Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Perfect Resume: Sell, Don't Tell

In my conversations with professional recruiters, school district administrators, and college career counselors throughout the country, one critical piece of advice kept coming up again and again.  Here it is:

A job search is all about marketing.

The bottom line in any job search is that you are trying to sell yourself - more specifically, you are trying to sell someone on the benefits of you and the benefits you will bring to a school or school district.  In short, you are the product.  Just like a flashy new car, the latest and greatest technological innovation, or a newly released drug designed to eradicate specific pain and suffering, you are a product.  Someone could tell me about all the features on that new car, but that wouldn’t inspire me to want to purchase the car.  What they need to do is sell me on all those new features…why do I need those specific features on that specific car?  When they do that they’re trying to sell me the car.
 Professional resume writers will tell you that the single-most important feature they include in every single resume they write is the “Sell, Don’t Tell” strategy.  When you “tell it” you are simply stating basic facts (“I taught fourth grade science.”).  On the other hand, when you “sell it” you are drawing attention to it, you are advertising it, you are promoting it, and you are underlining its importance to the consumer (“Initiated and developed an inquiry-based life science curriculum for fourth grade students - one that resulted in an 11% gain in standardized test scores.”).

Master resume writers will tell you that the “Sell, don’t tell” strategy should be woven into every single item included on a well-written resume.  Ignore it and your resume will sound like every other resume.

Let’s look at the difference:

Tell it
Sell it
“Taught four sections of chemistry during student teaching.”
“Designed and produced a revision to the 10th grade chemistry curriculum that resulted in heighted awareness of chemistry in everyday activities along with a 17% improvement in overall attitudes towards chemistry.”
“Tutored a child.”
“Tutored special needs child in reading and writing resulting in an increased reading level of two grades.”
“Read stories to children at the public library.”
“Set up and ran a Saturday morning read-aloud club at the local library which resulted in a 19% increase in attendance of patrons over the length of the project.”
“Was a volunteer coach for the junior varsity soccer team.”
“Established a physical fitness program for junior varsity soccer players that resulted in a significant decrease in athletic injuries and a heighted awareness of sustained conditioning exercises.”
“Taught high school math.”
“Instructed algebra, geometry, and pre-calculus students in grades 9-11.  Developed and implemented appropriate lesson plans and assessments to meet state standards, resulting in a 93% advanced or proficient rating in 11th grade PSSA.”
“Wrote a new social studies unit.”
“Researched and designed an interactive unit on the Underground Railroad that resulted in improved attitudes about the role of African-Americans in U.S. history along with a statistically significant improvement in student mid-term grades.”
As you review the chart above, you can see that “selling” yourself (as opposed to “telling” yourself) results in slightly longer statements.  Does that mean some more work for you?  You bet!  But, with the “Sell, don’t tell” philosophy you are putting your best features “front and center.”  Any reader will get a clearer picture of just who you are.

Looking for more resume ideas?
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Saturday, February 18, 2017

How to Answer Illegal Questions

The following is a short excerpt from Chapter 11 of Ace Your Teacher Interview: 149 Fantastic Answers to Tough Interview Questions ( by Anthony D. Fredericks

            From time to time you may be asked an illegal question.  Fortunately, those times are rare, but they do occasionally occur.  An illegal question is one that probes into your personal life, beliefs, or background.  Federal law forbids employers from discriminating against any person on the basis of sex, age, race, national origin, or religion.  Questions that delve into these areas are both inappropriate as well as illegal.
            Most interviewers are aware of these questions and it is indeed the rare occasion when you would be asked a question that is not directly related to the job.  However, the interviewer may be new and not aware of the types of questions that can be asked and those that can’t be asked.  Perhaps he or she is trying to put you in a stressful situation to see how you would react (or over-react).  Or, you may be asked inappropriate questions out of sheer ignorance.  Although these occasions are uncommon, you need to consider how you might respond if you were asked an illegal question.
            In consulting with numerous administrators and professional interviewers, I discovered that there are several schools of thought on this issue.  These include the following:

