Issue: Interviewing

February 23, 2010

The first interview you do as DoS is a nerve-wracking experience. You stride down the corridor with confidence, grasp the interviewee’s hand with vigour and all the time you suspect this is it–  this is the moment you’ll be found out. A few weeks ago you were laminating photos of zebras for your beginner group and now you have someone’s future in your fresh managerial paws.

It gets better with time, but the interview process will always be an art form rather than a science. There is so much to weigh up when assessing a candidate and it’s incredibly difficult to work out just how this person is going to perform in the school – week in, week out. Instinct and psychology both have an important role to play.

I’ve spoken to other Doses and attended talks about recruitment and what people are looking for when they interview candidates – I often hear things about experience, knowledge, qualifications. It’s surprisingly rare for people to mention talent as a key factor in deciding whether to employ someone or not. Is talent just too hard to assess? Do we feel that it’s not our place to decide if someone is talented or not? Maybe it’s just simpler to look at a CV and think  ‘Ah, they have the DELTA…that’ll do.’ Would it not be better to have an inexperienced but talented teacher over a well-qualified teacher who doesn’t have the same natural ability?

I really like what Jack Welch has to say about recruitment. In his book Winning he states that ‘hiring great people is brutally hard…I’d say as a young manager, I picked the right people about 50 per cent of the time. Thirty years later, I had improved to about 80 per cent.’

So if it’s difficult for Jack Welch…

Jack has some great advice to offer with his 4-E (and 1p) formula. He suggests that we should be looking for

  • Positive Energy
  • The ability to Energize others
  • Edge (the ability to make decisions)
  • Execute (the ability to get the job done)
  • Passion

They may not all be equally relevant to someone recruiting English language teachers, but energy, the ability to energize others and passion should surely be near the top of our recruiting criteria.

It’s easy to get swamped by details when assessing CVs and interviewees. In the end we can simplify things by asking two questions –

  • Am I going to be able to work with this person for the next x years?
  • Would I be excited about having this person as my teacher?

Let me know what you think…

Should we talk more about talent when recruiting EFL teachers?

Is the 4E (and 1p) formula any use to us?–and-Right.aspx

4 Responses to “Issue: Interviewing”

  1. Andy Hockley Says:

    Hi Mike, great blog. Thanks for starting it!

    I think the three questions you need to ask (yourself) (but with a view to finding it out from the interviewee) are
    1. Can this person do the job? (capabilities)
    2. Will they do the job? (motivation)
    and, just as importantly,
    3. How well will they fit into this school/organisation (organisational fit)

    Arguably 1 is the easiest to answer – what experience and qualifications do they have, what can they tell me about previous situations they’ve been in etc.
    2 probably slots into your (and Jack Walsh’s) energy and passion categories (then the question becomes …how do we find out whether they have those qualities? Is it just about being enthusiastic in the interview?
    and 3 is maybe even more challenging. Can you get a sense of how they’d be in the staffroom? What kind of teacher they’d be? Whether they’d fit the culture here?

    To give an example of a way of dealing with number 3 – UK sandwich shop chain Pret has a recruitment process which involves the semi-successful applicant working for a week in the branch they’ve applied to work in. At the end of that week all the other people working there vote on whether to give him/her a job on a permanent basis. Not really something you could do in a language school easily, but perhaps something to bear in mind.

    I do know of a language school (not in the UK) where the hiring process involves taking recent ELT university graduates, and putting them through a free one week intensive course in -let’s call it- “slightly more up to date methodology than they might have got at university”. At the end of that week, not only have they got a fairly good idea of the skills of each applicant, but the trainer, who has come to know everyone very well, has a real sense of which ones would fit the school better.

    That was a longer comment than I expected when I started it! Thanks for inspiring me

    • rileymike7 Says:

      Thanks for your comment, Andy.

      Questions 2 & 3 are the killers. Being enthusiastic in the interview is a start – I’m amazed at the number of candidates who come for interviews and seem unable to even fake enthusiasm for the job (of course it’s easy to make a decision on these people.) I think instinct plays a huge part here.

      It would be great to see candidates teaching in a long-term situation -which I guess you can do if you run CELTA courses – but otherwise is pretty difficult.

      I’ve found it useful to ask candidates to bring along some lesson plans that they’ve used. You can get an idea of the style of their teaching, potential for development, etc., just by looking at the plan and listening to what their priorities were during the lesson and what they learnt from it.

      Perhaps in the future we’ll be able to ask candidates to email videos of previous lessons?

      I love the story from Pret – I’m now thinking of doing an X-factor style recruitment process for the next academic year…Or perhaps we could do a version of Big Brother – lock the candidates in the school with a group of students and each night the students get to vote someone out.

      Thanks again, Andy, for the comment and the thought-provoking ideas.

  2. Nick Kiley Says:

    I agree that in EFL we often look no further than the qualification, unless we’re in a position to ask for a demonstration lesson, but I find in some contexts my decision to recruit has been very heavily influenced by necessity – what do you do when there are classes to open, or a teacher suddenly left, and you only have the one applicant sat in front of you?

    Give them a part-time contract and pray?

    This has back fired on me a couple of times, but had few other options at the time (given pressure from ‘above’).

    I reckon I’ve done a little better than Jack’s 50% – maybe 55%…



    • rileymike7 Says:

      Thanks for the comment, Nick. I guess we assume that there are loads of applicants for each job. If you have courses to get started and only one candidate, well a prayer might just be the best option.

      We all hope these decisions don’t backfire, but it’s reassuring to hear that experts like Jack Welch often get it wrong too. Sometimes -especially when options are limited – we just have to bite the bullet and hope for the best.

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