Insights from interviewing

This column originally was published by ECM Publishers, Inc via on 11-18-2015

Insights from Interviewing

by Joe Nathan

You learn so much by interviewing people for jobs. Over the past month, several great colleagues and I have listened to people who wanted to be the new director of the Center for School Change, where I’ve worked for 26 years. Here are a few things I learned by listening to these folks.

When asked “Why do you want this job,” don’t begin by explaining that you are ready for the responsibility that the job offers. The most impressive answers include explaining why you believe the organization is doing important, exciting work. Then describe how you could help the organization accomplish its goals. Those are the attitudes and skills that organizations, whether nonprofit or for-profit, are seeking.

The wisest job applicants have studied the organization to which they are applying. They demonstrate an understanding and support for what the organization is trying to accomplish – whether it’s a fast food franchise, a school, a company or anything else.

Second, don’t submit what appears to be a generic resume. If you care about the job, refine your resume at least to some extent. Show why or how you would be a good fit for this particular job.

Based on previous experience, we asked people to submit answers to a few questions along with their resume. This helped us screen out a number of applicants. If the job description does not ask such questions, strongly consider listing, in a cover letter that accompanies the resume, a few examples showing how you can help the organization.

Third, be prepared to be specific. We heard generalities from many applicants. If the job involves writing, bring some writing samples to the interview. If it involves creating something, be specific about what you’ve created. If the job involves accomplishing certain goals, be ready to describe specific accomplishments in previous jobs.

Next, listen carefully to the questions. If you are not clear about the question, ask for clarification. We were surprised that several people appeared to answer questions we had not asked.

Mix confidence and openness. People who impressed interview committees on which I’ve served displayed both strong skills and a willingness to learn. Most employers are looking for both.

Malik Bush and John Miller are the new co-directors at the Center for School Change. (Submitted photo)

Malik Bush and John Miller are the new co-directors at the Center for School Change. (Submitted photo)

In  the end, our committee unanimously agreed to hire two terrific people who will be co-directors of the Center for School Change. Malik Bush and John Miller are educators who also have worked in for-profit companies. They were extremely enthusiastic and convinced us that together, they could do a fine job. Malik lives in Brooklyn Park, and John lives in Bloomington. You can read more about them here:

Thanks to ECM Publishers, I’m going to continue writing this column. I’m staying involved in education issues, though I’ll cut back a bit. Even after 45 years in education, I want to continue learning. Interviewing people over the past month convinced me I still have plenty to learn.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is a senior fellow at the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at