Thinking of Leaving Teaching?
Interview Questions

Job Search – Interview Questions


In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many job interviews have switched to online, using communication platforms such as Zoom or Skype. Here are eight tips, from Jobs coach Dominic Joyce, to help you perform well in a live video interview:

Competency-based and Behavioural Questions

If your application form doesn’t require you to answer any competency-based questions, then you will most probably be asked these questions in interview. You may also be asked some behavioural questions in interview. In my most recent interview, I was told at the start of the interview that I would be asked a mixture of the two.

The difference between the two can be confusing because both competency-based questions and behavioural questions usually start with something like “describe a time when…” and both require you to talk about past experiences to demonstrate that you meet the criteria for the job. The following describes the subtle difference between the two, which comes in the second half of the question:

Competency-based questions

Competency-based questions are asking about skills, talents and abilities to perform the job. They are always specific to the role and could involve skills such as financial, technical, marketing, leadership, critical thinking or analytical skills.

“Describe a time when you supported a colleague who was struggling with their work.”

An example of a competency-based question

This question would relate to teamwork and would require you to describe how you show an interest in others, how you encourage others, how you find information to help others, etc. As a teacher, you will most definitely have at least one example to illustrate your answer.

Here are 10 key competencies which interviewers often focus on:

  • Communication
  • Decision making
  • Leadership
  • Results orientation
  • Teamwork
  • Trustworthiness
  • Responsibility
  • Commercial awareness
  • Professional development
  • Technical skills
  • I have included examples of questions covering these categories in Completing Application Forms. Also, see the links at the bottom of the page for further advice on how to answer questions.
A very useful video from The Interview Academy – The Best Ways To Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

Behavioural questions

Behavioural questions are based on the idea that past behaviour can predict future action and they are asked to try to find out more about your personality. Interviewers want to find out about your communication and your decision-making style, how you influence people, the types of teams that you prefer to work in, and your attitude to risk. Behavioural questions are asked to find out if you are a good fit for the culture of the organisation. A common behavioural question will ask about conflict.

Tell me about a time when you had to work with someone difficult.”

An example of a behavioural question

This type of question is trying to find out your conflict management ability and general interpersonal skills. Most jobs require you to get on with different types of people. Because of this, there may be disagreements at some point. A recent question I was asked was, “How do you feel when someone has a different opinion to yours”. Again, this is trying to find out how you handle conflict and these questions are common because everybody wants to hire a “team player” who can handle conflict without involving the management and/or human resources.

The STAR Technique

The STAR technique is the best method of answering both competency-based and behavioural questions. Answering in this way tells the interviewer why you did something, what you had to achieve, how you achieved it and the outcome. By thinking about the tasks that you perform in your job as a teacher, you will find that you have more transferable skills than you thought.

S/T (Situation/Task)

“I was Head of Department, and one of my responsibilities was making sure that everyone in my department met the deadlines for completing pupil reports so that they went out to parents on time.

Each academic year we had to write reports for Years 7 to 11. On this occasion, we had to complete Year 10 reports.

In my routine checks, I found that one of the teachers had still not completed her reports by the deadline at the end of the day. When I approached her about it, she blew up at me.”

The Situation and Task for a conflict scenario

This scenario provides good context — there was a tight deadline. The teacher not only missed the deadline, but blew her top when called on it. This is a real conflict that could have led to disaster if handled poorly.

A (Approach)

“I was taken aback by her response, but I remained calm. I explained that the Curriculum manager had emailed the deadline to all staff and that this was so that reports could be completed on time and go out to parents.

She relaxed a little when she saw that I wasn’t attacking her. She told me about all the things going on in her life and how overwhelmed she was. I asked her if there was any way that I could help her come up with a solution.

We decided we would speak to the Curriculum Manager together. The Curriculum Manager agreed to give an extension for the next day. I had a free period and arranged to cover one of the teacher’s lessons to take some pressure off her so that she could complete any remaining reports during that lesson time.”

