Month: April 2021

BODY LANGUAGE

Some experts say that ninety percent of what we communicate is expressed through body language. Body language is a two-way street between the candidate and the interviewers as well as among the interviewers. An effective candidate must be aware of, and try to control his or her own body language. You should also try to observe, interpret, and respond to the body language of the interviewers.

I learned the importance of my body language the hard way. I was interviewed by a small group of search firm consultants. They seemed friendly and nodded their approval to my responses throughout the interview. I recall feeling relaxed and confident, sitting back in my seat, crossing my legs (which are a little long), and balancing my knee on the edge of the table. I left with a sense of self-assurance that I had aced the interview and would be called back. That didn’t happen.

 I reported my rejection to my mentor with a sense of defeat and reviewed the highlights of the interview. My mentor could not diagnose any deficiencies. However, he did know the search consultants and promised to get their feedback the next time he saw them. Several months passed by.

“Guess who I just saw? You’re not going to believe the feedback,” he reported. “They loved your answers. But one of them said that you were too relaxed. She said you sat back and put your knee on the table. You appeared cocky.”

About a year passed. There I was again interviewing with the same group of search consultants for a new position. Needless to say, I leaned forward this time. No sitting back for me, this time. They moved me on in the process, and I landed the job!

Just your posture and manner in which you walk into the room has significance. Stride with an air of confidence and smile at your audience. Your posture should reflect self-assurance, not arrogance. Your smile should reflect that you’re pleased to be there. Your first impression means everything. You must get off to a good start. Most people begin forming an impression of you within the first thirty seconds

My advice concerning body language over the course of your interview is to lean forward in your seat. Slowly scan the faces and eyes of the interviewers as you speak. If they like what you are saying, they will tend to nod and smile subtly.  Nod back even more subtly. Focus a bit more on the people who are not sending off non-verbal feedback. Watch to see if they exchange knowing looks to one another. Often, you might say something that resonates with an issue they may have previously considered. A glance, a smile, a wink, a frown, a nod, a negative shake of the head between interviewers means you may have confirmed or disagreed with something of interest to them. A negative shake of the head probably means that you have stepped on a potentially explosive issue. Quickly backtrack and clarify your statement, if you can, to neutralize the potential damage.

Your ability to mimic other people’s gestures and postures also indicates you are in sync with them. If someone leans forward, lean towards him or her. If someone smiles and nods, then smile and nod back. Practice mimicking at meetings and social gatherings. You’ll find it really works.

Larry Aronstein provides one-on-one coaching in preparing candidates for interviews and in resume preparation. Visit his website at http://www.larryaronstein.com

INTERVIEWING: OVERCOMING NERVOUSNESS

“I get so nervous when I interview that I freeze.” For most of us, interviewing is an unfamiliar, somewhat intimidating, and uncomfortable experience. It is natural that interviewees feel nervous. There’s a lot at stake. You have invested a great deal of time, effort and money in trying to take the next step in your career. You’re walking into a room all alone to meet a group of strangers who are going to ask you difficult questions and make judgments whether they like you, if you’re a good fit, and as to your qualifications and readiness. Feelings of rejection are a real possibility. So, what do you do to calm your nerves and become more effective?

You should take some comfort in knowing that the interviewers who are seated across the table have also been on your side of the table and understand your nervousness. They are quite forgiving of a shaky voice and a little perspiration. But how do you avoid freezing? My formula for shedding your nervousness is:

(1) be familiar with each step of the interview process so that there are no unnerving surprises;

(2) be prepared by anticipating many of the questions and practicing your answers;

(3) learn how to read and respond to the interviewers’ body language and non-verb clues;

(4) find comfort in knowing that your knowledge and skillfulness are well-developed;

(5) stay out of “your own head” (how am I doing; are they liking me) by just focusing on answering the question;

(6) direct your response to the individual who asked the question (avoid looking at the large group);

(7) plant seeds in your answers that will lead the interviewers to ask a follow up question for which you will be well prepared, thus gaining some control over the direction of the course of the interview.

Perhaps an analogous situation might serve to illustrate my approach. I must confess that sometimes I get anxious when I travel. I imagine that the taxi is going to drop me at the wrong terminal; the flight will be over-booked and I’ll get bumped; the plane will leave late and I’ll miss my connecting flight; upon arrival I’ll be told that my hotel reservation was for last week and they are now all booked up. However, I’m happy to report that over time I have figured out ways to alleviate most of my anxieties. I take a page from my own formula. I familiarize myself in advance with my ticket which identifies the terminal; I try to book non-stop direct flights; I re-confirm my hotel reservation; and if unanticipated problems arise, I have copies of all the documentation and contact phone numbers in my possession—you get the idea.

A good coach will walk you through the interview process step-by-step. You will learn what forms of body language to look for and how you should respond verbally and non-verbally. You will analyze and practice answering the most often asked questions. You will role play and have a dress rehearsal. You will report back to your coach as to your actual performance and get feedback on how you might improve. You will find comfort and self-confidence in the knowledge that you are well prepared, and as a result your nervousness will be minimized.

Dr. Aronstein coaches aspiring leaders and school leaders in preparing for interviews and in the preparation of resumes. Learn more by visiting www.larryaronstein.com

ARE YOU GETTING YOUR FAIR SHARE OF INTERVIEWS?

