So you’ve written a fantastic resume and cover letter and managed to snag an interview – congratulations!
Now the real fun can begin.
The interview is your opportunity to really demonstrate your personality and passion for the work you do. But it’s not going to be a cake-walk; as the most important step in the process for the recruiters, they will be working hard to get a sense of who you are and whether you’re the right person to work with them.
Don’t worry; they’re not there to trip you up. And to an extent, you have no control over whether they think you will be a good fit ‘culturally’. However, a good performance will certainly help your chances.
To this end, I include below some sample interview questions that I have asked and been asked over the years. If you prepare responses to each of these questions, you will be extremely well-placed to perform at a high level and nail that interview.
None of these are trick questions; just answer honestly and frankly. If you aren’t sure whether you’ve fully answered a question, there is no harm in asking “does that answer your question, or is there something else you’d like me to elaborate on / can I provide another example?” This also demonstrates thoughtfulness and a capacity for self-reflection and self-awareness.
- Could you briefly describe the relevant experience you have that equips you as a preschool teacher?
- Practice a two-minute answer that effectively provides a neat summary of your background (including experience and qualifications), why you teach and why you’re looking for a new opportunity.
- How does your programming reflect the contemporary approaches to curriculum and programming?
- This is an opportunity for you to demonstrate that you keep up-to-date with the latest approaches and thinking in early childhood education and understand how to plan your lesson delivery according to best practice. Come armed with practical examples of how you have done this recently.
- What strategies do you use to guide children’s behaviour?
- This is a great behavioural question, because it requires you to explain how you interact with the children on a day-to-day basis. Think of two specific strategies that you use, coupled with successful examples, to reinforce positive practice in children.
- A colleague comes to you to inform you about a problem she has with another team member – what do you do?
- I like this question because it takes you out of the ‘education’ mindset and into the realm of a realistic, everyday workplace conflict between adults. There is not necessarily a right answer here (though there are wrong ones); the assessor is just trying to gain an insight into how you think through problems and your own communication style. If you are abrasive, for example, your response here might cause them to be concerned about your ability to resolve this conflict.
- A good answer here would cite any policies in place at the preschool (you don’t need to know what they are, merely mention that you would refer to them) and propose to work towards resolving the conflict in a mature way without having any effect on the children or otherwise compromising harmony in the workplace.
- Describe how you interact with children in the playroom.
- This is a deliberately open question, which is at once more easy and more difficult to answer. While it allows you free reign to talk about the elements you consider to be important, at the same time you will likely second-guess yourself about whether you’re providing the answer the interviewer wants to hear.
- My advice is to base your answer on examples; much like you would explain a specific skill in your resume by supporting it with an example, so here real-life examples are the best way to demonstrate how you act in a practical situation.
- How do you ensure that children’s health needs are met/promoted within the center?
- This question seeks practical examples from you about initiatives you have employed to promote wellness with the children. These could be general, like a hand-washing program in your classroom, or specific, like organizing a healthy vegetable lunch. Whatever examples you choose to cite, make sure you explain why you did what you did, as well as the ultimate impact that you achieved.
- What is your understanding of equal employment opportunity and how does it relate to children’s education?
- I’m not going to tell you how to answer this one, because it’s very personal. Increasingly, employers are looking more closely at their hiring practices to try and make the playing field as level as possible to potential employees and reduce bias in hiring decisions.
- Notwithstanding what I’ve said in the previous point, a good answer here might consider the value of diversity in every situation and how such diversity can enrich educational experiences for the children.
- What is meant by ‘duty of care’?
- Another increasingly prominent topic, especially in the area of early childhood education. This question is not asking you for a dictionary definition; what they want to hear is what a duty of care means in a practical context, based on your own experience. How far does a teacher’s duty of care extend in the preschool environment? If you’re not sure of the extent of your responsibility it’s always better to overestimate, because we are, after all, caring for children.
- What is meant by ‘OH&S’?
- This is another one of those questions where the interviewer is trying to get at how seriously you take your obligations in this area. While we’re all aware of the requirements of occupational health and safety, we still often see breaches in the workplace that we do nothing about. A good answer to this question would be an acknowledgement that the rules exist for a reason and a demonstrated strong commitment to taking care of yourself and your colleagues.
- What records does the authorized supervisor need to keep on a daily/weekly basis?
- This is simply a question designed to test your appreciation of administrative best practice within a preschool and your comfort with the more technical compliance issues that arise. You shouldn’t have too much difficulty with questions like these, but if you have any doubt either research the relevant rules that apply to preschools in your area or ask a friend who is familiar with the relevant requirements to test you.
- It isn’t enough to be general here; the best responses are those that demonstrate to the hirer that you understand what’s required in this position and they will therefore not need to invest further time in training you. It’s another way to set yourself apart.
- Describe what you would do in an emergency evacuation (e.g. bomb scare/ fire).
