Saturday, 13 February 2016

WomenED presentation: Interviews

Dear Reader,

Do you enjoy interviews?

I have to confess, I've always loved them.  I realise I'm in the minority here, but recently I tried to analyse why I enjoy them and, more importantly, why I've been largely successful at the interview process.  The following are abridged extracts from a talk I gave today at the WomenED Residential, a conference to help develop women leaders in education.  The session was designed around a discussion of interview issues.

The interview: preparation
This session will focus on what YOU can do to give a better interview...And what matters.
A DISCLAIMER: I will not be talking about quotas, gender representation in management, sexual harassment or discrimination, although that does not mean that these things are not important or interesting.

Why is an interview so important?
To choose between candidates who are similarly qualified
To see if the candidate is a good fit for the school
To examine the candidate’s skills of preparation
To check the candidate is well-presented, polite and punctual
To see the candidate teach/interact with pupils

How might you specifically prepare for each of these?

So what SHOULD I prepare?  My top 5:

1. Be clean and smart.  Wear a suit unless there is a good reason otherwise.  
Brush your teeth and hair. 

2. Have lesson resources ready and a flexible plan in place if teaching.  

3. Know the journey to the interview and leave enough time to arrive 10-15 minutes beforehand; have a contact number to call in case of unexpected delays.

4. Prepare your answers to common questions regarding what you can do for the school, why you want the job, and evidence of your skills, strengths and weaknesses.

5. Know a little about current educational affairs.

The interview: stereotype threat

What is stereotype threat?

'Stereotype threat refers to being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one's group' (Steele & Aronson, 1995)
This suggests the intriguing possibility that often, it is not just the discriminatory views of others that hold you back, but YOUR OWN.

Some examples:
Correll, 2001: “boys do not pursue mathematical activities at a higher rate than girls do because they are better at mathematics. They do so, at least partially, because they think they are better.”
Cheryan et al., 2009:“when the ‘geek factor’ was removed from the surroundings, women showed equal interest to men, showing the power of environments to signal to people whether or not they should enter a domain”
Davies et al.,2002: “women who had seen the sexist ads showed exactly the opposite pattern, avoiding the maths questions”

Stereotype threat...

1. Shifts focus on the mind from promotion focus: ‘a focus on seeking success (being bold and creative)” to prevention focus: ‘a focus on avoiding failure, which involves being cautious, careful and conservative’ 

2.  “A mind that is struggling with negative stereotypes and anxious thoughts is not in a psychologically optimum state”

(Fine, 2010)

"Women do worse in interviews than men”
“Women don’t speak up for themselves in interviews”
“Women only get jobs based on their looks”
“Women don’t prepare properly for interviews because they don’t have time”
“Women lack confidence to sell themselves”

+ “I’m a woman”

 = these things may become a self-fulfilling prophecy

Try the gender-career Implicit Association Test 

What we can do to reduce stereotype threat:
1. Show objective evidence of competence

                   Reuben et al (2014):“Women outnumber men in undergraduate enrolments, but they are much less likely than men to major in mathematics or science or to choose a profession in these fields. 
                This outcome often is attributed to the effects of negative sex-based stereotypes. We studied the effect of such stereotypes in an experimental market, where subjects were hired to perform an arithmetic task that, on average, both genders perform equally well. We find that without any information other than a candidate’s appearance (which makes sex clear), both male and female subjects are twice more likely to hire a man than a woman. 

                The discrimination survives if performance on the arithmetic task is self-reported, because men tend to boast about their performance, whereas women generally underreport it. 
                The discrimination is providing full information about previous performance on the task.”

2. Don’t make gender your most salient feature
‘push gender into the mental background’

Nino, 2006: “Paris Hilton has consumed millions—maybe billions—of dollars of media time for her sexy blond look, softness, sexiness, and nothingness, and her image has had a penetrating influence on everyone.”

Harris and Giufre, cited in Willaims, 2010: “women chefs redefine femininity as a source of strength instead of a deficit in their careers. Facing a cooking establishment that stereotypes women as unfit workers and ineffective leaders, women insist instead that they are better chefs than mean precisely because of their feminity.” (this is the opposite - just as bad!)

McGlone, cited in Fine, 2010: “Women who had been induced to think of themselves as a student at a selective college enjoyed a performance boost”

The interview: the key

“To an employer, a job is a problem to be solved.  All other concerns are secondary, including yours.”  

“All any business can do about the future is employ people who can cope with change.  If you can lead change – relish it, even – you will be in demand.”                    James Reed

Give the interviewers what they want – a relaxed, competent individual who is able to solve their problems.

But how can I show I am...
Relaxed?  Prime your brain with the fact that you’re a teacher, a professional and a leader by reading or watching something to do with teaching just before.  
Wear smart but comfortable clothing that is becoming and doesn’t need adjusting
Smile and look around, making eye contact with all the interviewers/pupils

Competent? Show, don’t tell.  Give examples of things that you have done in the past that demonstrate your skills and how capable you are.
Briefly refer to current affairs surrounding education, or something you’ve read recently.
Believe it – if you need convincing, ask someone you trust to give you a paragraph of ammunition about your strengths, or take a pupil testimonial with you to give you a more objective reason to feel competent.

Able to solve their problem?
Show that you can be a teacher to put in front of a class, a safe pair of hands, and that your particular area of expertise can really make a difference.
Research an area of weakness of the school and demonstrate your ideas on how you could improve it.
Give a clear example of a time when you calmly solved a problem in the past.

So....what matters?
Preparation – but just enough. Find the balance and don’t spend too much time on unnecessary tasks. 
Priming.  Read or look at images before interview that place you as a teaching professional or subject expert – not specifically a woman.
Solving a problem for the people conducting the interview – being competent and confident in your ability to do so.

What doesn’t?
*almost all of the time.

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