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A Recruiter's Interview Toolbox

By Kenya J. Washington
A Recruiter's Interview Toolbox

Asking a new recruit “tell me about yourself” coupled with “tell me how you would address scenario X and why” takes us from the traditional to a somewhat evolved way of getting information about our candidates. Both will tell us something about the candidate, but the latter gives us a glimpse into not only the candidate’s personality and disposition, but also in how they view challenges and opportunities. To help us reflect further on the interview process itself, below are some practical tools I have found useful in interviewing candidates, both local and international. There are some approaches we may want to hold on to, some we need to avoid doing, and others we may want to move towards. 

Hold On To: 

  • Virtual interviews

During the pandemic, and even prior to, we could see how conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Google Meets, WebEX, and Teams have been efficient in conducting candidate interviews. As a cost-effective way to hold interviews, you can still get a sense of your candidate, minus factoring in the travel costs. Although nothing can replace meeting candidates in person, virtual platforms are still useful, if even used as a screening tool. 

  • Asking about future aspirations

Why might it be useful to inquire about a candidate’s future goals if you only have them in mind for the current position posted? Simple. If we are hiring for longevity, we want to see how they might contribute in a meaningful way and gain responsibility within our school community. For example, in hiring a novice teacher, it might be useful to know that their future aspiration would be to become a Team Lead or a Dean of Students. Ultimately, candidates may be looking for more stability where they can grow, contribute, and eventually be considered for leadership positions in the communities that value them most. I would agree that being clear about the position you are looking to currently fill is essential for mutual understanding between the school and candidate. However, this recognition of potential investment in the candidate’s aspiration can be a pulling force in the candidate’s eyes. In short, if there is room for growth in your school community, it might be worth mentioning this during the interview!

  • Asking candidates how they spend their time outside of work

Hiring individuals who already come with a strong sense of work-life balance is key, especially if you are looking to promote this within your school community. Initially, it may be tempting to hire someone who will give their free time over to the school. But, often, when candidates do not have a work life balance, this can have a ripple effect on how they show up in the workplace (i.e., teach and collaborate) and on their wellbeing. Consider the balance of your needs as a community with the balance your candidates put forth. 


  • Using cultural innuendo and loaded language in the recruitment process

As interviewers, we ought not assume that our candidates are familiar with or even comfortable with language that denotes pop culture references and phrases. Working through this can be challenging and requires some savviness, as tone, intonation, and culturally relevant phrases are often what makes working in our international school contexts special! But parallel to this, messages and nuance can get misinterpreted during the interview process. It doesn’t mean we change who we are as an institution; but it does mean that wherever possible, we strive to clarify and simplify tone, messaging, and potential miscommunications with the candidate. 

Move Towards: 

  • Keeping a set number of predetermined questions to ask during the interview

Ideally, candidates interviewing for the same positions should be asked the same or identical questions; this is a practice of equity. This helps to ensure consistency as well as create a sense of the “same opportunity” for all candidates to express their viability for the posted position. There may be some variation in follow up questions based on the initial responses of the candidate, but all benefit from a common baseline of questions. 

  • Using case studies during the interview process

Include case studies that highlight different levels of multilayered complexity and push the candidate to demonstrate several skill sets and dispositions. When I first started in international education, this was the most valuable part of my own interview process. Here, leadership and other key constituents included in the process have an opportunity to gain further insight into how a candidate conceptualizes challenges and addresses them and how we as leadership see the candidate potentially relate to our school culture. This would not be so apparent in a CV. Instead of a candidate recanting their CV of what they can “bring to the table,” it allows leadership to see how a candidate’s long list of skills materialize. 

Recruitment is a highly dynamic “dance” between the candidate and the hiring team. With a huge investment in time and resources with long-term implications, we often feel pressured to “get it right” the first time around. Whichever method you move towards or keep at a distance in the recruitment process, matching it holistically with your school’s needs allows for a more authentic interaction and process. 

Read more about recruitment and hiring practices in Getting Our House in Order: Creating an Effective Hiring Environment and A Seat at the Table: Who’s Invited to the (Hiring) Party?.



Kenya J. Washington, USA, has over 15 years of secondary school experience in international education in the areas of administration and leadership and student support services/mental health counseling. 

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