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Rocket Launchers

Author(s): Tracy Volz, PhD
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Show What You Know!

The opening seconds of an interview are important because the interviewer immediately begins to gather impressions of you. Greet the interviewer with a natural smile and shake his or her hand firmly (but not with a death grip). The interviewer may begin with some small talk about your ability to locate the school, the weather, or current events, or he or she may get right to the business at hand. Follow his or her lead. Be ready to deliver a positive statement about your interest in the position.

Once the formal interview begins, you should lead off your answers with a topic sentence, and then organize your supporting evidence, from the most significant concrete examples to the least. You might think of your response as a two-stage process. First, present a series of two or three main bullet points that serve as an overview to your answer. Second, return to each point and develop the ideas using great detail and concrete examples.

Avoid generalities, clichés, and long lists of experiences or achievements. These are quickly forgotten. Instead, tell a vivid, focused, personal “story” with a limited number of specific names, events and places. Use this story to exemplify diverse skills and experiences that relate to the job for which you are interviewing. This approach will make your responses far more effective, interesting and memorable, and will set you apart from other candidates. If you wait to present your most important evidence, you risk having the interviewer interrupt you to ask a follow-up question that may take the conversation in a direction that prevents you from returning to the first question and describing your most significant experience.

Here is an extended example of these principles put into practice.

Interviewer: How did you become interested in teaching science?

Less prepared job candidate: Well, my mom was a high school biology teacher. She was always planning interesting projects for her students [Need more concrete detail]. She encouraged me to consider science as a career when I attended State University. At the university I found that I really liked chemistry, so I took a lot of classes and ended up majoring in it. After graduating I went to work in a lab because at the time I wasn’t interested in going to graduate school [Need more concrete detail]. While I was working in the lab I decided to do some volunteer work at the Museum of Natural Science [Need more concrete detail]. That’s basically it.

Prepared job candidate: I want to teach science because my mother was a science educator, I have first-hand experience working in a lab, and I have been conducting science workshops for children at the Museum of Natural Science for three years. My mother taught 10th grade Biology for 13 years, and every weekend she converted our kitchen into her personal lab. I loved helping her feed cell cultures, measure our family members’ heart rates, and look up information on the Internet. After majoring in chemistry at State University, I took a position as a lab technician at Chemlink. My responsibilities include conducting experiments, error analysis, training new employees, ordering inventory, and serving as the safety coordinator for my division. While I enjoy my work, I really wanted to share my enthusiasm for science with children, so I began volunteering at the Museum of Natural Science. On Saturdays I do science demonstrations for 6th and 7th graders. For example, I mix together two clear chemicals, and they turn blue, and I explain why. In another demonstration, we test the pH of household substances. Overall, this experience has been incredibly rewarding, and it prompted me to get my teaching certification so that I could turn my hobby into a my profession, knowing, of course, that teaching will be much more challenging than leading science demonstrations. 

Interviewer (obvious follow-up question): What challenges or differences do you expect to find between the two activities, teaching high school chemistry and conducting science workshops?

Finally, imagine the interviewer wrapping up the interview by saying, “In 30 seconds, convince me that you have the qualifications and motivation to make a positive contribution to XX High School.” How would you respond? Prepare a two- or three-sentence closing statement that captures your primary qualifications for a specific position and reiterates you genuine interest in it. Practice saying your closing many times so it flows fluently out of your mouth. Even if you are not prompted by the interviewer to share your closing statement, you should work it into the final minutes of the conversation. This is especially important if your personality is not naturally outgoing or expressive.