Ask Alexis | Help! How Do I Address These Sticky Interview Questions?

desks

Dear Ask Alexis,

I am a teacher. I have been a teacher for over 30 years. But I haven’t taught in the same school or district (save casual substitute teaching) for more than one year. Do you happen to have any advice as to how to answer this question during interviews? Also, should I address this question in my CV and/or cover letter? The specific questions asked are:

  1. Why have I taught at different schools and in different states so often?
  2. If hired at that school, how would they (the administrators) know that I would not leave after only one or two years of teaching employment? 

If it helps, the primary reasons for this pattern of employment are as follows:

  1. Was raised as the English equivalent of a “military brat”. So am very accustomed to moving. I don’t see this as a major problem, but it is now apparent that many potential employers do not share my opinion.
  2. Like many others, I took years off to raise children.
  3. Was in two marriages where ex-husbands controlled the “where to live” and “when to move” decisions. To be blunt, I was daft enough to go along with the wishes of both ex-husbands.

If you have answers, I would be most grateful to read them.

Sincerely,

A Class Act

***

Dear Class Act,

First of all, congrats on taking control of your where-to-live and when-to-move decisions. I’d be lying if I said I never made some serious life choices based on the mutterings of ye olde peanut gallery, so more power to you for taking the reins! Second, raising kiddos is no small feat … and jumping back into the workforce to play a major role in molding other peoples’ kiddos? Amazing. Thank you for what you do, and thanks for this question!

A lot of folks in the Idealist Careers community also find themselves in the education space, so I think this one will speak to a lot of our readers. Here is my advice for each of your three questions:

Should I address this question in a CV/ and or cover letter? 

While there are some “issues” that can be gracefully addressed in a cover letter or resume (willingness or plans to relocate, for example), I’m not sure that this is one of them. Although you may feel more comfortable just getting it all out there from the start, if the employer thinks you may be a fit, that will (in most cases) outweigh concerns about your job hopping at least enough to get you on the phone for a pre-screen and hopefully, in the door for an interview.

While I understand that your interest in being up front about your work history is well-intentioned, there is a good chance that it will come off as over-sharing and a bit premature.

How to answer “Why have you taught at different schools and in different states so often?” 

While I know this pattern of moving feels completely normal to you, just assume that a hiring manager will want to hear the details (as would any good hiring manager when they see a promising candidate who may or may not be committed to sticking around for the long haul, however long that may be). For this type of a question, I would suggest an answer that falls under the category of “honesty and …”

In other words, there is likely an honest (and a reasonable) reason for your frequent change of employer and state of residence.

If you were hired, do you have the intention of staying on for more than a year or two? And if not, why do you think that is?

You can (and should) offer an honest, yet somewhat filtered account of why you left previous jobs. However, for each one that you mention you’ll also want to be sure to include a genuine and notable takeaway; this lessons learned, professional development, opportunities to reflect, relationships developed, etc. For more on this, you can check out the Bossed Up podcast episode where I was a guest expert. In the episode we focus on how to explain a short-term job stint, so this should definitely help to answer your question!

And one final thought on this point: 30 years is a whole lot of experience and a whole lot of employers. If you can show a potential employer that each time you left a school it was on good terms, this could speak volumes. Do you have references from each (or most) of the schools where you have worked? Not only would I recommend having those references lined up and ready to go, I’d suggest proactively reaching out to them prior to any application and/or interview process, confirming that they’re still willing to be a reference for you, and letting them know specifically what it is that they would most likely be asked to be speak (your history of job hopping) on your behalf.

How to answer “If we brought you on, how do we know you’d stay?”

This is an interesting question, and one that I would strongly recommend doing some personal reflection on before you jump into the job application process (let alone the interview process). If you were hired, do you have the intention of staying on for more than a year or two? And if not, why do you think that is? If you can honestly look at a job and say to yourself, “Yeah, I could see myself planting some roots here,” then you’ll want to ask yourself why. Perhaps it’s because the school is located in a city or state that you have always planned to live in long term. Or maybe it’s because this particular school adheres to a learning model and philosophy that you have been an avid fan of for quite some time, and this is an opportunity to have a job where you’re philosophically aligned with your employer. Whatever the reason, be sure to take detailed notes so that you can offer a genuine and thoughtful response should this question come up.

Like many others, I took years off to raise children.

If, however, you don’t actually intend to stay at the job for more than a year or two, I don’t suggest presenting yourself as the candidate who wants to stick around as this could lead to a whole host of issues down the road, ranging from tensions in the workplace to bridges burned (and references lost) when you do decide to leave before the two year mark. If you’re not willing to commit to staying at your next job for more than a year, perhaps it’s time to reconsider your path (just a bit). Are teaching environments that welcome a one to two year commitment? Have you ever considered teaching abroad in a finite program? If you’ve got a bit of of wanderlust and are finding that it’s getting in the way of your career goals, you may also want to look into what types of short-term travel opportunities are available to teachers. For example, there are a number of grants and fellowships available through different foundations and institutions that offer teachers professional development travel opportunities.

For more on the question of longer-term career planning and answer these types of questions in an interview, check out “Interview Q&A | Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years.”

***

Send your questions and comments to me at AskAlexis@idealist.org, and if we plan to publish your question, I’ll be sure to give you a heads up (and I’ll also be sure to keep your info anonymous, of course).

Looking forward to reading your stories and answering your questions!

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As a seasoned communications professional with 15 years of nonprofit experience and 6 years of experience creating engaging content and copy, I love the idea that a thoughtfully crafted piece of content can spark social change. Here at Idealist Careers, I'm eager to offer job seekers, game changers, and do-gooders actionable tips, career resources, and "social-impact lifestyle" advice.
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