The Approach for a conflict scenario

This shows that they stayed calm under pressure, tackled the issue head-on, and was able to persuade others (the teacher and the Curriculum Manager) to their point of view.

R (Results)

“As a result, the teacher met the deadline the next day. She apologised for losing her temper and thanked me for my help.

The department met all deadlines and all Year 10 reports went out to parents on time.

At the end of the year, the Curriculum Manager thanked me for my work in meeting all deadlines and bought me a mug as a present to show their gratitude.”

The Result for a conflict scenario

This is a happy ending. The answer describes the resolution of the conflict, the positive effect on the relationship with the teacher, and the outcome.


  • Tip: The best examples are those that produce measurable results, such as increasing productivity by x% or increasing profits by £x. However, this may not always be possible with teaching examples. Choose an example that shows you taking an active approach to resolving an important conflict.
  • Be specific. Don’t give a wishy-washy answer like, “I deal with conflicts all the time and have learned to stay calm and that communication is key.” It’s boring and it doesn’t answer the question.
  • Don’t choose a minor conflict (“They used my mug and didn’t wash it!”) or a conflict that was resolved by someone else. You need to show off your interpersonal skills and problem-solving ability.
  • Avoid anything that could make you look bad. For example, don’t share a time when you caused conflict because of something you did.
  • Show why this conflict was important and that you handled it capably.
  • Keep the story concise. Don’t go off on tangents. Keep it focused.
  • Don’t try to memorise a script. Stick to bullet points.

Behavioural Questions to do with Failure

I was once asked a question to do with failure in an interview. I didn’t answer it very well, which is why I put this together. Example questions are: “Give an example of a time when you failed.”, “Have you ever made a mistake and, if so, what did you learn from it?” and “Give an example of a goal you didn’t meet and how you handled it.”

These type of questions ask you to talk about a negative experience when you are trying to present yourself in the best possible light. However, the interviewers know you are not perfect; everyone fails at something at some point. This questioning is trying to tell them if you are someone who learns from failure. They are wanting to know if you are self-aware enough to acknowledge failure.

The Big Interview recommends that every job candidate should prepare an interview story about failure and that you shouldn’t avoid the question and say that you can’t think of any failures. Not answering the question will make the interviewers interpret your non-answer in one of four ways, none of which are flattering:

  1. You think you are perfect and thus have no self-awareness or ability to grow.
  2. You’re hiding a history of tragic failures that you don’t want us to know about.
  3. You don’t hold yourself to a very high standard, so you never fail.
  4. You always play it safe and never take any risks or make any bold moves.

For advice on how to answer behavioural questions about failure, read The Big Interview article, Answering Behavioural Questions: Your Biggest Failure.

Other Difficult Behavioural Questions

“Describe a stressful situation at work and how you handled it.”

“Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure.”

“Describe a decision you made that was unpopular and how you handled implementing it.”

“Can you describe a time when you handled a difficult situation with a supervisor/client/another department?”

“What do you do if you disagree with your boss?”

Examples of difficult behavioural questions

For further reading on behavioural interview questions, check out the links below.

Further information:

How to prepare for a job interviewWorking Options in Education

The most common competency-based interview questionsTotal Jobs

Behavioural interview questionsReed A useful link as it gives “right” and “wrong” answers.

Common Behavioural Interview QuestionsBig Interview – Click on the links for question examples and advice on how to answer them.

50 Most Common Interview QuestionsGlassDoor – Most of these are general interview questions.

Top 12 Best Questions to Ask at the End of the Job InterviewBig Interview – It’s always a good idea to ask questions at the end of an interview to avoid looking like you’re not interested. Asking at least two questions shows that you’ve done your research.

Job Interview Question DatabaseLiveCareer – The link shows a detailed list of questions. The following links give “sample excellent responses” to those questions:

If you’re thinking of leaving teaching then the Thinking of Leaving Teaching Group might be a good place to get some ideas. It is a safe place for people to ask for help and advice, discuss topics and share opinions about jobs you can do if you leave teaching.

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