Contract Interview Tips – School Setting
You have been offered an interview as a therapist or therapy assistant with one of PediaStaff’s School district clients! — Congratulations!
Although a contract job is not a “commitment for life,” the employer conducting the phone or face to face interview will be looking for a strong indication that you are committed to the position you are being considered for and that you are truly interested in their district. Many interviews for contract jobs are done strictly by telephone, and as such are often perceived by the candidates as less important as an interview that takes place face to face. In fact, the opposite is actually true. A telephone interview may be your only chance to make your best impression. It is much more difficult to get the “real you” across by phone, so you need to make the most of every minute by preparing ahead of time.
BEFORE SETTING UP ANY INTERVIEWS:
The very first thing you should do before an interview is to make sure your ‘public image’ is professional and appropriate. Ask yourself, “If I was an employer, would I be impressed with this individual?” Items to consider include:
- Make sure that your voice mail message is simple, easy to understand, and identifies you by name.
- Ensure that your Facebook page, Twitter profile, etc. are professional and clean. Review all posts and delete those that “you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.” More and more employers are looking at social media pages to determine whether a potential employee has the personal character they are looking for. Double check your privacy settings to make sure that nothing compromising or embarrassing is visible to the public. Better yet, remove anything that would be embarrassing and/or compromising.
- Your email address should also be professional. An email address that is based primarily on your last name, first name is ideal. Many job search candidates create a separate email address just for their job search. Gmail is free and easy!
- Let common sense prevail. While “fun loving” public images, nicknames and messages are great when you are in school, you can be sure that employers are not looking for that in a candidate.
BEFORE A SPECIFIC INTERVIEW:
Research the school district in advance so that you may be as informed as possible about them. Nothing is more impressive or expresses your interest more dramatically than being knowledgeable about the organization with whom you are speaking. Even if you live in the town where the job is located, and think you know all there is to know about the employer and the area, you might do well to do some extra homework.
Here of some of the things you should research. Those items below that you can’t find answers to ahead of time make perfect questions to ask during the interview. Most of this information can be found either by spending time on the client’s website, or by “Googling” the district name and reading articles you find online. You may even find more information about particular districts at the State Department of Education site. Your PediaStaff recruiter will be able to help you collect much of this information, but whatever else you can learn on your own will only serve to help you even more!
THE SCHOOL DISTRICT:
- District Size – the number of students served, number of schools,
- Recent awards and honors the district has received.
- Reputation, How is this district perceived in the city/town compared to neighboring districts
- Administration, a visit to the superintendent’s page of the website will generally lead you to current news and information about the district.
- The makeup/census of the district – What are the economic, geographic, cultural and socioeconomic factors for the families that you will be serving. Is the district growing or shrinking?
THE SPECIAL EDUCATION DEPARTMENT
- How big is the department? Number of therapists? Number of administrators? Is there a supervisor over your area or will you report directly to the Director or Assistant Director?
- Number of Exception Children served – Is the department growing or is there attrition?
- How are the children served? Are the students served through a pullout model? Are therapy sessions done one on one or in groups?
SPECIFIC JOB QUESTIONS TO HAVE ANSWERED BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
(many of these things may be answerable by your PediaStaff recruiter)
- Why is the job available?
- Exactly where is the position located? Is affordable housing available within a reasonable distance of where you will work? Is the location where you will have to live in a safe environment? Is the location of the job accessible to public transportation?
- What is the student population makeup and caseload
- How many hours am I guaranteed (or can I expect) per week
- What type of materials will I be provided with by the district
- Is paperwork done by computer or manually, and will I be provided with all the tools I need to succeed?
- How many other contractors are on staff and how are contractors treated/viewed?
- Email address of the interviewer so you can send him/her a “thank you” note.
All of this will not only create a stronger image of you in the interview, but likewise will provide you with a better basis for evaluating the opportunity if an offer is made. In addition, there are some answers that if you have them ahead of time may cause you to decide that an interview is not desirable for you. Again, work with your recruiter to make sure you have all these answers before you decide to accept the interview. Your time and our client’s time are both quite valuable!
As we have mentioned, a phone interview is very different from a face to face interview. There are plenty of interview preparedness documents available to job candidates getting ready to visit an organization on site, but very rarely, do candidates get an education on how to take a phone interview. In most cases, your phone interview will be your only opportunity to make a “splash.”
