Getting the Gig, Tips for Job Hunters

Trey Reely | April 2010

    This is the time of year when both recent graduates and experienced directors look for new positions. There are a number of important things to consider if you want to make the best impression possible.
First, do a little detective work and find out as much as possible about a new position before going to the interview. Have questions ready and talk to university faculty members, area directors, and even the director who is leaving. However, keep in mind that a director who is leaving under unfavorable circumstances may have a view that is skewed; you may have none of the same problems should you accept the position. Determine at least a ballpark figure of what salary you are looking for before you interview. Schools often have a salary schedule you can find on the school’s website. Directors usually have a stipend of some sort, which may or may not be posted on the site.
    As for the interview itself, the first impression you make to a potential employer is the most important one. The first judgment an interviewer makes is going to be based on how you look and what you are wearing. That is why it’s always important to dress professionally for a job interview, even if the work environment is casual.
    According to Kim Zoller at Image Dynamics, 55 percent of another person’s perception of you is based on how you look. Listed below are some tips she gives on how to look your best without necessarily spending a lot of money:

Women’s Interview Attire
•  Solid color, conservative suit
•  Coordinated blouse
•  Moderate shoes
•  Limited jewelry
•  Neat, professional hairstyle
•  Tan or light hosiery
•  Sparse make-up & perfume
•  Manicured nails
Men’s Interview Attire
•  Solid color, conservative suit
•  White long sleeve shirt
•  Conservative tie
•  Dark socks, professional shoes
•  Very limited jewelry
•  Neat, professional hairstyle
•  Go easy on the aftershave
•  Neatly trimmed nails

    An obvious part of the interview process is answering questions. If you are a recent graduate it is important to have thoughtful answers ready for commonly asked questions because just “winging it” might cost you a good position. Veteran teachers applying for new positions should be no less prepared. Here are some commonly asked questions:
    What is your philosophy of education? Some districts may have you write your philosophy on an application form. Write legibly and with good grammar.
How do you see the band program in terms of its relationship to the rest of the school? This is a very important question to potential employers. Band directors are notorious for their tunnel vision, while administrators want someone who is dedicated but also realizes the band’s role within the big picture of the school’s overall goals and priorities. Coming across as a team player is important; administrators want someone who meshes with other faculty members.
    Where would you like to see yourself in ten years? Don’t be afraid to express vision and drive – administrators will respect that.
    Why do you want to leave your current job? Don’t say something like “I hated my last principal” or “My last principal was an idiot.” If you despise the administration at your previous position it would be best to avoid the issue altogether and stay positive as much as possible. Complaining about where you currently work may make a future employer think that you would not be happy anywhere. Principals and superintendents will be more sympathetic with someone of their own position in the educational system than a potential employee. There’s also a chance that they may be friends or a strong acquaintance with the administrator you are talking about. (They have state and regional organizations like band directors.) If you are bitter, keep it inside and show optimism. Start complaining and you will probably be rejected immediately. Do you like working with a complainer?
    If you feel the need to address conflicts with a previous administration then calmly address the matter without sounding like matters were personal, and you should express problems in terms of conflicting philosophies.
    Also, if you are asked why you are leaving a previous position it’s best not to mention money as the prime factor—some may think that when a better deal comes along you will jump ship the first chance you get.
    If you change jobs frequently, you may be asked why. This can be problematic depending on your circumstances, but again, it’s important to put your reasons in as positive a light as possible. It would do well to convince them that you see the need to stay put in one position and that you are looking for a position that would provide stability.

    On the next few questions I follow the question with answers from real interviews.

What is your biggest weakness?
    “I’m really not a big learner. You know, some people love learning and are always picking up new things but that’s just not me. I’d much rather work at a place where the job is pretty stagnant and doesn’t change a lot.”
    This is the wrong answer. No one is perfect so you should not have a problem answering the question but make sure you have an answer that is not going to ruin the whole interview. You might pick some aspect of your teaching that needs to improve, but whatever it is, it should be something you have already taken steps to improve; at the very least have a clear plan that addresses the weakness.