  1. You could tell the interviewer that the question is illegal and that you are not going to answer it.  While you are certainly within your rights to make just such a response, it may have more negative consequences than you would like.  Above all, your response would undoubtedly make the interviewer uncomfortable and would, most certainly, give her or him a negative impression of you.  In other words, you may be 100 percent right, but your response would be viewed as 100 percent wrong.
  2. Another school of thought says that you should ignore the illegality of the question and just go ahead and answer it - because you are more interested in the teaching position than you are in the appropriateness of the question asked.  In other words, you may decide that the job is much more important than the principle (or principal).
  3. You can simply, respectfully, and politely decline to answer the question.  A response such as, “I’m somewhat uncomfortable with that question and would prefer not to answer it at this time” is suggested.  The problem with this response – even though it is very appropriate – is that it may be seen as defensive and antagonistic – two qualities no principal wants to deal with.  Even though the interviewer may be downright stupid to ask an illegal question you don’t want to compound that stupidity by pointing it out to him or her.
  4. You could feign ignorance when asked an illegal question.  That is, pretend that you aren’t aware of the illegality of the question and, instead ask for some clarification or explanation.  For example, if you were asked, “What political party do you belong to?” you might respond as follows, “I’m not quite sure I understand what you’re getting at.  Could you please explain to me how my political affiliation might be related to my role as a tenth grade math teacher?”  You’ve effectively told the interviewer that the question was illegal and you’ve also effectively dealt with a stressful situation.  Some interviewers might see this in a positive way, but others might take it as a personal “slap in the face.”  Unfortunately, you’ll never know ahead of time.
            While there is no hard and fast rule on how to deal with illegal questions, it is an issue you need to consider well in advance of any interview.  Chances are slim that you will be presented with one of the questions in this chapter, but you need to keep in mind that you are now in a very tight race with a select group of individuals all competing for the same position.  How you answer a single illegal question might “tip the scales in your favor” - ultimately determining whether or not you are offered the job.  In short – prepare for the worst, but give them your best.
            After talking with many elementary and secondary principals, most of them suggested that the most appropriate course of action is to turn what may be a negative situation into a positive response.  Instead of giving a simple response (“I’m Protestant”) elaborate and provide the interviewer with additional information that demonstrates how that particular factor is an asset to your career as a classroom teacher.
            Here are a few examples of illegal questions and how you might respond:

Q:  How long have you had that disability?
A:  I lost my finger when I was a young child helping my grandfather on his farm.  I grew up in a rural environment and I guess I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors.  I’d like to be able to contribute my interest and fascination with flora and fauna with this new generation of learners.  I’ve been fortunate to live most of my life hiking, exploring, and enjoying nature and I believe I can help young people appreciate, and become part of, the natural world through an inquiry-based science curriculum – one that offers lots of outdoor experiences and takes advantage of their natural inquisitiveness about nature.
Q:  Do you plan to get pregnant?
A:  My husband and I have no immediate plans to have children, but you never know.  We both love children and have always gotten a lot of pleasure working as camp counselors and in numerous after-school projects.  I love opportunities where I can help youngsters become their best, realize their potential, and grow and learn as members of society.  I guess I’m just passionate about children and look forward to the possibility of affecting their lives in as many positive ways as possible.
Q:  Where were you born?
A:  I was born in northern California.  I grew up in the Bay Area and had the pleasure of attending schools that were ethnically diverse, racially mixed, and multicultural.  I’ve eaten varied ethnic foods, celebrated interesting holidays, participated in several cultural traditions, and been to any number of religious ceremonies.  I believe I can bring that diversity of experiences into my classroom to show children how we can all live together if we just take the time to learn about each other’s customs, traditions, and beliefs.  I want to give students the same kinds of experiences I was fortunate enough to have in my early years.
             You need to decide ahead of time how you might respond to an illegal question.  What are you most comfortable with?  What type of response will put you in the best light without giving away sensitive or unnecessary information?  In short, how can you turn a negative situation into a positive one?
            Believe it or not, an illegal question gives you a unique opportunity to demonstrate how your strengths and experiences can be used to impress an interviewer.  With sufficient practice you can effectively show how to turn a potential “negative” into a solid “positive.”

Saturday, February 11, 2017

What Would You Like to Improve About Yourself?

One of the most important things a principal wants to learn about you is your philosophy.  What do you believe and why do you believe those things?  Your philosophy will reveal personality traits that will determine how successful you will be as a classroom teacher.  Now is the time to make sure your philosophy is well-grounded, robust, and genuine.  Here's a philosophical question frequently asked in interviews:

     What two things would you like to improve about yourself?

