A reader writes:
I’m a teacher who also manages the recruitment of new teachers at my school. We invite promising candidates to campus for half a day for a tour, classroom observations, a few interviews and a demonstration lesson. On occasion, despite our previous screening, I can determine almost immediately that the candidate is not going to be right for the position. And it usually is for one of two specific reasons: the candidate is disengaged or the candidate makes it clear that he or she has a very different philosophy from our school.
Candidates are scheduled to be at the school for several hours. I do not want to waste their time or ours, but I also do not want to make the candidate feel bad (we try to be a caring community) and I do not want the candidates to badmouth our school as a result. Should I directly address the disengagement or the lack of philosophical alignment? If so, how? And are there times when it would be appropriate to end the visit early or should I always let them go through the process since they have arranged to spend half a day with us?
I’d strongly suggest doing a one-on-one interview with these candidates before inviting them back for the full half-day schedule of activities. If you’re able to tell quickly that a candidate isn’t right, then it makes sense to do initial interviews first, and only then to invite the most promising back for follow-up interviews and a demonstration lesson.
This may seem like it’ll take you longer, but in fact, you’ll be saving yourself and your colleagues significant time (since you won’t be spending a half day with candidates who aren’t strong), and it’s also more considerate to the candidates themselves (since you won’t be asking them to go through all the work of preparing and giving a demonstration lesson before you’ve determined that they’re a strong candidate).
If for some reason it’s not possible to have them visit the school in-person more than once, then do the initial interviews over the phone. Either way, increasing your initial screening before you or the candidates make a significant time investment in each other will make your process much more efficient.
Update: The question-asker responded in the comments section below to say that she does conduct two initial phone interviews with candidates before inviting them to campus, “but no system is perfect and there are those days when someone who seemed great to at least two of us on the phone is just obviously not right once we meet them in person.” So in light of that, here’s part two of my answer:
Okay, so you’re doing initial interviews by phone. Good. And you’re right that some candidates are great on the phone but then don’t excel once you get to the in-person interview — although it’s still worth looking at what questions you’re asking during phone interviews to see if you can get more rigor in that part of that process. But it does sound like you’re committing too much time to candidates prematurely, so why not make the next step in the process a single in-person interview? No half day, no school tour, no string of interviews, and definitely no demonstration lesson at this point — just a one-on-one in-person interview with you. Those who excel can then be invited back for the final step in the process, which would be your longer string of activities.
But of course the real meat of your question is: Can you short-circuit a candidate’s interview schedule when you realize that the person isn’t right for the job? In your case, you said that the problems are almost always that the candidate is disengaged or makes it clear that she’s not philosophically aligned with the school. When it’s an issue of philosophical alignment, I think you can be straightforward. For instance: ”I’ll be candid, because I don’t want to waste your time. I think we’re on different pages philosophically. (Insert explanation of why.) Although I respect your viewpoint, we’re focused on finding teachers who are committed to ____. You’re clearly talented and you have an impressive background, but the fit here wouldn’t be right. Let’s stop here, but I’ll absolutely reach out and let you know of anything I think of that might be a better match.” And then really do that, if possible. And express gratitude for their time.
But when the issue is disengagement, that’s a lot harder to address without offending the candidate and causing bad feelings. And that brings us back to the earlier answer: Don’t schedule the lesson demonstration on the same day as everything else. Use it as the final step in your process, inviting only your finalists to do it — people who you’ve already determined through in-person meetings that you’re strongly interested in.
Of course, you want to make sure that you’re not creating a ridiculously long process, but one phone interview, in-person interviews on two separate occasions, and a final lesson presentation isn’t over the top. And the pool will be getting smaller each step of the way, because you’ll be cutting candidates as you go.