9 Lessons Learned Regarding Intl School Hiring Fairs

The Wonderful World of Int’l School Hiring Fairs: Lesson #5 – “Check your ego at the door.”

January 6, 2012


“Nine Lessons Learned” taken from The Wonderful World of International School Hiring Fairs article by Clay Burell’s blog Beyond School.

5. “Check your ego at the door.

“I got about an even mix of offers and rejections from the schools I talked to. One school in particular seemed so right after two interviews that getting the rejection note broadsided me with the force of a turbo-powered school bus. I bumped into one of the interviewers later, and he told me that choosing my competitor over me was the hardest decision they made the night before, and that it took them over an hour of group deliberation to make it. A rejection can happen for all sorts of reasons – maybe they needed yearbook experience you didn’t offer, or needed that administrator whose spouse happened to be a less-qualified candidate for the position you want. So don’t take it personally.”

“Every normal person, in fact, is only normal on the average. His ego approximates to that of the psychotic in some part or other and to a greater or lesser extent.” Sigmund Freud.

The greatest sports legends, the inventors of things we rely on today, great actors and actresses, all of these people must seem to have a big ego. Maybe it comes with their achievements or our projections of them? Then there are the great dictators, the generals of war or just some average Joe that just won the biggest-ever on his lottery ticket. Ego comes in many shapes and forms, and albeit some are seemingly more attractive than others. It’s a hard task to know when to enhance or down play your own ego.

We’re constantly told to either just stand in line or be like others, that we don’t really deviate from the mass, that we’re just one in a million, that perhaps we’re not as special as we think. Then we’re told we need to stand out, make a difference, show our true colors, let the ego steer and victory will come our way.  So, what are you to do at the international school recruiting fairs?

Ego is an ambivalent thing, you could say that it’s both our chance and our fall. It’s the chance to express ourselves, to enhance our personality to make it clearer how we stand out from the masses, what makes us special, what we’re capable of; how we’re the best of all of them. But there is a line, and if that line is crossed, our personality becomes too big and a bit desperate, we express ourselves in a way so superior to others that we make them feel small, we become way too special, maybe even too good for our own good; we are the best of all of them, no question there, there’s “me” and no one else.

It’s often in job interviews we’re left with the difficult task of being the best and out shining the competition, but in such a manner that we don’t let our own ego get the better of us, and suddenly instead of standing out positively in the round robin session or administrator’s hotel room during the interview, we stand out negatively instead. It’s practically a game of ego vs. humble. It’s pointing out the things you are good at and how you are the best for the position, but it’s just as much being humble, being likable, charming, sitting straight, smiling, having eye contact, being interested, letting your ego shine from time to time, but not letting it consume the space.

“There’s nothing like rejection to make you do an inventory of yourself.” James Lee Burke.

And every so often your ego takes a blow. When you venture in life, there’s always the risk of rejection. Sometimes it feels like there isn’t any international school out there that wants to hire you. It’s basically the same whether you open your heart for someone you love, or you are at a job interview, getting that “no” is a sour sting to your ego. And that’s when the inventory begins: should I have? or could I have? Would it have? And so on and so on…

Every mountain we climb in this life should probably have two gates: “for exit hurry” or “in risk of rejection”. We can’t go through life (and international school recruitment fairs) without getting a little hurt sometimes, without bruising our ego. It’s all part of living as they say; the smart and clever ones. So maybe you didn’t have enough experience, maybe the connection just wasn’t there, or maybe, just maybe someone was just better than you. You know, you shouldn’t take it personal. It just means you get a few more rounds through the “in risk of rejection” gate. And who knows, just one week after the fair, when you weren’t offered any contracts to sign, you might receive in your email inbox the offer from the international school you have been dreaming of working at!  It is happened many times in our International School Community.

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9 Lessons Learned Regarding Intl School Hiring Fairs

Lesson 4 at International School Hiring Fairs: “Being yourself is better, come what may, than trying to be someone else.”

December 5, 2011


“Think about it. Not only does pretending to be what you’re not cheat your interviewer – it also cheats you. Show your true colors now, so you’ll know whether it’ll be okay to show them over the length of your contract.

I love the fact that, at my second interview with the two interviewers for the school I chose, Singapore American School, I replied to a question by saying something to the effect of, “There’s no denying that people’s first impression of me is often, ‘Damn, Burell, you’re too intense!’ But after a while they see the rest of me, and realize I’m also mellow in my own way.” “Damn” is a soft enough word these days – and I certainly don’t toss out higher-level potty words like rhymes-with-fit or ends-many-limericks-about-Nantucket or leads-to-supposedly-eternal-damnation in professional company – and I wondered about the wisdom of the utterance after it escaped my mouth (and this was in like the middle of the second hour of the interview), but somehow the fact that the offer was still made left me feeling even happier than otherwise about accepting it when it came in hour three.”