Have you ever committed a felony or a misdemeanor?

    “I stole a pig once, but it was a really small pig.”
Full disclosure would be best, and you should accept complete responsibility for your actions with out minimizing or rationalizing your actions.

Do you have any questions?
    “If you were a fruit, what fruit would you be?”
    “Can we wrap this up quickly? I have someplace to go.”
    “If I get an offer, how long do I have before I have to take a drug test?”
    “No, I have no questions for you.”
    Having good questions prepared is important. Besides the fact that you glean more information, it will indicate a true interest in the position.  However, don’t go too overboard with your questions; determine what matters are most important to you and ask questions that address those issues. The following questions would be important ones to ask if they were not previously answered in the initial interview process:
    “What are your expectations of the band director and the band program here?”
    “Does the community support education?”
    “How does the school compare with others in the state?”
    “What budget can I expect? Are transportation costs included in that?”
    “What instruments does the school own? What condition are they in?”
    “Is there a long-term purchase or repair plan in place?
    “Is there a strong band booster organization?”
    “What is the school schedule like? Is there a conflict with athletics or AP classes?
    “What salary can I expect?”
    It is best to wait as long as possible before asking about salary so it doesn’t look like money is your number one priority. However, most employers know this is important and will bring the topic up first. On the other hand, you don’t want to look too nonchalant about the salary or you may come across as desperate.

The Resume
    A good resume is a must. It’s best to keep it one page in length and have it printed on high-quality paper with an attractive, yet easily readable font for a professional look. Some applicants include a photo but unless you have movie-star looks it may be best not to – conscious and subconscious factors come into play as potential employers look at the photo whether it be matters of looks, race, or whatever.
    The following are some essential things to include on the resume:
    Appropriate contact information. Include a mailing address, an e-mail address, and at least one phone number (preferably a cell number) so that you are easy to contact.
    Academic qualifications. As your work history develops, academic accomplishments carry less weight. If you’ve been around a while, you don’t need to include much here. Simply list your alma mater and the degree earned. If you are recent graduate, a high GPA or degree from a prestigious university should be listed near the top of your resume.
    Previous work experience. If you’ve held a lot of jobs in a short amount of time it may be tempting to omit a few positions, but it’s better to go with full disclosure. If you’re a recent college graduate with little experience, remember that the resume is not just for paid, full-time work. Internships, part-time work, volunteer work, or other applicable experience should be listed. List everything chronologically with appropriate dates.
    Achievements. Make sure these are relevant and noteworthy, unlike the ones listed below, which are drawn from real resumes:
    “Finished eighth in my class of ten.”
    “Donating blood – fourteen gallons so far.”
    “My twin sister has an accounting degree.”
    “I am fluent in both English and Spinich.”
    “Excellent memory; strong math aptitude; excellent memory.”
    “Attended collage courses.”
    Hobbies and interests. Interviewers can learn a lot about you from what you do in your spare time. A person with other interests may be perceived as someone who will not burn out as quickly. However, you don’t want to look like you have so much going on the side that it will conflict with your work. This real sample would have been better off not shared: “Sitting on a levee at night and watching alligators.”
    References. Research indicates that 80 percent of employers call at least one reference. Three contrasting references are sufficient; for example, an administrator, a respected band director, and someone from the community like a church minister. You should ask for the reference’s permission before including their name on your resume. If they consent, you can include their physical address, but a phone number and e-mail would be enough unless an em-ployer plans to mail a reference form to the references to complete. However, many evaluation forms are online now. At all costs, avoid the following:
    “Please do not contact my previous principal.”
    “Bill, Tom, and Eric but I do not know their phone numbers.”
    “My girlfriend.”
    “None. I left a path of destruction behind.”

    You’ve worked for many years to get the best job possible, so don’t blow it at the last minute with a poor, unprepared resume and interview. Use the tips above and you’re well on your way to receiving the position you’ve always wanted.              
    A special thanks to Claude Smith, former band director and current principal of Searcy High School for his views from both sides of the fence. Additional kudos to Dr. Bob Reely of the Harding University College of Business Admin-istration for his suggestions.