- Naturally, we hope these kinds of events never happen, but they occasionally do. Accordingly, we need to remain ever-vigilant of our emergency plans and ensure the staff and children are drilled in what to do in the event of some kind of natural or man-made catastrophe.
- This question, therefore, is designed to test your knowledge of prevailing procedures (in a general way, obviously if you’ve never worked in the center you won’t be across the specific assembly points, for example) as well as your ability to respond and remain effective in a pressure-filled environment. When things start going wrong, the preschool will look to its teachers to maintain calm and handle the situation efficiently, ensuring the safety of the children as the paramount concern. The best responses here, therefore, demonstrate exactly how you would do that in a specific situation; take one example (e.g. a fire) and explain, step-by-step, how you would respond. Cite any relevant training you have completed or drills you’ve successfully carried out in the past to illustrate your own role.
- How do you deal with an irate parent (step-by-step)?
- This question is a great one because it gives your assessor a strong insight into your personality type. Firstly, what you deem as ‘irate’ might differ between candidates. Secondly your response to the parent will be grounded in your own style of communication. Come people are terrified of confrontation, others actively seek it out.
- There are a lot of right answers here, but also some wrong ones. Typically, any action you take that reflects poorly on the preschool or could escalate the situation would be the wrong thing to do. However, it might be entirely appropriate to discuss issues directly with the parent, or to involve another teacher or school administration, depending on the situation. Other than trying to get a sense of your own personality type and ability to respond to stress and conflict, this question is really looking into how you think through actions in a strategic way. An appropriate line of reasoning might be: “If I respond in this way, I would expect this kind of reaction, which might work towards the desired outcome of…”
- Most teachers have real-life examples they can draw upon, which is great; however, if you don’t just ensure your thought process is clearly explained and reasoned out. Consider running your response past another colleague to ensure it sounds reasonable and appropriate first.
- How do you deal with staff conflict (step-by-step)?
- This one is a bit of a doozy and a more general version of question 4, above. In general, this question also goes to your personality type. Generally speaking, there will be a mix of personality types in any workplace, and it’s crucial that we are respectful of how others view the world, especially when that differs from how we see it. That’s really what this question is getting at – the question of mutual respect and how to resolve misunderstandings in a really adult way.
- The recruiter is going to prioritize a harmonious work environment, above all. Therefore, if you come across as potentially confrontational you will not get the job. That doesn’t mean you can’t say you will talk to the person, but ensure that any answer you give entails doing so in a constructive and respectful way, without any accusations or raised voices, etc. Then think about what the next step might be; perhaps they respond well, perhaps they don’t – if they don’t, what is the center’s policy? Who do you speak to? Frankly, the preschool is going to favour internal dispute resolution over external (e.g. Unions) every time, because it saves time and money. So think about the most efficient way to resolve this kind of situation and come armed with an answer that demonstrates you are a rational, calm, considerate person who is willing to engage with alternative perspectives; that’s the kind of person everyone wants to work with.
- If you have real-life examples of resolving workplace conflicts, bring those with you – just make sure your examples as presented fit the above profile.
- What is your experience with special needs?
- I know at the outset I said that it’s never a good policy to exaggerate your experience or qualifications in any way. This is especially true in your response to this question. You don’t know why the recruiter is asking this specific question; if could be a general question in anticipation of a hypothetical state of affairs, or they might specifically require you to work with special needs children.
- If you overstate your competence in this area, then not only could that lead to a negative employment outcome for you, but it could actually be a setback for that child or children as well – and none of us want that. So just be honest, using real examples – if you don’t have much experience, that’s ok – if you’re the right candidate otherwise, they can work around that and will get you the experience you need.
- How do you undertake behavioural management?
- This question is another that aims to get to the heart of how you will act when in charge of a class of pre-schoolers. It’s your opportunity to demonstrate your strong understanding of the practices at that particular preschool and also the latest thinking on what has the greatest effectiveness in the real world.
- The best answers here tend to demonstrate not only that you are up-to-date with your professional development (and your actions reflect current best practice) but that you are respectful and kind to the children at all times, no matter how challenging the specific situation might be. Ensure you support your response with actual examples, explaining how the situation came about, what management techniques you employed and their degree of effectiveness, including whether they were effective in prevent a recurrence of that situation.
- How would you handle the departure of a parent when leaving an upset child?
- The most experienced teachers have a bag full of tricks to settle a child feeling a sense of abandonment or homesickness. If you could benefit from some ideas, I have written an article on this very topic on my blog.
- In general, the recruiter here would like to get a feel for how you manage to handle the class as a whole, while also settling that child – as well as your specific techniques or mechanisms for calming children down in this specific situation. It works best to tell stories that explain the techniques you use, because this helps the interviewer to understand why you took certain actions and allows you to provide any necessary context and the ability to cater your approach to the needs of each individual child.
