Why First Impressions Matter
When I was little, my parents always made me introduce myself to their adult friends or guests whenever I was with them. I never quite understood why. Afterwards, they would give me feedback on how I had handled the introduction. I usually received comments such as “you didn’t shake hands”, “don’t look down, look them in the eye”, “smile when you greet them”, and “don’t’ say huh, say excuse me.” This was a routine that would become common practice through my teen years. Eventually, it became my mode of operation. So much so, that when I had my own children, I did what many of us do, I kidnapped my parent’s practices and made them my own. To this day, I always remind my children to introduce themselves and then proceed to tell them what to do and what not to do when meeting someone for the first time. However, no longer does it seem like a chore to me or even routine. I finally figured out what my parents were trying to instill in me; that you get one chance to make a first impression so make it count. Over the years I watched my parents go out of their way time and time again to make their guests feel appreciated and treat them as though they were the most important people in the world. To this day, I do my best to live up to that standard.
Each spring, I look forward to the hiring process. Although some administrators might prefer to bypass the work involved in hiring new teachers, it is something I genuinely look forward to. Here are a few examples of our best and next practices in the hiring process.
1. I often make the initial contact with an applicant over the phone. This is intentional because I want the candidate to hear the passion and enthusiasm in my voice when I call. I want the opportunity to listen to what the applicant has to say and hopefully I make a lasting impression with the individual. Mindset: I want to send the message that the principal is passionate about his work and that he is willing to do front line work.
2. We work to be flexible in scheduling the interview. Rather than tie candidates into a specific day or timeslot, we give them some choices. If the candidates express the times available do not work, we make sure we find a time that does work for them. Mindset: We aim to be flexible. This sends a message that it is not about us, it is about them, the guest/customer.
3. Once the interview is scheduled, we provide as much information as possible. This includes who will be involved in the interview, the length of the interview, what the interview will entail, what to bring to the interview, logistics; where to park, where to report, etc. Mindset: we are intentional in our approach to put the candidates at ease so we can eliminate any worries about things that really don’t matter in the end.
4. Once the interview begins, we always ask candidates the same first question – tell us your story, why did you become a teacher and what led you to apply for this position. We want to know the candidate, their core, their passion, why they do what they do. This is designed to help us get to know the candidate on a more personal level. Mindset: We want to get to know who the candidates are as people, listen to their story, and take another step in building a relationship with the candidate.
5. One expectation we have for our candidates is that they teach a lesson. We connect them with the department team leader and the classroom teacher to provide any necessary information that will help them prepare a quality lesson that will be relevant to our students. We focus on how they interact with the students. Are they able to connect with students in a short amount of time and make a positive first impression? In other words, we maintain the same high level of expectations of the candidates that we have of ourselves in establishing a climate whereby the students feel welcomed and valued. Mindset: Demonstrates you want the candidate to be successful by providing them the necessary support to excel in the classroom and helps us determine if they have a Student’s 1stmindset.
6. We do reference checks on all of our candidates. If they took the time to drive to an interview, get dressed up, etc. then at the very least out of courtesy, they deserve for us to call at least one reference and ask a few questions. Mindset: You model the importance of treating every candidate with the respectthey deserve.
7. We call all non-hire candidates back. No letters, no non-calls. Non-offer candidates fall into two categories.
a. Not ready for hire – we will call the candidate back and offer suggestions on what areas they can improve on in order to help them for their next interview.
b. Ready for hire – we call the candidate back and tell them although they are not being offered a position they belong in a classroom somewhere. We then offer to serve as a reference and help them network and/or make contacts for them to help them get an interview.
Mindset: Not ready for hire – want to point out strengths and stretches so we can help them grow as potential new hires.
Mindset: Ready for Hire: Sometimes, it is so close that it comes down to fit. Our profession needs good teachers in the classroom working with our children. It is our responsibility as principals to advocate for candidates that have potential.
We approach the application process with the intention of establishing a meaningful relationship and an emphasis on making a positive first impression. As an organization that expects excellence in everything we do, it is critical that we reach out to our candidates as though they are the most important guests that ever walked through our school doors. Our mindset is simple; we want every candidate we interview regardless if they are offered a position or not, to reflect back on their experience with us and say, “I wish I could work for that organization. They are first class!”
As leaders, we must be purposeful in modeling the behaviors we expect of our employees and set the standard for how we do business in our schools from the very first introductions. By doing so, our students and parents will benefit from the same positive experience when they walk through the classroom door.
Ask yourself, how do you greet your guests and what are they saying about you and/or your organization as they leave your building?