Interviews are two-way conversations. In the same way that childcare and preschool directors use interviews to assess an applicant, applicants also use the process to decide if a center is a good fit for their skills, values, and career goals. Conducting a great interview from start to finish requires asking the right questions, having genuine conversations with candidates, and representing your program well so the right teachers want to join your team!
In this article, you’ll learn how to gather all the information you need to make the right hiring decisions and how to create a positive, compelling interview experience for your candidates.
The first step in the interview process is the phone screen. Once you start receiving applications or referrals, reach out to your strongest candidates and schedule a 15-20 minute phone interview with them. The purpose of the phone screen is to determine if a candidate has the baseline qualifications to move onto a formal interview. Ask big-picture questions that help you learn more about their motivations for applying to the role. The phone screen is also a good opportunity to follow up about anything concerning you noticed on their application.
Here are sample questions to ask:
- Can you tell me about your background?
- I noticed _____ on your resume. Could you tell me more about that?
- What attracted you to apply for this position?
- What motivates you in your work?
- When could you start working?
- Do you have any questions for me?
Beyond listening to their responses, take note of how candidates conduct themselves on the phone. Are they professional, friendly, and curious about your center? Are they enthusiastic about working with children? These qualities can be just as important as their work experience and certifications are.
Finally, remember that candidates want to learn as much about your program as you do about their qualifications! Make sure to share more about your center and the role they’re interviewing for, and save time for their questions too.
Invite promising candidates from the phone screen to a formal interview, and don’t wait too long to do so. Chances are that the candidate is interviewing with other programs as well! If it’s possible to do an in-person interview safely, ask candidates to meet you onsite at your center or school. During COVID-19, many childcare and preschool directors have also conducted interviews over video calls as a substitute for in-person meetings.
Before your interview, write out the questions that you’ll ask each candidate. Make sure to ask the same questions in each interview so you can compare your notes effectively and evaluate each candidate fairly.
During the interview, remember to ask candidates what they’re looking for in their next career step, and share ways that your program can help them achieve their goals. Candidates will appreciate that you care as much about their growth as you do about what they can bring to your team. Share the reasons why you love your center too! If candidates can see your passion for your work, they’ll likely be more excited about the potential of learning from you and being a part of your team.
For a list of the best interview questions to ask teaching candidates, download The Childcare Director’s Complete Toolkit for Hiring Great Staff!
Classroom observation or sample lesson
Some states allow childcare centers and preschools to conduct observation days as part of the interview process (if you’re unsure, check with your licensing agency). If it’s legal for you to do so, it might be helpful to ask your strongest candidates back to your center for an observation day. This will give you the opportunity to see how they conduct themselves in a less formal interview setting, and it also allows candidates to get a more hands-on feel for your program.
During the classroom observation, take note of how the candidate interacts with their surroundings. Are they excited to see the students? Are they friendly with other staff members? Are they asking follow-up questions about your program? These are all good indicators of how engaged they’ll be as a member of your staff. Depending on the role you’re hiring for, you might also ask the candidate to submit a sample lesson plan. Make sure to give them a helpful prompt, and remind them to spend no more than 1-2 hours on the assignment.
One of the last steps in the interview process is checking a candidate’s references. Call each reference your candidates provide—it’s best to talk to at least 2-3 references per candidate. During your calls, ask questions that help you confirm your understanding of who the candidate is and collect insights into how they are viewed by their peers or previous managers.
Here are a few sample questions to ask:
- What is your relationship to the candidate?
- What is some feedback you’ve given to the candidate while they were working with you?
- Would you hire or re-hire the candidate? Why or why not?
- What is the candidate’s superpower?
Background check and fingerprinting
Federal law requires all childcare providers to have a comprehensive background check, which includes fingerprinting. Remind candidates that a background check is required before you can present a formal job offer. When you’re planning a potential employee’s start date, remember to allow ample time for background check completions as turnaround times can differ. Background check laws also vary by state. Learn more about your state’s requirements here.
Extend an irresistible job offer
You’ve chosen which candidate you’d like to extend an official offer to. Congratulations! Start by making a verbal offer, either with a phone call or a quick Zoom meeting. This will allow you to share your excitement in real-time and provide more opportunities for genuine connection with the candidate.
During your phone call or video meeting, make sure to share specific reasons why you and your staff think the candidate will be a great fit at your center. The more you can highlight your enthusiasm, the more appreciated the candidate will feel. If possible, reference what the candidate has said matters to them and how your program is a great match for those values as well.
Once you’ve sent the candidate a formal offer in writing, celebrate their offer by sending a small token of appreciation.
Some ideas include:
- A digital gift card
- A photo of you and your team holding congratulations signs
- A digital group card from your staff team using a website like Kudoboard or GroupGreeting
These small gestures could go a long way in getting a candidate excited about joining your center and giving them a taste of your team culture.
At brightwheel, we acknowledge the many stresses of hiring for your childcare center or preschool during this challenging time, and we’re grateful for your continued commitment to finding the best teachers for your program.
If you’re looking for more ways to make your hiring process easier, download our free resource, The Childcare Director’s Complete Toolkit for Hiring Great Staff!