Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Interviewing - Tell a Great Story!

Telling a great story about one of your past accomplishments is a powerful method to help interviewers remember you. Good stories engage your listeners and create lasting memories. Story telling helps interviewers visualize you as a future teacher in their school and convinces them that you are a good match for the position.

What are qualities of a great storyteller?

Great storytellers convey passion and enthusiasm while speaking. They use an expressive voice and vary their speed of delivery, including planned pauses.

Great storytelling is great acting. However, be honest and tell the truth (i.e., no tall tales!). It’s possible your interviewers may contact your references and ask them about the story.

Be organized and succinct in your delivery. Use presentation techniques to cue the listeners about the beginning, middle and end of the story. Sprinkle the story with understandable, professional terms. Don’t sound like a textbook. Avoid using acronyms that may be unfamiliar to non-educators.

When can you tell a story during an interview?

Interviewers understand that a job applicant’s past performance accurately predicts future performance. So, interviewers ask questions that cause you to talk about prior experiences. These questions often begin with “Provide us with an example” or “Tell us about a time when” (e.g., “Provide us with an example of how you differentiated instruction for diverse learners." Or “Tell us about a time when a student challenged your authority. How did you handle it?”).

How do you prepare a story for an interview?

Prepare for the interview by mapping out several two - three minute stories around themes that are important to the school district (e.g., collaboration, classroom management, raising achievement of all learners). Prepare stories about past experiences rather than stories about what you would do in the future. Telling a story about a relevant, past accomplishment helps interviewers understand you can meet the school district’s needs in the future. For instance, if the school district’s current need is parent involvement, then tell a story about how you creatively engaged parents during a family math night and what you accomplished through your actions.

You can’t have a story for every question that might be asked during an interview. To select which stories to tell, list three or four personal strengths related to effective teaching – qualities that make you unique. Relate these qualities to the school district’s current needs, issues, or initiatives. You can determine a school district’s needs by reading the job description, reviewing their mission statement, and any other information on their web site.

A great story doesn’t need to have positive results alone. In fact, interviewers may ask you a question “Tell us about a time when you weren’t successful in your teaching. How did you handle it?” You can tell a story about a teaching experience when you had problems applying a specific strategy and then reflected on the negative outcome, researched solutions and made adjustments in your teaching which ultimately created positive results. You are demonstrating how you used reflection to overcome a negative outcome and improve teaching and learning. And, you will convey a disposition of constant professional learning.

Rehearse. Tell the story to a friend or video yourself telling the story. Observe your pacing, tone of voice, facial expressions, smiling, eye contact, body language, and other qualities of effective story telling. You don’t need to memorize the entire story. However, knowing the first and last sentence can help you start and end the story well.

Shortly before the interview, write the theme and the first or last sentence from the story on a notepad. Bring the notepad with the list of sentences to cue your memory during the interview. (e.g., Theme: Parent Involvement – To involve parents in our mathematics curriculum, assessment and standards, I organized a school-wide committee to conduct a family math night.)

How do you develop the story?

Understand that your interviewers are on a time schedule. The entire interview may be only 30-40 minutes. Thus, stories should be purposeful, simple, well organized, and succinct. A rambling, unfocused story can consume valuable time and detract from an otherwise successful interview.

First, write down the purpose of the story. Relate the story to an anticipated interview question, your strengths, a personal accomplishment, and school district’s needs. Organize the story by using a pictorial time line, a story map, or other mind-mapping techniques. A story map depicts the setting, major parts or sequence, and key details.

One framework for responding to behavior questions is called Problem-Action-Result (PAR) developed by Mary Clement. First, provide some background information and clearly state the problem or challenge. Next, explain a set of actions you took to solve the problem. Engage your audience with key, relevant details. Then, explain the results of taking action and even propose possible future actions.

Below is an example of a story using a PAR response to the interview question “Can you provide us with an example of how you integrated technology into your teaching?”

Problem (a challenge or situation)

I’m really excited about tapping the potential of interactive white boards. It’s much more than a multi-media tool to enhance presentations. Early in my teacher education program, I learned about interactive white boards as effective, learning tool. During my final student teaching semester, I discovered an unused Smart Board in the school hallway. I decided to use this technology to enhance student learning of Grade 4 geometry. The problem was I had no clue how to use it effectively.

Set of Actions

I asked the school’s computer teacher to teach me how to use the hardware and software and arrange the classroom furniture so everyone could view it. I prepared several SMART Board files and planned to involve small groups of students at the board at different points during the lessons.


Admittedly, it was a little awkward to use in the beginning. But I discovered that all my students were highly engaged, particularly many low-functioning special needs students. (Expand - Share an anecdote about using the Smart Board with a low-functioning student). The principal was so impressed that she invited me to demonstrate the use of the SMART Board at a faculty meeting. This experience increased my confidence and desire to use other technologies. My next goal is to learn how to use classroom response systems to assess students’ prior knowledge at the beginning of units.

Telling a great story about a significant, past accomplishment can help interviewers remember you. Use story telling as a powerful tool for convincing your interviewers that you are a good fit for the position.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The Guide includes 30+typical interview questions with responses - what to say, what not to say, common interview practices, common interview mistakes, and what employers are looking for during an interview.