Is it really that difficult to just be yourself, and just for a moment, maybe pretend that you are a better version of who you really? The thing about admitting your own true colors is that you might have to admit some of the things, that you yourself, might find questionable, or that society deems one thing or another.  Even worse is when you realize mid-interview that you are indeed not the “best fit” as you had hoped you would be…for that international school you have been wanting to work at…in the city you really had been wanting to live in.

hiring fairs

The famous psychiatrist Carl Jung operates with something called archetypes. Two of those archetypes are known as the Shadow and the Persona. The Persona is the way we want the world to see us at our very best, the peak of our personality, but always with a mask that protects the ego, and paints an uneven picture of the person we are. The Shadow is the exact opposite. This is, according to Jung, the essence of us. The Shadow contains all our traits, the good and the bad, the flattering and unflattering, but it is our true personality. With age comes sagacity, and we start to know more about who we are, and as years pass we learn to accept ourselves, flaws and all. We learn to deal with our shortcomings, and learn to see beyond what we aren’t and what we are. The human being is of a complex size, we contain so many different traits, and as we get older we learn, and become better to deal with what is giving and what we achieve, what we learn and the wisdom we obtain.

The thing about job interviews is that we only want people to see us at our very best, or to put in a more accurate sense: what we think they want! We somehow create an illusion, that’s inevitably going to burst, it might turn out for the better, but it could as easy turn out for the worse. Honesty is the best policy, especially in the international teaching world. We so desperately want to be everything a job applicant is looking for, when in the end, all that weighs the most, probably is our personality. Our own true personality and how that matches up with the administration and staff at a school.

“Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be, because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you?” is a quote by comedienne Fanny Brice. When you create illusions or pose in a manner that is untrue to yourself, can you really expect to be liked or hired for the person you are. What sets us apart, and makes us different, is in the end what makes us unique, and when it comes to a job interview, it is the way we should be judged.

So is it really so difficult to just be yourself? If you let go of some kind of perfect perception of yourself, and just act natural, it really isn’t. Of course it takes years to accept yourself and to fully come into your own, but you will find that it somehow feels better in your own skin, when you are simply just yourself.  And maybe, just maybe you will make one of the hardest and scariest decisions you will make in your life (accepting a job at an international school in a location of the world you have never been to; and not knowing anybody there) a bit easier on your mind knowing that you have done your best to show your true self at the interview.

“Nine Lessons Learned” taken from The Wonderful World of International School Hiring Fairs article by Clay Burell’s blog Beyond School.

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9 Lessons Learned Regarding Intl School Hiring Fairs

Lesson 3 at International School Hiring Fairs: “Interview questions make the interviewer.”

November 6, 2011


“Nine Lessons Learned” taken from The Wonderful World of International School Hiring Fairs article by Clay Burell’s blog Beyond School.

1. “Interview questions make the interviewer.”

“By the end of the first of my four days of interviewing, it struck me how different interviews are based on the questions asked (and not asked) by the interviewer. Some of them seemed as stilted and scripted as the worst end-of-chapter questions from the worst textbooks (redundant?). They felt less like interviews than exercises in checking off the questions boxes. It wasn’t quite “schooliness,” so can we call it “interviewiness”?

The best interviews, on the other hand, were more free-flowing and responsive, characterized by give-and-take expansiveness as one party or the other heard something no script could predict.”

There are reasons that international schools use a list of questions to ask their interviewees.  On the other hand there are reasons that interviewers don’t use a list of questions.  Is one way better than the other, I am not for sure.  I was just talking with another international school teacher today and she was saying that using a list of questions can help you compare the different candidates equally and that it helps you determine better if that candidate is meeting or not meeting the criteria you have set out to find.  I can see how that can be beneficial, especially if there is a group of people interviewing the person versus just one administrator doing the interview.  However, I must admit I myself much prefer to to have more of a “give-and-take” where the school is asking you questions to further what you were just talking about and to naturally move to the next topic of discussion organically and naturally.

International schools though only have a limited amount of time during the actual interview session with the different candidates at the recruitment fair.  Because the candidate before inevitably goes longer than he/she should of and because the interviewers themselves sometime need a break between their back to back interviews, the time you actually get to talk with the school is so limited.  It doesn’t work well if they are only asking those few specific questions and seeing you sometimes squander to figure out an answer; that just might waste everyone’s time.  And when you do state your answer, that the time you have to talk is so limited because they need to get through to the rest of the questions instead of thoroughly listening to you.

