excellently at interview the chance to shine
- As the role will require continual contact with students, schools will be given the opportunity to see if the potential new teacher/TA can quickly build rapport with their students – a quality which is clearly of great importance.
As soon as possible after the interview has taken place, you should review the applicants with any colleagues who were present. By keeping “score” of your potential new employees (for example by using the person specification as a checklist), you can get an idea of who will be the most suitable person to hire. However, this should not be the sole deciding factor on who you offer the job to. You should also consider their level of motivation/enthusiasm, whether your organisation can provide them with the progression they may require in the coming years (and if not whether this is considered to be an issue), as well as what their referees say and how they will fit into the team. Debriefing should take place as soon as possible after the interview while the details are still fresh in your mind.
Feedback and Rejections
Let’s imagine a scenario; you’ve met six applicants for interview, three are decided to be unsuitable, two are “maybes” and one is the candidate you really want. Don’t reject everyone else just yet – the reason will become clear in a moment… In the meantime, if you have time to provide detailed feedback to each person who took the time to attend an interview with you, they will appreciate it. So many people complain that nobody takes the time to give interview feedback any more so you can make yourself stand out by being one of the employers who do. However, you can wait to do this until you have a firm acceptance from your chosen candidate. And there is nothing wrong with telling the runners-up that they have just been pipped to the post, but that you’d appreciate it if they would give you permission to contact them should any other vacancies of a similar nature arise. You never know if your chosen candidate might change their mind, or if another similar role might come up which would be perfect for one of the other applicants. Just think of all that time and money you could save if you already have a person lined up ready for your next vacancy and do not have to go through the entire recruitment process again a week or two later!
If you’d rather let someone else do all the hard work
The recruitment process is labour-intensive and time consuming. Many organisations now rely on recruitment consultancies to do the vast majority of the hard work for them – which is why recruitment as an industry is worth over 25 billion pounds and growing year on year. For special educational needs positions, at Axcis, we have an extensive database of candidates with valuable skills and experience. We do the advertising and interviewing, pre-screen interested candidates and negotiate pay on your behalf. We also undertake all relevant compliance checks. So if you’d rather let someone else do the majority of the hard graft, contact Axcis with your vacancy now to see how we can help. Our recruitment service is absolutely FREE OF CHARGE until you find your perfect candidate and want to hire them for a temporary or permanent role. So, if we don’t find you anyone you feel is worth hiring, you won’t pay a penny! So, what have you got to lose?
If you’d like to read more of our series on Good Recruitment Practice, the following articles are available: