Recovering from an unsuccessful interview

This blog post is in collaboration with some wonderful people including @EmmaHal39281100, @MrsLFlower and @Miss_Southon

I’ve been putting writing this blog off to be honest. Who likes to talk about their failures in public spaces after all? But it is important what we do. You’ll see a lot of websites talking about what to do in preparation for an interview but not a lot once it is over and you haven’t got the job and that is just as important.

What you won’t find is trite remarks such as ‘It makes you stronger’ or ‘something better will come along’ or ‘If it was meant for you you will have got it,’ even if they may all be true. Hopefully what you will find is some strategies for moving forward. And some ideas on how to grow from the experience.

My experience

I recently went for a Headship interview. I have only been a VP for a year and recognise that it is probably quite early to take the next step. My motivations included ensuring that I understood the process, used it as an opportunity to reflect how far I’d come in the previous year and used it as the best CPD and 360 review I could get my hands on as well as, if possible, get the job. As far as I was concerned I had nothing to lose from giving it a shot.

The rejection

Despite all of the benefits I know I have got out of the experience nothing really makes it any easier to deal with the negative outcome. I knew I was the underdog, I knew there were sections of experience I didn’t have. I did fall in love with the school when I went to visit, which made managing expectations harder. So I gave myself 24 hours to eat and drink my feelings and sulk!

So now that I have been told I haven’t got it what do I do?

Get feedback – Well the first thing I have asked for is the paperwork in relation to my interview questions. The school in question are being wonderful in that they are happy to provide me with question by question feedback so I’m going to make the most of that. Two areas of development were clear. The first, timetabling and the second finance (although I have handled extremely large budgets in the commercial sector for 7 years not managing them in education is a problem).

Make a List – of the structure of the day, tasks, questions, things you struggled with elements you found easy, so that you can remember for next time. You may think you’ll never forget but you will so get it down.

Have a frank conversation with your boss – The interview has given me a place from which to demand development – I knew timetabling and finance were areas for development for me 7 months ago, I had bought them up with my Head who hadn’t done much to develop me in these areas. Since the interview we have a had a very frank conversation about the need for exposure to these elements or the need for me to go elsewhere to get them. A tough but honest conversation which has been provided clarity for both of us.

Take control of your development – Deep down I’ve known I’m repeating what I have previously done and not demanded that the Head give me opportunities to develop in other areas. He is risk averse and therefore would need some convincing. This experience has given me the impetus to do just that. I’m looking for courses, demanding a seat at the table in meetings I would not usually be at in a bid to learn and all of this is happening in context for my Head to understand why so he can support me.

Below is the experience of @EmmaHal39281100

The feeling of rejection is never pleasant, particularly if you’ve had to battle your inner imposter syndrome feelings to start with. I have two experiences that I feel are worth sharing.

A few years ago, I was feeling really overwhelmed with my role, the leadership, at the time did not suit me, and, it is a very challenging school to work in.

1. I was applying for a head of KS3 role in a beautiful school further away from my home town. When I say beautiful, it really was a dream. The tour, lead by the students, was awesome. The whole day went well, weighing up the other candidates I felt strong. There was a niggling feeling that it wasn’t right for me. I continued through to the interview but all the way home I was panicking that I might actually be successful! I opted to pull out. The head teacher was a true gentlemen. I explained that I liked teaching in challenging schools that were, dare I say it…a bit gritty. He completely understood and then, did the most amazing thing…he thanked me for working in challenging contexts and appreciated that the pressures would be different in his school. His out pouring of respect for schools like mine and teachers like me was the boost I needed to realise why I teach where I do.

2. This time i was applying for a second in department role. The current HOD knew of me and my school as we are in similiar areas. Again, the day seemed ok. There was much deliberation and the three candidates, myself included, were wondering why it was taking so long. I was the first to be pulled out. The HOD explained that they were sending me home. She mentioned that work that I was doing at my current school is great and I was making a real difference. Although I felt rejected, hurt, and a little embarrassed…now, with hindsight, I’m delighted! I was making a difference and chipping away at making improvements, our results would improve in time and I should not be applying out demoting myself.

Growing where you are – Since then my department have gone from strength to strength, our school is on an amazing journey and I am considered a driving force behind that. To top it off, myself and my second in department planned, coordinated and hosted a Teachmeet at our school for over 100 teachers! So really, my message is that there’s a lot to learn from rejection. Although it feels raw, your inner demons are shouting “i told you so!” and it can be embarrassing when you tell people you didn’t get it but often, you learn things about yourself, what drives you and where your passions truly lie. Ask yourself, how can I grow where I am?

Learning what is a good fit – Visiting other schools made me realise that you are interviewing the school as much as they are interviewing you. YOu have to ask yourself whether this is the school you want to work for. Similarly, the chances are you are being appointed as part of a team so when being interviewed the interviewer is thinking what you bring to the team. It may be that they already have someone with a similar perspective to you so the rejection isn’t personal it may be to ensure the team is made up of a diverse group of people.

Below is the experience of @Miss_Southon applying for an NQT position

My first interview experience was very daunting after having sent off around six applications all which had been rejected. I felt over the moon when I was finally invited to an interview via zoom for a position in key stage two. Due it being my first interview I was extremely nervous and I didn’t have any idea what to expect from an online interview, it felt very strange having to look at yourself while talking to four other members of the school community (the headteacher a member of the governing body and two members of senior leadership). I knew straightaway that I hadn’t been successful with the interview because even though the interview allowed 45 minutes to an hour I had finished answering all the questions in 20 minutes. I researched the school website off by heart and I knew all of the schools policies and mission statements however, I didn’t take a lot of time to think about my experiences from my teacher training and how I was going to put that in an answer to them as most of the questions were about me but for some reason I thought the questions were going to be about the school and how I would fit in which 100% wasn’t the case. I got a call back from the headteacher about an hour and a half later and he explained I have been unsuccessful and I could ring back in two weeks after the holidays for some feedback. 

Getting Feedback

I was embarrassed to ring back because I didn’t want to hear my failures over the phone but I know that listening to what he had to say would help me in the future if I was invited to another interview. The headteacher explained that my answers weren’t very detailed and I didn’t give many examples of my own experience and tended to keep the answers very short which didn’t give them a lot of information about my experience as a teacher. For example when explaining the behaviour management technique I use or spoke about a situation within placement I didn’t go into very much detail which is what they were looking for as by doing this it would’ve given them a lot more information about my experience and what I could bring to the school as a teacher. He also gave me some tips for the lesson plan I produced  as the activity for the interview was to plan a lesson; he said that I should listen to the brief and strictly follow the brief because even though my lesson plan was great he wanted the lesson plan to be about reading but I focus my lesson plan more on vocabulary which isn’t what they asked for. 

Stepping forward

When I was called to the next interview (which to bear in mind was about three weeks after my first unsuccessful interview) I was feeling very nervous but as soon as I was introduced to everyone before the interview began I just felt very calm straight away because all three interviewers were really warm and made me feel at ease. I also made sure to explain all my answers in detail and sometimes I gave two examples if I didn’t feel like that was a enough, I didn’t worry that I was speaking to much because at the end of the day this interview is for them to find out about me and my experience as a teacher and what I can being to the school so therefore I needed to talk about myself and my teaching experience as much as possible. In addition, I was asked to plan a maths lesson, I stuck to the brief and did exactly they asked by not going off topic, I also made sure that the values of the school were embedded within the lesson plan and I made it very detailed because I wasn’t actually going to be able to teach that lesson due to Covid so I wanted to make sure that they could see my teaching style clearly within the plan and that they could visualise what my lesson would like if they were to see it in person. 

Lessons learnt

Overall I think it’s really important to listen to constructive feedback, be confident, use examples and listen to the brief but most of all be yourself and try not to come across as being nervous because if you do that shows. It is extremely difficult having an interview over zoom but they are new to this way of working too, so be confident in yourself and your ability.

Here @MrsLFlower talks about a slightly different experience which offers the same challenges and opportunities for growth. Stepping down from Leadership.

I was saturated with mortification. I felt the slow, hot prickle of shame creeping up my chest and neck, settling on my cheeks, emblazoned for the world to see. 

My usual tagline here is ‘I stepped down from leadership after a difficult return from maternity leave’. This quick, rehearsed, flyaway comment with the practiced smile gives just enough of the truth to feel authentic, without exposing the hurt too much.

Knowing that I wasn’t good enough, that I’d made mistakes, that I hadn’t lived up to the lofty ideal of fabulous leader and new mummy, made me ashamed. I believed I’d failed, and that this was the end of everything I was.

Although not an unsuccessful job interview, the above situation brought about the familiar feeling of ‘doors closing.’ 8 months later, I’ve come to the other side feeling stronger, with clarity and vision, and most importantly, with renewed hope.

My tips for coming through the shame and hurt of job interview rejection are:

Grieve: Perhaps you really loved the school, or the opportunities it presented, or, frankly, the status and prestige of the role. Perhaps you really needed this job, financially, or because of its location, or even to get out of your present school. Allow yourself the time to process these feelings – name them, let them out, write them down, cry, wail, curl up in a ball – let it happen. Ignore, for now, the well meaning ‘chin up’ type comments from others. You had hopes for the possibilities of this role – you have a right to be upset. 

Find your supporters: Now turn to those well meaning people. Tell them of your grief. Share your truth. Use them as a mirror – are you really upset about this particular role? Or is it that you now feel definite about applying for a similar role elsewhere? Seek out those above you at your current school, and ask them for advice to develop. Take a deep breath, and ask for meaningful feedback from the school you have just applied to – could someone ring you to really talk it all through? Use this feedback to rebuild your confidence, and strengthen your resolve. 

Search out new opportunities: From your feedback and the opinions of those above you at your current school, what were your strengths? Are these areas you’re passionate about? Shout about these! Attend (virtual) events about them, meet other expert educators, broadcast your ideas, blog, tweet, vlog – you never know where it may lead! Equally, enter into the world of your areas for development, humbly as a novice, reading, absorbing, experiencing all you can. 

Getting back up after a setback is incredibly difficult, and seeing the light that may come afterwards can feel impossible. I broke, falling so far and so hard I couldn’t see for the impetus of shame, dragging me to hide in the shadows. It was after my grieving period, when I found my tribe, that I began to slowly unfurl my tightly held petals to emerge, smiling, into the sun.

I hope the above experiences provide support for the teachers out there who are experiencing some set backs. The common theme seems to be heal and nurture yourself, learn and move forward.