Sometimes schools hold 15-minute initial interviews at international school teacher recruitment fairs to help them find out who their final short list of candidates to interview are.  Most of the main interviews last around 30 minutes.  Some people think that with using the list of questions idea is that maybe that it is not exactly showing who that person is as a teacher, it is more about how fast that they can think on their feet.   Also, I suppose if you are asking the same questions over and over again you might forget if you had asked that question already as I’m sure the interviews themselves tend to blur a bit.  Finally, given the time constraint on you when you only have a limited amount of time to let the school know the things you want them to know.  Sometimes an interview using “the list” doesn’t allow for you to show you teaching portfolio or whatever real things that related to your real teaching and teaching experiences.

Always remember though, at international school teacher recruitment fairs, you are also interviewing the school.  You have your list of questions as well I suppose.  Sometimes you don’t get the chance to have them all answered; though some of them might have been answered during the beginning part of your interview anyway.  Don’t forget that you have a say during this stressful time at the fair.  It is easy sometimes to get caught up with the idea that you want to like all schools that you are interviewing with and to have the schools like you back.  However, deep down, that is most likely not the case.  If the interview process of one school is giving you an impression of being stilted and scripted, it is possible that means you indeed might not be a good match for that school as you would need to be directly working with these people eventually.

It is important to note though that most schools are not using a list of questions during the sign-up/round robin sessions which is usually only 2-3 minutes maximum of interaction…and that might be stretching it.  Another question I have is if the international schools really think about the different set of questions for the type of position they are looking to fill.  Additionally, are they using this same list when they are interview people over Skype, telephone, in person at their school, etc…

List or no list, definitely try your best to be well aware of how the administrators are using it or the style they are implementing to replace it.

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9 Lessons Learned Regarding Intl School Hiring Fairs

Lesson #2 at International School Hiring Fairs: ‘Energy is eternal delight’ – so its opposite is…?

October 8, 2011


“Energy is eternal delight” – so its opposite is….?

“(h/t to William Blake who, though dead, deserves eternal credit for the eternally delightful maxim.) If, like mine, your own heart seems to pump more espresso than blood, then it may be important to consider the energy coming from those interviewing you.

I’m not saying interviewers need to be manic or anything; I’m just saying a lack of excitement, of a sort of buoyancy – of even a decorously restrained intensity – when discussing educational vision while courting for a temporary professional marriage may be, well, a screaming red flag.

Granted, the interviewers are stuck in their hotel rooms interviewing candidate after candidate for many more straight hours than the candidates themselves, but still – we’re all teachers, current or past, so we should be pretty good at keeping our energy level up whenever a professional client enters the room, be it classroom or hotel room. The short version? Beware the droopy interviewer, and put a gold star by the inspired/inspiring one. You are, after all, bound to be sitting in many more meetings with them if you sign the contract to work with them. If they’re sleepy, chances are you’ll be a sleepy worker with them. But if they’re exciting – in a way that rings true (and we all have what Hemingway calls a “shock-proof sh!t-detector,” don’t we, to distinguish real from fake excitement, yes?) – then consider fishing your pocket for that ring, and dropping to your knees on the spot.”

It is true, there is nothing like going into somebody’s hotel room to do an interview.  Seems quite strange now that we are thinking about more.  The recruiters seemingly are stuck in their hotel room for the whole day almost, for sure they will lose some of their energy.  However, there are things administrators could do to help the situation.  They can bring some things to make the hotel room appear cozier (e.g. more school logos, lcd projector displaying slide show of their school’s pictures, etc.).  They can change the format of the interview to be less formal and more of a discussion between friends (e.g. offering a nice herbal tea, etc.).  They can also just take a walk around the hotel (inside and outside), talking with the candidate as they go.  I know that last one seems a little outside the box, but really, if international schools that recruit at these recruitment fairs (which are normally held in hotels) think outside the box a little…things just might improve for everyone involved.

We have all had interviews in one of those hotel rooms where the interviewers seem disorganized, unaware really of who is sitting in front of them at the moment.  Some interviewers due indeed look rather confused and out-of-sorts, in a state of mind that doesn’t allow for excitement about their school to come beaming through.  But as Clay Burell is saying, none of these things should matter if that person is truly excited about their school.  It should indeed be quite clear to the candidate whether the administrators enjoy working at their school.  If they don’t appear to be, then it just might be a “red flag” to stay away from that school.