- Be sure to schedule your interview for a time that you can give your potential employer all your attention. Phone interviews can be “anonymous” and as such there is a temptation to multitask – please don’t! An interviewer can hear you doing the dishes or picking up around the house. Especially, do not conduct the interview while driving or working on the computer. Find a quiet, private place to conduct the interview and alert others in your household to please refrain from disturbing you.
- Keep it clinical. By clinical, we mean related to the specific therapy job you are interviewing for. Talk only about specific issues regarding the job duties, population, school placement etc. You should have answered most of your district and special education department oriented questions either through your online research or through conversations with your recruiter.
- Don’t talk about money. Before your interview was scheduled, your PediaStaff consultant discussed our bill rate with the client. Likewise, you and your PediaStaff recruiter should have already discussed the approximate pay rate and benefits. As a contractor with PediaStaff, all those issues are handled between you (the contractor) and us (the employer of legal record).
- It is recommended that during the phone interview you let the interviewer ask all the questions he has and save any questions you might have until the interviewer specifically asks you if you have any. Even then, limit your questions to job related topics. Let me explain.
In general, an interviewer has maybe 30-45 minutes to devote to this phone interview that is either happening in between meetings, or at home on his/her own time. If during those minutes the interviewer learns all he needs to and decides to bring you on board that is great. If on the other hand, you start asking these questions on the phone, the interviewer may not have enough time to collect all the details he needs to determine whether or not to bring you in for an interview. Subsequently, a decision might be made that you aren’t what they are looking for. This decision may be arrived at, not because that is in fact true, but rather because the interviewer bases their decision on what you got the chance to say you can do, rather thanwhat you can REALLY do. The only questions that are important for you to ask before the phone interview is concluded are major, job specific questions that are critical to whether you are interested in the job.
FACE TO FACE INTERVIEWS
If you are driving, make sure you have good directions and allow extra time. Bring a road map along, just in case. The only thing worse than arriving to an interview late, is being so sweaty and stressed that you are thrown off your game for the rest of the day.
If you are going for a permanent position, find out if you will need to fill out any employment applications beforehand. Also allow plenty of time for parking and finding your way around the facility.
If by chance you are traveling to the interview by plane as part of a trip to the area, carry your bags on the plane instead of checking them. We had a candidate once show up for an interview unshaven and disheveled because his bags were lost by the airline. Try to arrange to fly in the night before so that you are fresh and rested for the interview.
If you are picking up a rental car, make sure that you have a credit card. Most major car rental agencies will not rent to you if you do not have a major credit card in your name. If you are fresh out of college, make sure you are old enough to rent a car (this is most frequently 25 years but some of the agencies will rent between 21 and 25 and charge a surcharge) … before you get to the rental counter.
As a starting point, it is critical to understand that the impression you make in the first few minutes of the interview generally sets the tone for your success or failure for the entire interview. Be punctual (preferably ten minutes early); maintain eye contact as you speak; have a firm, friendly handshake; never smoke or chew gum.
We assume you know the basics of dressing appropriately. Men should wear a white shirt and tie. Women should wear a conservative blouse and skirt or slacks. Although most school positions will not require you to be quite so dressed up, once you get the job, you are there to make a serious impression. Be sure your hair is neat (for guys, beards or moustaches groomed). Tie back or wear up any long hair.
Be especially courteous to the employer’s receptionist and/or secretary, being honest, and not talking negatively about anyone–especially your current employer. Work at making a friend of the interviewer. If asked to lunch, stick with water, tea or soft drinks. Don’t begin eating until everyone is served; you are still being judged.
SKILLS, ACHIEVEMENTS, ATTITUDE are three ingredients an employer is assessing. Virtually everything an interviewer is concerned about in a typical interview situation is which you are the candidate can be condensed to three questions:
- Can you do the job?
- Will you do the job?
- Do you fit in with the organizational style?
At least two days before your interview review your accomplishments and skills. Try to be succinct and describe your accomplishments and skills in quantifiable terms. Be prepared to talk in specific accomplishments that relate to the job for which you are interviewing. If you are a new graduate, go over your clinical internships and think of what you have done as a therapist in training that will make the interviewer feel good about selecting you.
