When I first became a leader at a Montessori school I was immediately tasked with the job of hiring new teachers. It was a large school with seventeen classrooms and over fifty employees working in the building each day. It was also a school in crisis and employee turnover could officially be classified as “bananas”. The school was in the midst of a major transition and a financial tailspin and there was nobody to give me guidance. To make matters worse, there was also no standard interview template for me to use. To say that I was overwhelmed and unsure is the ultimate understatement!
When I think back on the first interview I ever did, I can’t help but cringe. I looked at the guy’s resume and saw he had a degree in sculpture, which sounded interesting to me. Also, his name was Jeb and he was from Georgia. As far as I was concerned, that was grounds for an interview! When he arrived we sat on the sofas in the main entry area and stayed there for the entire interview. We chatted about art, music, and the south. I described the school and the position and asked him if he had any questions. He seemed nice enough, I liked him, he was available, I was desperate, and he wasn’t creeepy…so I hired him.
The good news is that, despite my terrible hiring strategy, he ended up being a really terrific teacher and he continues to teach at the same school today. Many of my early hires were not nearly as successful…until I learned how to hire using a SMART strategy.
You may have heard of SMART goals as a way of setting strategic objectives. I think that the same theory applies to interview questions. These are questions that are:
Specific: ask the candidate to be as detailed as possible in describing their answer and make sure they are describing a situation that actually happened, not answering a hypothetical.
Measurable: the candidate can articulate a clear outcome of the situation they are describing, including any lessons they learned.
Applicable: the candidate is sharing information about situations that are applicable to your school’s unique needs and priorities.
Realistic: all of your questions guide the candidate to talk about how they have handled situations in REAL life and why they handled it that way.
Timebound: the candidate is guided to name a specific time and place in which the answer they are giving happened.
Let’s take this strategy and apply it to real hiring situations.
STEP ONE: YOUR STRUCTURE
Before you start interviewing, you need to know what exactly it is that you want in your new hire. Obviously you need a clear understanding of the level of education and professional experience for the job, but you need to identify more than that. What are the personal qualities you need in the individual you are welcoming into your community? Identify your top core desired qualities so that you can structure your questions to get at these qualities.
For example, if you are hiring a lead teacher for a Montessori primary classroom your top desired qualities might be: integrity, safety, communication, and organization. Here is an example of some questions you might ask:
Integrity: Tell me about a time when a close friend or colleague was engaged in behavior that you found to be inappropriate or knew was against policy. What were the specific circumstances? How did you respond? Why did you choose that response?
Safety: Tell me about a time when you were working with children and you had to act quickly in the name of safety. What were the circumstances? What choices did you make? Why did you make the choice you did? Would you do anything differently in retrospect?
Communication: Tell me about a time when you had a concern about a child and the parent didn’t agree. What was your position? What was the parent perspective? How did you communicate with one another? What was the resolution? Would you do anything differently in retrospect?
Organization: Tell me about your current system of record keeping and student observation. Why did you choose this system? What is it about this system that works for you? Do you share your records with the parents and administration? What do you share and how often?
Notice how all of these have multiple questions? This is how you get specific and realistic.
STEP TWO: THE JOURNEY
A resume is a useful tool for hiring, but it fails to tell the whole story. When you take the time to walk thorough the candidate’s resume with them, you get a much better feel for their professional journey. This can help you understand their attitudes and possibly their motivations for making certain professional choices. Here is an example of a resume “journey”:
I see that you originally studied Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin. How did you end up choosing that as your first major? Do you find that you still use anything you learned during those years?
It looks like you chose to take your AMI training in Denver after that. What caused you to move all the way to Colorado for training?
I see that you stayed in Colorado and taught for a year after training, then there is a two-year gap on your resume, followed by your last five years at the school in California. Tell me a little bit about what was going on for you professionally during that time.
The point in asking these questions is the why behind their decisions. They may have a lot of job hopping on their resume, which could set off alarm bells, but there might be really great reasons for all of those changes! Furthermore, questions like these help you to sense if they are an honest and transparent communicator. Great interviewees are willing to be humble and reflect upon their choices, even if it doesn’t paint them in the best light. Don’t you prefer to have a teacher who will come to you and tell you she has a problem over one that pretends everything is okay until the volcano completely blows?
STEP THREE: THE CONVERSATIONS
An interview should feel somewhat formal, but should also feel like a reciprocal conversation. If the candidate is good, they are interviewing you too. Showing up authentically in the interview is going to help this person know if your leadership style and personality is right for them, and that matters. Make sure your candidate is comfortable. Offer a beverage and a truly comfortable seat. Show them hospitality and respect so that you can get the best out of your conversation.
While the interview should feel conversational, it should also feel structured. Every single candidate should be asked the same exact questions in the same exact order. The same people should be present for every interview and the scoring should be conducted in an identical way as well.
At the end of the conversation with the interviewee, there should be a debrief conversation with the hiring team in which the team discusses the strength of the character traits identified in the interview form. Review the questions you used to identify “Integrity” and see how the candidate answered. Then rate the candidate on a scale of 1-5 regarding the level of integrity their answers displayed.
First impressions and likability are nice, a scored interview sheet is going to give you a “just the facts” answer to who you should hire. Sometimes this process may surprise you regarding the candidate that you choose. Be willing to trust the process!
There you have it. My strategies for SMART hiring. Want more resources on making a great hire? Click this link for some excellent information from Inc.com.
What are your best hiring strategies? Share with us in the Montessori Leadership Facebook group!
This article by RB Fast first appeared on beelineconsulting.net