But let’s not forget that there are different cultural norms among all the different kinds of international schools out there.  Some British international schools are a little “stricter” than other international schools.  Some tend to conduct themselves in a more serious straight-faced manner.  That manner might just come across as that person is bored, with a lackluster vision of the school at which they are working.  However, the opposite might just be the case, as they are just putting on a formal show of decorum and professionalism that is more commonly found at a British international school setting.  That school, once you get there, might be a very fun place to work at.  The people there, though a bit formal at meetings and in other functions, might just be exciting and fun to be around in more informal settings.

Overall though, we suggest that you do observe how engaged your interviewer is at international school recruitment fairs.  It could be telling of your future if you get offered a contract and end up working at that school.

“Nine lessons learned” taken from The Wonderful World of International School Hiring Fairs article by Clay Burell’s blog Beyond School.



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9 Lessons Learned Regarding Intl School Hiring Fairs

Lesson #1 at International School Hiring Fairs: Bad interviews are good things

September 6, 2011


Bad interviews are good things

interviews“No matter the reputation of the school, the people sitting across from you in the hotel room asking you questions in that school’s name are a stronger indicator of how it would feel to work at that school. I talked to English department heads whose questions – and my answers – made it clear to both of us that we would, or would not, make a happy marriage. There was an unsurprising correlation between this marital element and the offering or non-offering of a position at each school. Schools touting themselves as “21st century schools” and banging their laptop program drums – and during interviews with which I expected flower petals to descend from on high – on an occasion or two turned out to instead voice sentiments belonging to, um, people who’d obviously never experienced the literacy magic that happens after a few months writing and conversing behind the wheel of a blog. No rose-petals there – instead, many mental leaves of wet cabbage fell, probably, in both our imaginations. Marriage for the next two years? We think not. Thank goodness for the bad interview, and for the “We’re sorry we cannot offer you a job at this time.” No apology necessary, really – good luck.”

How wonderful.  This idea behind feeling good about bad interviews is perfect.  Sometimes we get caught up in all the hoopla at recruitment fairs.  We see teacher after teacher getting job offers and then there’s you, not getting ANY offers.  We have all been there I’m sure.  The worst is when you are in the elevators with the people talking so excitingly about their latest job offers and new contracts they are going to sign the next morning.  Like we have said before, it is all about luck and timing.  And now, there is a new addition to our quote about job hunting…if you are the right match for each other, it will be glaringly apparent.  If you are the right fit for each other, then you are the right fit.  It is truly like finding a partner or a spouse in life – you need to be at the right time and at the right place in each others’ lives for things to work out, and you must have some chemistry between each other.

We have all left interviews thinking “Oh, I really would like to have the opportunity to work at this school” knowing deep down that the person didn’t think you were the best fit and knowing even deeper down that you also didn’t think you were the best fit.  Sometimes you just want to get affirmation that you are a “good catch” at the international school recruitment fairs (UNI Overseas Placement Fair, Search Associates, International School Services, CIS, etc.) and you want to get job offers from everyone.  Some teachers are told to accept and go to all offers to interview.  If you do just that, you many times find yourself in hotel rooms with some administrator who is not speaking the same language as you.  They are talking and going through their speech about their school, but you are just thinking this is not the person I want to be working with, it is not the school I want to be working at and this is not the country that I want to be living in.  At the end of one of our bad interview experiences, the school asked “so what do you think?” and the person responded “I’m sorry, I just don’t think we are a good fit to work together.”  They sat there with shocked looks on their faces!  Sometimes you just need to be blunt, to get your point across because some schools may not even realize they have also just experienced a bad interview.

interviewsTraits and signs that a bad interview is taking place at an international school recruitment fair:

  • The administrator is saying to their counterpart “So, who was this person again?”
  • They are only talking about the good benefits package and how great it is to live and work there.
  • The director is sitting in a corner of the hotel room going through a mess of paperwork on the bed while the principal is interviewing you.
  • The people interviewing you are literally arguing how you are not a good fit. (e.g. “We usually only hire people from the UK.” “We are looking to hire someone locally for the position.”)
  • The administrators are not even asking you questions about teaching only about if they can find a way to hire you that would be in agreement with the laws of the host country (or ways to get around it).
  • The interviewers are coming across as far superior than you and can’t stop talking about their school as if it was a top-tier international school, when indeed they are truly not!
  • The person interviewing you doesn’t even physically work at the school you would be working at and they are only talking about how great the company is that owns the school.

“Nine lessons learned” taken from The Wonderful World of International School Hiring Fairs article by Clay Burell’s blog Beyond School.

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