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Covering All the Bases: Nailing that First Job Interview

Trey Reely and Sarah Labovitz | February March 2022

    Interviewing for that first job is stressful, but one way to reduce the pressure is rigorous preparation. Job applicants usually have to answer many questions during the process, and there are quite a few topics that interviewers might explore. School districts often hire by committee, so applicants need to be prepared to answer questions from various perspectives. For the purposes of this article, the hypothetical committee includes a superintendent, principal, band director, and band parent. Below is a list of questions you might encounter, many of which could be asked by anyone, and some helpful tips as you consider possible responses.

    Superintendents and principals want to find someone who sees the big picture and understands what role the band program plays within the context of the school district. Sometimes their questions are based on problems they have had with a band director in the past. If you are applying for an assistant position, keep in mind that you will be collaborating on some decisions with the head director and your answers should reflect that.

    Tell me about yourself. Avoid rambling here; they already have your resume. Keep it to the point with brief personal information (hometown, family, etc.) and how you love music and working with kids.
    If I walked into your classroom, what would I see? Make reference to the physical classroom itself and how engaged the students are.
    How do you view the teacher/administrator relationship? Focus on the importance of effective communication between the two parties.
    What is your approach to classroom management? Have a specific plan here. Focus on both proactive and reactive strategies.
    What experience do you have working with young people beyond your internship?
    What are some of your weaknesses? Frankly, you don’t want to disclose something too damaging here. Mention a weakness that can be turned into a strength. A common weakness is the lack of a strong proficiency on all of the instruments. An answer such as that will not lose you a job. Saying that you are chronically late for everything or tend to be hotheaded will not help.
    What are your strengths?
    Describe a difficult teaching experience. Make sure that whatever you mention includes positive steps you took to succeed despite the obstacles.
    Describe a positive teaching experience.
    Do you have a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License)? Are you willing to get one and drive a bus?
    How do you manage varying skill levels in your classroom?
    What professional organizations do you belong to? This is important because it shows dedication to the profession.
   How would you incorporate technology into your classroom? Think smartboards and apps here.
   How do you assess your students? Address how you will assess them individually with playing tests and pass-offs.
   What is the place of music in the overall educational program? How do you build a sense of community? Be sure to mention the role of the band in the local community.
   What do you expect from the administration in terms of support?
   Where do you see yourself in five years? This is a tricky question. You want to show ambition but don’t want to give the impression that the job you are applying for is a mere stepping stone to other things because programs looking for stability may be hesitant to hire you. If true, give an answer such as “I could see myself here with a growing band program.”
   Are you organized? Be ready to discuss specific ways that you organize both as a person and in your classroom.
   What is your philosophy of music education? Don’t forget to mention music for music’s sake – it is worth studying based on its own merits.
   How do you feel about teaching general music? Always be amenable to this. Talk about how you can bring performance aspects to this course and possibly recruit new band members.
   Which is more important – marching at a football game or a marching contest? Don’t take sides on this. Mention how both can play an important role in a complete band program.

The Band Director
    If you are applying for a junior high/assistant position, the head band director will be looking for a flexible team player who has great chemistry with others. Therefore, you should defer to him or her when appropriate. You can ask them what they currently do before starting your answer.

    What kind of software programs are you comfortable with?
    Are you comfortable with electronics? Are you willing to learn more about them?
    What things do you think about when programming for a concert? You should discuss the quality of the music, the objectives for the group, and the suitability for a particular ensemble.
    If we were to ask your former students about you, what would they say?
    If we were to ask your former colleagues or professors about you, what would they say?
    Who are your favorite composers for band and why? Start this answer with a general philosophy of programming and then mention some composers you like. If you just start with listing some composers, you run the risk of turning off the interviewer if they don’t like those same composers.
    What qualities would make you a good member of our team?
   How do you approach warm-ups? Talk about all of the things you should address during a warm-up (air, tone, tonguing, intonation, etc) and express that the warm-up is an opportunity to teach fundamental concepts and should never be ignored.
    How do you organize a typical rehearsal?
    What are the most common problems for beginning instrumentalists?
    What is more important to you – marching band or concert band? You should do a little research on this one before you arrive. You certainly don’t want to denigrate marching band if that is an important activity at that school.

The Band Parent
    Band parents want someone they can entrust their children to in a variety of settings. Their questions tend to be more personal and unpredictable.
    Why did you decide to become a band director? Your answer should be something along the lines of a love of music, children, or both. Do not give the impression that it was part of a back-up plan.
    Why did you apply for this school district? Do your homework and be familiar with the district. Give specific reasons.
    Is there someone who inspired you as a child growing up?
    Would you allow us to continue the traditions of this band program?
    How do you communicate with band parents?
    What do you do in your free time? Be careful here. While there is nothing wrong with watching TV or playing video games, interviewers might want to hear that you are more active than that.
    What is something you liked and didn’t like about your high school band program? Don’t mention anyone by name if it is a negative comment. End with your positive comment.
    What are your thoughts on fundraising? Describe a philosophy of fundraising instead of specific fundraisers you like. You never know when a fundraiser you think is good will be  thought of as terrible by the folks interviewing you.
    What do see as the role of the band boosters?
    Besides teaching, what other experiences have you had working with children?
    What do you hope my child gets out of your program?
    What values will you teach our children?

    How do you choose chaperones?
    Do you plan on taking the band on lots of trips?
Ask them how much they travel now to get a sense of whether they want more or fewer trips.
    Do private lessons play a role in your curriculum?
    Will you want to charge students to be in the band? This type of question is best answered by asking what is currently being done and what the philosophy of the district is on the matter.
    What are your thoughts on marching band competitions?
    How do you conduct drum major and color guard tryouts?
    How do you determine what grade a student receives? Your answer should contain information about assessments you will have students complete.

    Some interviews may include scenarios posed by the interviewers:
    •    Your first chair trumpet player has a band concert and a baseball game on the same night. How do you resolve the conflict?
    •    A student doesn’t show up for an important concert without giving you prior notice. How do you handle that situation?
    •    One of your high school students wants to stay in band but says she cannot attend after-school practices? What do you do?
    •    You have a junior high student who says someone stole all of his fundraising money, a total of $150. What do you do in this situation?

    Preparing for a successful interview requires much thought and preparation. Do your homework and research the town, school, and band program. Have thoughtful questions ready for interviewers that show you are genuinely interested in the position. (Don’t ask about salary; you can typically find a salary schedule published online.)
    First job interviews occur during a hectic time of your life; nevertheless, make interview preparation a top priority. The time you spend preparing will be well worth the effort when you land a job that’s just right for you.