Job interviews are a two-way process

I have only just begun to catch up with the videos of Michaela School’s conference last week, talking about the mistakes they have made along the way. My first port of call was the opening talk given by its headmistress, Katharine Birbalsingh, in which she discussed recruitment and retention.

Listening to Katharine talk, who was very interesting as ever, I was struck by a remark she made about being honest with interviewees, making it clear to them that the interview was a two-way process. If at any time during the interview, they felt this wasn’t the school for them, then it was best to say so and part amicably without wasting any further time.

This put me in mind of my visit a few weeks ago to Michaela and my meeting with Katharine. I was blown away by the school and what it was managing to achieve with an intake of very socially disadvantaged children. I wouldn’t have been human if it hadn’t crossed my mind at some point if this was a school I could work in after I complete my teacher training. I love that they are ripping up the rule book, that they are unashamedly academic and have high aspiration for their pupils.

And yet, thinking about it on my way home after the visit, I knew that it wasn’t the right school for me. I couldn’t put my finger on the reason why, it was just a gut feeling I had. On the surface, it should have been a good, strong fit. A school that is not afraid to do things differently, no marking, fantastic behaviour and a knowledge-rich curriculum.  These are all things I applaud. Katharine herself and her staff could not have been more gracious. But my instinct said no.

In contrast, when I did go for an interview at the school I shall be training with, my gut emphatically said yes. As I’ve been pottering around the house today doing my usual chores, my mind has been dwelling on this conundrum. And I think I have an explanation. A book I’m reading currently is “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt. It’s a fascinating read, but I’m not about to paraphrase it here (go out and buy it). One thing I picked up in the book is how we humans are constantly making snap judgements about the people we interact with and that these judgements are coloured by our prejudices and our sense of belonging to a social group or tribe. We are very tribal by nature. On meeting someone, without noticing you are making a judgement. Could this person be in my tribe (metaphorically speaking)?

My overwhelming sense, at the end of my job interview, was that I was already accepted, valued and welcomed. It gave me a warm, glowy feeling. And I guess, at Michaela, for whose staff I have the greatest of respect, my mental snap judgements had concluded that I was not going to fit in. I’m sure this has more to do with my internal prejudices and deficiencies than anything to do with them. It just seemed to me that they are supremely confident, high flying, quite extroverted individuals. And that wasn’t a good match for my sometimes self-doubting, introverted self. That’s not to say that I am intellectually inferior, or will be a lesser teacher. Just that this particular environment is not the one I will thrive in.

So what have I learned? Trust your instincts and be honest with yourself. How many times have we gone for a prestigious sounding job and tried to mould ourselves to the company or school rather than be truthful and say, “That’s not the place for me.” We’ll all be the happier for it. So thanks, Katharine, for your honesty, and I hope you will appreciate mine in return.

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