Principals: who are you hiring?

Sebastian Harvey, facilitator of the Selection & Interviewing Skills program at iHR Australia, told The Educator that what a selection panel chooses to investigate about prospective staff can go a long way in ensuring a ‘best fit’ employee is hired.


Referring to the case of a Melbourne teacher, who was fired in 2013 following 49 formal complaints during the three terms he worked at Mill Park Secondary College, Harvey explained the steps that could have been taken to potentially spot warning signs early on.


“In the case of the probationary teacher referred to in the article there might not have been any classroom teaching experience to assess,” Harvey said.


“However, a selection panel could have explored his approach to work as a chef and more specifically how he trained new staff and apprentices. His experiences and attitudes working with young people could have also been explored.”


While the Melbourne teacher’s conduct was deemed “disorganised” and “haphazard”, other types of behaviour from teachers have been shown to be much more dangerous. The Royal Commission into child abuse at Knox Grammar is one example.


Harvey said that schools ending up with dangerous employees depends on how thoroughly schools choose to check the past work of their teacher.


“What would normally make a teacher ‘dangerous’ is their conduct/behaviour. If a school is not prepared to examine how a teacher seeking appointment has gone about their work in the past then their selection will be hit or miss,” Harvey explained.


Structured interviews using behavioural questions have been shown to achieve 60-70% predictive value for suitability for roles. Behavioural questions try to identify what a person has achieved and how they have gone about it.


Questions that focus on examples of how a person has used their values in the workplace is one way of assessing their likely conduct. Evidence gained from interviews can be verified through other methods such as targeted referee interviews.


“It is worth noting that organisational psychopaths do very well in interviews, on account of their superficial charm, ability to lie convincingly and their shameless self-promotion. Referees can help identify these dangerous characters where interviews fail,” Harvey said.


Harvey added that if a selection panel has any lingering doubts or concerns about a prospective teacher – sometimes referred to as a negative ‘gut feel’ – it is worth conducting a second interview with the candidate. This will often reveal new information and can confirm or disconfirm those doubts.


“A school, like any organisation, needs to have a clear understanding of the culture it is wanting to establish among its staff and students,” Harvey said.


“It should then recruit staff with values that will align with that culture. Even a good teacher driven by values that are not consistent with the school’s vision can appear to colleagues as dangerous.” 

For information on iHR’s Selection & Interviewing Skills program, please visit their website here.