Now, some review. In your day-to-day work, you have an assortment of “mind sets” that are geared to the situations you encounter. An interview is a new game to be played. The following questions will help you obtain a new mental framework to handle the interview comfortably. We would strongly recommend that you go over them a number of times; drill them orally with a friend or spouse. Even if none of these questions are actually used, you’ll find it easier to deal with what you do encounter. If you can’t find a friend to drill with, get a notebook and write down your answers. Remember, from school – writing is often the best way to organize your thoughts for later.
General Questions You Should Prepared to Answer
The following questions are some of the less “clinical” questions that an interviewer may ask you. Unlike questions about your specific therapy experience, school training, and exposure to materials and methodologies, some of these below can trip you up if you haven’t thought through some answers in advance.
- Tell me about yourself, They are asking you to tell them about your qualifications– specifically, education and work experience with emphasis on knowledge, skills, and accomplishments/performance indicators that relate to the job at hand. You should preplan a five- to ten-minute answer. Be concise and to the point on this and all your answers.
- Why are you considering making a change?, You definitely need a reasonable, logical answer that relates to items such as greater earning potential, limited authority, lack of opportunity for growth, lack of meaningful work, etc. Whatever you do, DO NOT bad-mouth your current employer! Lack of loyalty can kill the entire interview process.
- What do you consider your major strengths? , Obviously, your answer would relate to the skills that are needed to effectively perform the therapy job for which you are interviewing. Before you depart for the interview, make sure that the recruiter you are working with describes in detail, the tasks and responsibilities of the position.
- What do you consider your major weaknesses?, Play this safe–you’re not in a “true confessions” session. The best answer is a weakness that could really be a strength – For example, “I’m impatient with people who don’t work hard; sometimes I get too involved with my work;”
- What do/did you like best about your current/last job?, A good answer is “the people.” you got along well with them; they trusted your judgment, etc.
- Do you have any problems following district policy? The interviewer wants to determine if you are ready to follow district rules and regulations (generally regarding services to be provided) Cite the fact, if true, that you’ve never had problems following policy.
- What do/did you like least about your Current/last job? , Talk in generalities. Lack of challenge and growth are good, standard responses.
- Why are you looking to contract vs. becoming a district employee? – You have likely spent time deciding why a contract is right for you at this time in your career. The best answer is generally one that expresses your wish to work with children in a school environment but to be compensated at a rate that will allow you to fulfill your financial obligations. During the interview is not the time to go on about how poorly teachers are paid, but instead answer this question as an opportunity to show your commitment to working with children in a school setting despite the typical financial constraints of the setting.
- Are you interested in our district as a permanent employee rather than as a contractor?, Your recruiter has likely already told the interviewer that you are interested in the position on a contract rather than as a permanent employee. However, if the question is posed to you and you ARE interested, you may tell the client that you would consider the position on a permanent basis. Please make sure that you let your recruiter know that terms of the job are variable and were discussed immediately following the interview.
- What are your pay rate expectations? – Again, since you are a contractor, this question should not come up. Your best answer is to say that you are working with your PediaStaff recruiter on a rate that works best for you.
- What do you like to do in your spare time?, Although this may be an innocent question, it is sometimes a fishing expedition to determine whether your leisure pursuits could interfere with your commitment to work. Handle with care.
- I’m a little worried about your lack of XYZ experience or training., Don’t be intimidated by the question, it’s a good sign. It means the interviewer generally likes you, but has a reservation or two. Grant that you understand the concern he/she might have, and immediately give him/her something concrete to put his/her mind at ease.
- Why did you leave your last job? – The fact may be that you were terminated and chances are the interviewer knows that and is simply interested in how you’ll handle the question. NEVER make excuses. Don’t paint yourself as a victim or scapegoat. You might say, “Things didn’t work out after a while, I have no hard feelings. I learned a lot there.
- Of what are you proudest in terms of your accomplishments in your present or former positions? , This question calls in the same category as “Tell me about yourself” and provides an opportunity for you to detail accomplishments that will “sell” you. Our only caution: Don’t lose control of your ego. We have seen candidates give a 30-minute monologue about how great they are. Be factual, concise, and modest. Don’t confuse confidence with ego. Limit your presentation to 3 to 5 minutes.
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PediaStaff hires pediatric and school-based professionals nationwide for contract assignments of 2 to 12 months. We also help clinics, hospitals, schools, and home health agencies to find and hire these professionals directly. We work with Speech-Language Pathologists, Occupational and Physical Therapists, School Psychologists, and others in pediatric therapy and education.