Recruitment: Running effective virtual interviews

Written by: Mike Donnelly | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Moving recruitment processes online has been one of many Covid challenges. Mike Donnelly offers a few tips on conducting effective virtual interviews

Recruitment in schools has become a year-round activity. Even if you do not have an urgent vacancy to fill, you should always be recruiting.

Many schools are now constantly looking to build a “talent pool” for future vacancies so that they can become less reliant on the big recruitment agencies.

Of course, last year posed a significant challenge to many schools when it came to education recruitment and these obstacles look set to continue in the months ahead as we await the full roll-out of Covid-19 vaccination.

So, what can you do to make sure that you are still effectively filling those must-fill roles during these turbulent times?

Schools have moved to digitise as much of their recruitment processes as possible, including a move to a complete virtual interview process.

A key challenge of course if how you can conduct online recruitment processes and still employ the right teacher for the position when you have not actually met them. Here are some quick tips to help make your process run more smoothly and to hopefully give you the best chance of making the right choice.

Utilise your ‘employer brand’

Branding is often a term that does not sit well with teaching, but at a time when teacher training targets are being consistently missed there is a lot of competition out there for the best candidates.

On top of this, one in five teachers are looking to leaving the profession in the next two years, according to a National Education Union survey in 2019 – and that was before the pandemic hit.

The corporate world has embraced employer branding in recent years and is benefiting from reduced agency fees, increased talent pools and higher retention and satisfaction levels. This is possible for schools too.

To get your employer branding right, start with your job description and sell the teaching experience. Do not focus on what the candidate can do for you – focus on what you can do for the candidate. Do you have great facilities, an excellent CPD programme, excellent staff wellbeing and support offer (which could be a deal-breaker in this era of Covid-19 and the stresses teachers have been under of late)? Set yourself apart.

Prepare your questions

Job interviews will have moved online, but are your usual killer questions still relevant to online interviewing? Do you need to add additional questions to suit the current context, about overcoming hurdles online and remote teaching? What about their use of ed-tech? There is lots more you need to consider now so do not just move your existing interview process onto Zoom et al without adapting your approach.

It is also advisable to share with your candidates how you are keeping everyone safe at the school and sharing your plans for the future. Allow the candidate more time to ask their own questions – as they are sure to have many.

Some schools have added an extra step in their interview process to allow candidates to meet other teachers from the school. This enables candidates to connect with potential future colleagues and to ask frank questions about future plans.

Use an interview panel

You can either have multiple steps of the virtual interview with your senior leadership team, or you can limit the interview process to a smaller number of steps and use an interview panel.

With simple and free tech like Zoom or Teams, you are able to conduct 30 to 40-minute interviews with a number of attendees. You can also record your interviews.

We would recommend keeping panels to a maximum of three interviewers as more than this could be cumbersome and ineffective. This is a great way to get a range of feedback on prospective candidates and you may find that members of the interview panel have differing views. Putting everyone’s feedback together will give you a more rounded view of the candidate’s suitability. This will help to reduce the feeling of risk when it comes to making a hire.

And remember, it is still possible to include pupil interview panels. While inviting a potential teacher into the classroom may now have to be virtual, it is still a great way to involve pupils. Workshop a session with your class beforehand and identify three key qualities of what pupils feel makes a good head, senior leader or teacher.

You can even record questions from one or two pupils and record the answers from candidates to feedback to the pupils. These sessions are perfect for a head boy and head girl to get involved in and gives them some experience of the workings of the world of work too.

Assessing classroom competency

This may be one of the most challenging areas to take online. However, with blended learning having become the norm, teaching remotely is now a must-have skill and there are lots of new ways of assessing classroom competency.

If you normally ask candidates to plan and conduct a lesson, then you can simply do this online, whether that be a streamed live lesson or a number of pre-recorded lessons. They might also prepare resources as part of their interview lesson plan. Why not get a number of your team together and use video-conferencing for your candidate to deliver a lesson? Or give them a platform to demonstrate their use of ed-tech? It may be that they have examples of their remote teaching or pre-recorded lessons from last year from their previous school that they could share.

If the candidate is applying for a more senior role, you can ask them to complete an organisational or time-management task. They can then present this to you during an online interview.

Enjoy a tea break

This should really be the first stage of any interview process. Arranging an online “tea break” means that your candidate will feel more relaxed. This will give you a much better insight into their natural personality as opposed to “interview mode”.

You might organise the tea break in conjunction with the opportunity to meet other teachers in the school. During the “tea break”, you could have a more informal chat to help you understand what they know about your school and to find out a bit more about them personally. Find out what attracted them to apply. What they would be most looking forward to if they joined you. But keep the chat light-hearted. You will find out a lot of useful information, which will be key to make sure that they can fit into your current team.

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