Those Tricky Interview Questions

Much has already been written and posted here for prospective music educators to market their professionalism, learn personal branding, networking, and prepare to “ace” those interviews. If you have not read them previously, take a few moments to acquaint yourself with my past articles that explore these subjects in greater detail. Click on the above link, “Becoming a Music Educator.” – Paul K. Fox

On your way to your first music teacher employment screening? “Break a leg,” as they say, but watch out for several possibly stressful moments during the interrogations.

Whether you are dealing with an inexperienced interviewer or a pro who’s deliberately trying to catch you off guard to see how you handle yourself, awkward questions are sometimes asked of you that seem to come out of left field.

And, sorry, in this competitive market, it’s your job to deal with them!

ball-605592_1920Be prepared for anything, and don’t slip up on “interview potholes” – any of these “terrifying, treacherous, tricky, and troubling” inquiries or potentially hot topics like…

  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • What was your most embarrassing moment in front of the class?
  • What was your greatest professional failure.
  • Why did you leave your last employer?

The U.S. News & World Report MONEY online site offered “How to Answer the 5 Toughest Job Interview Questions” by Robin Madell (http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2014/03/18/how-to-answer-the-5-toughest-job-interview-questions), including the biggie, “Tell me about a time you failed,” often asked of applicants to any field.

Quoting career coach Christie Mims, Madell recommends to respond honestly. “Highlight a failure and then follow up with what you learned and how you changed,” she says. “Interviewers are less concerned with the failure than how you handled it. (You are human, after all.) They want to know that you are capable of thoughtful growth and can handle stress under pressure.” And, as for “What are your greatest shortcomings?” – again, be honest. Madell cites Medallia Vice President David Reese: “Many interviewers are not really looking to find out whether a candidate’s organizational skills could use improvement, or that they struggle with presenting to large groups or even leading large teams,” he says. “They’re trying to find out whether they have self-awareness, whether they are able to be critical, and most importantly, whether they’re able to tell the truth – when it’s difficult.”

looking-for-a-job-1257233_1920According to Lee E. Miller at http://www.theladders.com/career-advice/how-to-answer-tell-me-about-yourself-interview-question, one common “open-ended” question begins with, “Tell me something about yourself.” It demonstrates how the candidates will handle themselves in an unstructured situation, show how articulate and confident they were, and “what type of impression they would make on the people with whom they came into contact on the job.” Your response should be positive and focus the interview on your strengths and accomplishments. You should not answer with a snappy, “What do you want to know?” Miller says this implies that you are unprepared for the interview and likely to be equally unprepared of the job.

Another good perusal is “5 Great Answers to Awkward Interview Questions,” by Dominique Rogers, Monster Contributing Writer (http://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/great-answers-to-awkward-interview-questions), which revisits “Tell me about yourself!” and also includes a discussion on several other “thorny” questions:
  • What’s your passion?
  • Why are you looking to leave your current job? and How do we know you’ll stay?
  • If you were a fruit or a pizza topping, what would you be?
  • How do you rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10?
  • What would you do if you were given multiple tasks to accomplish in a day—and you knew it was flat-out impossible to do them all?
  • Have you ever had to confront the situation where someone on a team wasn’t pulling their weight? If so, what did you do?

human-1211467_1280Instead of a traditional interview (like most of the above) stating opinions about yourself, you may be faced with a behavioral interview. This type of employment screening requires job candidates to relate stories about how they handled challenges related to the skills and qualifications the company requires for the position. For this, you are encouraged to read “Acing the Behavioral Interview” by Jeanne Knight at http://www.theladders.com/career-advice/acing-behavioral-interview. She goes into great detail about how to define appropriate skill sets and develop specific anecdotes to support your experiences and growth in these areas. Knight concludes, “Familiarizing yourself with the behavioral interview style, crafting and practicing your stories and doing some homework on the position you seek will ensure that you won’t be caught off guard should you encounter a behavioral interview.”

The Ladders website also offers excellent insight on how to respond diplomatically to inappropriate interview questions based on age, nationality, religion, marital/family status, etc. (see article by Lisa Vaas at http://www.theladders.com/career-advice/dont-answer-interview-question).

It is likely you will be asked about your philosophy of student discipline at least once during the screening process. Develop a proactive classroom management perspective. Do not fall into settling for “sending the bad kids to the principal’s office” as a solution to poor behavior. Preventive discipline, confidence, and control in handling your own class are absolutely critical. Again, this would be an excellent time for storytelling, giving an example about a specific disciplinary incident, something you had to solve in student teaching, subbing, or at a previous job.

questions-1151886In the unlikely event it gets asked, how would you respond to, “You say you are a musician? Are you temperamental?” Administrators want assurances and evidence that you are levelheaded, responsible, organized, reliable, and indeed NOT temperamental. Freelance singers and instrumentalists often have active performance calendars. Your principal may come out and ask if you will be available to “make the music” with your students after-school or evenings, and that your “gigs” and other non-district related activities will not interfere with school concerts, open houses, field trips, festivals, parent meetings, and other educational events for the growth and development of the total music program.

Here are a few final tips, in summary:

  • Be true to yourself. Say what you mean. (If you get the job, you may have to “eat your words!”)
  • Do not try to predict what the members on the interview panel want to hear from you.
  • Do not get carried away and volunteer too much information.
  • Avoid badmouthing previous bosses, school districts, or job assignments.
  • Be inquisitive, interested, motivated, and actively engaged in the “give and take” of the interview.
  • Never ask at the first interview what you would receive in pay and benefits.

What’s that saying? “Never let them see you sweat? At a job interview, always remain cool, calm, and collected. In advance, prepare answers and supportive anecdotes in response to all interview questions, and “go for the gold!” Good luck!

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PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

 

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