In my work as a consultant, I’ve been learning about Behavior-Based Interviewing [BBI]. “Based on the premise that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance, this interview style uses specific questions based on candidates’ skills, background, and experience to determine if they can do the job” (Deems, 1994). Interviewers ask candidates to tell them about a time when they dealt with a particular situation, what actions they took, and what the results were.
I was never interviewed this way. For new teachers starting out, even with a supportive interviewer who’s good at offering prompts, it must be hard to generate specific stories of accomplishment. Once I’d had some classroom experience beyond my meager six weeks of student teaching, though, I think I would have done okay.
Because I moved several times for my husband’s career, I actually endured the interview process six different times! I got the first four jobs with a single interview, but the last two times involved multiple schools and weeks of nail-biting waiting. Most of those interviews began with the predictable “Tell me about yourself…” approach. Few invited me to show anything significant about myself as a teacher. Surely a BBI approach would have been more meaningful.
My last interview led me to Glenbard West High School, where I spent most of my career. It was by far the most memorable. After I met with the department chair and the Assistant Principal for Curriculum, I was passed on to the Principal, Dr. Robert D. Elliott. His questions kept surprising me. At one point he asked me what I’d do if I had $500 [a princely sum in 1980] and a weekend in Chicago. I responded that I had young children, so some would go to a sitter and we probably couldn’t stay overnight, but then I listed theater and museums and the lakefront. He smiled as though my response had been informative. He quizzed me about my years in Madison, gently mocking me for being a hippie [which I barely sort of was…]. We seemed to connect until he asked, “Do you always have a lesson plan that you absolutely must follow?”
“No,” I replied, “because…”
Before I could finish, he stood up, slammed his hands on the desk in front of him, and scowled at me. “You had me till then,” he muttered.
“But… please may I explain? I always have a lesson plan to follow… it’s just that sometimes students need something different. Then I have to adjust and figure out what that is… but I get back to the plan and make it happen eventually…” My voice quaked.
“Ah,” he said quietly, sitting back down. We finished with a handshake, and three days later he offered me the job. I believed I’d found paradise.
In hindsight, I wish he’d asked me more about what I’d done as a teacher, that he’d used a more BBI approach. I could have given him an example of assessing student needs and how I’d adjusted a particular lesson plan. Then he might have been as impressed as he was during his first formal evaluation visit when – sure enough – a student’s need disrupted my carefully designed plan and he watched me analyze and adjust it in real time. I’ve come to see BBI as an asset to both interviewer and candidate, a great way to pick the right fit.