- What is meant by ‘cultural diversity’?
- This is a personal question that is intended to help gain an understanding of how you approach cultural diversity in both the work context (i.e. with your colleagues) and the in the classroom with your students.
- Naturally, we live in an extremely diverse country, with the richness of cultures adding a lot of value to the fabric of our society. Your answers here need to demonstrate your desire to live and work alongside people of other cultures and appreciate difference. In the classroom, the best answers demonstrate not only their appreciation for all cultures, but a strong record of weaving cultural education into their lesson planning in order to share this message with the children at the same time.
- What does confidentiality mean to you and how is it important?
- As teachers, we are privy to a great deal of personal information about our children and their families. We are entrusted with a great deal of very private knowledge; sometimes because we have to be (e.g. medical information) and sometimes because we are seen as trustworthy and leaders in our own community.
- This question is intended to give you an opportunity to demonstrate that you take this responsibility very seriously and value highly the faith that others put in you to look after their secrets. We aren’t required to take an oath of silence, but we can’t use knowledge that others entrust to us in the course of our work as teachers as fodder in our weekend gossip. The two have to remain separate and it’s important to express your understanding of the importance of such confidentiality here.
- What special talents/passion can you bring to the job?
- This is an open question that gives you an opportunity to wow your interviewer with anything you haven’t already covered. Obviously, it’s an opportunity to express your energy, desire and passion to make a difference in the life of the preschool – but everybody will say some variant of this, so try and be unique and give them something to remember you by as well.
- Do you coach sport? Are you a Scout leader? Do you play a musical instrument? These kinds of trivial facts can make you stand out as someone who has something special to contribute to the life of the children and give the interviewer a reference point for you at the same time. Let them imagine you holding a guitar or wearing a Scout Master’s uniform and they will never forget you!
- How do you involve parents in your day-to-day programming?
- This question is an interesting one, because a lot of teachers do this, perhaps without realising it. As a result, while they have trouble thinking of the first example, as they progress with their answer they think of another, and another, and so on.
- Those answers are hard to follow, so you’ll be better off by far if you come prepared with an overview of your general approach and a list of your top examples of having done this. That way, you won’t start with one weak example and miss the strongest ones. Some things you might think about in coming up with examples are times you specifically got parents involved in your teaching (like studying careers, for example), your approach to planning excursions or – on an individual basis –lesson planning for individual children to accommodate special needs or interests. There could be powerful examples in any of these areas.
There are twenty questions for you to study and prepare answers to; I expect you might be asked some of them in your next interview. Naturally I don’t promise that these will fully cover off on the answers you need to prepare for your interview, but I will say that if you are fully prepared to respond to these twenty questions you will be in an extremely strong position to adapt answers and use your very strongest examples in each of your responses.
After all, every question related to the same theme, which is assessing your suitability for the job. If you have not only well-reasoned responses, but examples to reinforce every claim you make, you are well on your way to acing that interview. I can’t wait to hear how it goes.
Bonus: The STAR Method
I have talked a lot in this guide about using real-life examples to give potential employers strong insights into how you would respond to situations in real-life.
Here, I’m going to share with you my favorite framework for answering a behavioural-based question; if you can keep this acronym in mind, you will be able to comfortable explain every example you provide in a clear, methodical way that will be easy for your recruiter to follow.
It goes like this
S – Situation: Provide an overview of the context to the problem, including the relevant people involved.
T – Task: What was the specific thing that you set out to do, and how did it relate to the situation?
A – Action: How did you approach completing the task (in step by step detail)?
R – Result: How did the steps you took lead directly to a positive outcome – and what did that outcome look like exactly?
If you explain each of your examples using this format, you can’t go wrong.
Here’s an example for you:
Say I wanted to use an example of organizing a fundraising BBQ for Breast Cancer Awareness. I might break down this example as follows:
S – Situation: The children and I decided that we would like to do something nice for International Women’s Day, so decided to hold a BBQ and raise money.
T – Task: I led the logistics and planning for the event, including obtaining the support of a local butcher and baker, who supplied food for free, parents, who donated their BBQs and their time and the advertising, which involved placing posters around the local community.
A – Action: I created a project plan, which outlined exactly when each task had to be completed and who was responsible. I canvassed the volunteers and directed them each to carry out specific functions to bring the event together as a whole and worked with the children, as a classroom project, to design a flyer for the event that we printed and sent home to parents to place up around the neighbourhood.
R – Result: The local community really got behind the initiative and we raised over $500 for Breast Cancer research, while also ingratiating the Preschool to the local community and strengthening links with families by getting parents involved in the activity.
Now, this isn’t a real example, but you can see how the framework forces you to think clearly about how your actions led to a specific outcome and provides a clear roadmap for explaining it to a recruiter. Next time you’re stuck for how to explain yourself, just think of STAR and it will guide you to a great answer.