Are you sending out your resume but only getting few interviews? Are you getting interviews but are not being called back? What should you do to get your fair share of interviews? What are the factors that determine your success?

Factors to Consider:

  1. Attractiveness of the District—stereotypically, highly attractive districts or schools are usually affluent, high paying, and high achieving. They are highly selective in choosing candidates. Unless you are well-qualified, that is looking for a parallel position, a graduate from a prestigious university, hold a doctorate, and/or have significant accomplishments, your chances of getting an interview are slim. That is not to say that you should not apply, but your expectations should be realistic.
  2. Quality of Your Resume—if you’re a qualified candidate but are getting less than a 25 to 30 percent positive return (initial interview per resume submitted), then you probably have a resume problem. Your resume’s job is to tell your story in a compelling manner and get you an interview. You might have your resume evaluated and edited by a highly credible and reputable coach. Educational resumes are somewhat unique; so be wary of having a well-meaning friend from the business-world review it.
  3. Effectiveness of Your Screening Interview—typically an average of about 15 screening interviews are scheduled for a leadership position. Sometimes they only last 10 to 15 minutes. Obviously, there are a limited number of questions that can be asked and answered. The interviewers are trying to get a sense of who you are by evaluating your narrative (your story), how you present yourself, your likeability, and how you would fit into their school-community. About 6 of the candidates will move on to the next round. If you get a screening interview and habitually do not move to the next step, then you need to evaluate your narrative and how you present yourself. You probably should be coached rather than trying to adjust on a trial and error basis.
  4. Quality of Your Answers—the next step is The Committee Interview composed of around 7 stakeholders (parents, teachers, administrators), which will run about 30 minutes. There is ample time for them to ask about 10 questions encompassing many aspects of educational practices. The Committee will likely narrow the field down to about 3 finalists. The candidate needs to perform a precarious balancing act. She/he must satisfy the vested and oftentimes competing interests of parents who are demanding greater sensitivity to their child’s needs and accountability, administrators who are seeking higher academic achievement, and teacher unions who are looking for teacher-friendly leaders. At the same time, the candidate must maintain a positive, thoughtful, sensitive, knowledgeable and diplomatic demeaner. This demands extensive preparation which includes becoming familiar with the strengths, needs, nature and values of the school-community. A successful candidate must do his/her homework and be ready to present him/herself appropriately.
  5. Flexibility—the final interview, usually 2 or 3 finalists, involves a 30 to 45-minute session with Central Office Administrators. Again, there is a shift in strategy for this interview. These leaders are trying to determine who is the best equipped to fulfill their agenda, solve existing problems, and represent the proper image that will satisfy the community and particularly the Board of Education. I often use the metaphor of a tennis match. Up until this interview, the candidate’s job is to “return serve” to each questioner. However, this match requires the candidate to be flexible in switching the “game” by creating a “volley”—a back and forth, give and take conversation. This calls for asking clarification as to the district’s issues and priorities, offering your related experiences, and as a result building a professional rapport.

These are the major factors you should be aware of and act upon if you are going to get your fair share of interviews and successfully move forward in the process

A Blueprint for Answering Interview Questions

It is your final interview. Three Central Office Administrators are questioning you. “Do you have questions for us?” the Superintendent asks.

“Yes, what do you see as some of the greatest curricular challenges that the district has that I, if I’m lucky enough to get this job, would be expected to address?”

The Superintendent nods at the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. She responds to your question. “As you know, we have three elementary schools. Each of the schools has four or five classes at each grade level. What we have found is that, with several exceptions, each of the teachers do ‘their own thing’; meaning that they teach different content and skills at their own pace, using their personal preferences as to the instructional materials of their choice. There is little in the way of articulation within the grade levels and really none from grade level to grade level. Most of our teachers are pretty experienced and seem satisfied with the way things are. By the time the kids get to middle school, their content knowledge and skills are all over the place.”

The candidate silently reflects for a short moment, and responds, “What I’m hearing you say is that there is a need for greater curricular continuity and articulation. I encountered a somewhat similar situation in my experience. What I learned from these experiences was that the attempt to fix the problem could in some cases make things worse, but that there are approaches that work. This problem has obviously existed for quite a while. What I anticipate is that there are no easy quick fixes. It requires a well-planned and coordinated comprehensive approach” that includes teacher collaboration.

The interviewers lean in and encourage the candidate to elaborate on how the problem was solved. The candidate briefly provides an overview of the context, the key steps and an analysis as to the advantages and disadvantages of alternative strategies. The interviewee then sums up his/her “lessons learned” from the case he/she described.

What is the “blueprint” for being a successful interviewee?

1. Find out what the interviewers perceive as their needs.

2. Paraphrase that need to demonstrate your understanding of it and to get further clarification.

3. Concisely describe the context of a similar problem (i.e., situation, need) that you encountered.

4. Briefly tell your story of what was done and what your role was.

5. Outline the alternative strategies that were considered and analyze the advantages and disadvantages of each strategy.

6. Identify the key lessons learned (the guiding principles) that are the basis of how you solve problems and make decisions.

As an interviewee, effectively and spontaneously applying this blueprint is not easily done. However, being aware that there is an actual blueprint and preparing yourself by practicing how you would use it, could be most impressive and seal the job for you.