     A:   The two things I would like to improve on over the next few years are my computer skills and my time management skills.  I’m currently addressing my computer skills in a course I plan to take this summer at Prestigious University.  While I can effectively integrate technology into all my subject areas, the field is changing so rapidly that I should make sure I’m getting the latest information.  It’s a process I plan to continue throughout my teaching career.  I’d also like to improve my time management.  I tend to be one of those people who always tries to do too much.  I often find that there are not enough hours in the day to get everything accomplished.  I need to prioritize my work better and give myself some time for reflection and inquiry.

Interviewers often ask this question in order to find out about some of your weaknesses.  It’s always a good idea to respond with “deficits” that everyone wrestles with.  Things like time management, patience, technological skills, and attitude are items we all could improve.  The best answer for this question is one that focuses on “improvements” related directly to teaching.  In other words, don’t tell the interviewer that you’d like to improve the quality of the beverages at your Friday night poker game or that you’d like to have more time to update your Facebook page this week.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Why Did You Apply for This Position?

One of the key pieces of advice offered in Ace Your Teacher Interview: 149 Fantastic Answers to Tough Interview Questions ( is that candidates should do some research on the school or district to whom they are applying.  This includes checking out the district or school web site and learning everything you can about school/district standards, school funding issues, parent involvement, how many students are served, student attendance policies, number of schools, size of staff, availability of teacher training programs, results of student achievement tests, descriptions of the facilities, and student support services.  If you don't think this is important, please read what one reader of the book posted on "...I've been told by everyone on my interview panel how great my answers were and how well prepared I was (don't forget to RESEARCH YOUR SCHOOL, that was a big seller that tipped the odds from one candidate to me)." [5-star review].  Here's a typical question often asked in interviews:

     Why did you apply for this position?

     A:   Dinosaur Elementary School has an excellent reputation in the community.  According to your web page your overall reading tests scores are up significantly and your math scores in third and fifth grades show significant improvement over last year.  You obviously have a committed staff and I like to be part of a winning team.  You also have a dynamic and eclectic staff development program for teachers.  In my conversations with some of the teachers they remarked on the variety of workshops that have been offered – workshops geared for their specific needs.  While the emphasis has been on reading instruction, there have been sessions devoted to math and science as well.  I believe every teacher, no matter what their experience, can profit from additional training.  That’s something else that has also impressed me about Dinosaur. 
This is an opportunity for you to highlight your special knowledge about the school or district.  It signals to the interviewer that you took the time to do your homework – learning specific details other candidates may not have investigated.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

If an Administrator Visited Your Classroom...?

Most principals are interested in your philosophy - what do you believe and why do you do the things you do.  They want to know if your beliefs are similar to those of the school or if they are radically opposed.  Here's a frequent question that gets to the heart of who you are.  Be ready for it.

     If an administrator visited your classroom, what would she or he see?

     A:   She would see an educational environment where every student is respected, every student is trusted, and every student is learning.  She would see an active classroom – a classroom where students are never absorbing information passively, but are, instead, actively participating in a curriculum that puts a premium on personal and meaningful engagement.  She would see students taking responsibility for their learning through self-established goals, projects and activities that are pedagogically sound and standards-based.  She would see students achieving…she would see students challenged through higher level thinking questions, “Best Practices,” and a teacher dedicated to success.  She would see a classroom that embraces every student’s cognitive and affective potential.  She would see a community of learners!
The answer to this question should focus, not on the physical, but rather on your philosophy of education.  This is a question that gets to the heart of what it means to be a teacher.  Here’s where you can let your beliefs and your values shine.  But be careful – this is not the time to ramble.  Be concise and keep your answer to two minutes or less.
Ace Your Teaching Resume (and Cover Letter):
Insider Secrets That Get You Noticed
Anthony D. Fredericks, Ed.D.
has just been published.
Get a jump start on your competitors!  This book provides you with all the inside information you need to score big on the first element of a successful job search: Your Resume.  An inappropriate resume will sink your chances for a teaching position before you even get started.  This book, based on extensive conversations with scores of principals, offers you tips and strategies that guarantee you an interview.  Don't make the big mistakes so many others do.  Get it right the first time.
Get informed...get interviewed...get the job!