Your First Year of Teaching
Know what to expect at your university’s career fair.
By Kristen Loschert
Teia Grayned and students.
Photo by Caroline Joe
As an undergraduate student, Teia Grayned knew how valuable her college job fair could be. By attending, she landed several internships. But after 15 years working as a pension administrator, this second-career educator had lost her faith in the process.
“I had attended job fairs in different cities and they were more like expos, so I was skeptical about going [to another one],” says Grayned, a 2008 graduate of Cambridge College.
But as she pursued her master’s degree in counseling, with no employment prospects in sight, Grayned took a chance and attended an education job fair organized by the Georgia Association of Educators Student Program. After the fair, she received seven job offers.
“Once I attended, I realized you can get results,” says Grayned, now a high school counselor in DeKalb County, Georgia.
Attending a job fair may be the easiest way future educators can expand their job prospects, because the districts represented there have active openings to fill, says Stephanie Zuckerman-Aviles, director of the career development center at Buffalo State College. Plus, job fairs let prospects explore districts they might not otherwise have considered.
That was the case for Ashley Evett, a 2008 graduate of Illinois State University. Evett landed a teaching position in Illinois after attending a job fair during her senior year. But when budget cuts cost her that job two years later, she attended a job fair in Tennessee where she secured her current position teaching eighth-grade reading.
Attending a job fair “is like setting up a lesson plan,” says Evett. “You have to do your research and you have to be prepared.”
You won’t snag a new job just by walking through the door; but, with the right strategy, you could leave your next job fair with an offer or two in hand.
Before the Fair
Find out which districts will be there.
The fair’s organizers can provide a list, which may include the names and job titles of the specific recruiters attending. A large fair can have between 100 and 200 districts. You won’t be able to visit every one, so pick your top 25 choices, prioritize them based on your interest, and research them. “It doesn’t look good when you are at the fair interviewing with a district and you know nothing about that district,” says Zuckerman-Aviles.
Prepare your paperwork.
Use your research to craft personalized cover letters for the contacts at your top-choice districts, suggests Evett, and make sure your résumé is solid. List your teaching credentials at the top to provide a snapshot of your skills. Prepare a shortened version of your portfolio with your teaching philosophy and a favorite lesson plan, suggests Zuckerman-Aviles, and complete the district’s job application. Then tuck multiple copies of each item into a simple portfolio to take to the fair.
At the Fair
Arrive prepared and on time.
“This is not something you want to be late to,” says Zuckerman-Aviles. “Districts may leave early or get tired or fill up their interview slots.” Dress professionally—that means a suit—and bring along an emergency kit stocked with pens, paper clips, breath mints, a mess-free snack (like nuts), and extra stockings for ladies.
Make a plan, but stay flexible.
Seek out your first-choice district, but move on to your second or third choice if your first gets mobbed. You still can use the time to network, says Zuckerman-Aviles. Introduce yourself, provide your résumé, and collect a business card or ask if the recruiter can meet during lunch or after the fair. “If you say why you are interested in that district, the recruiter will make time for you,” adds Zuckerman-Aviles. Keep in mind, “not all of the interviewers are at the table,” says Evett. “They may be interviewing people in line. You never know where someone is who could help or hurt you in getting a position.”
Take a break.
Attending a job fair is exhausting—for candidates and recruiters alike. Get some fresh air, have a snack or water, or chat with a friend to ease the tension.
“When I was inexperienced, job fairs were very overwhelming,” says Evett. “When I went the second time as a teacher, I changed my mindset that these people weren’t my competition, but my potential colleagues. That mindset puts you in a more positive place and you feel more confident.” Don’t forget to smile!
Don’t accept an offer on the spot.
Yes, that’s right. Districts usually keep an offer open for several weeks, says Zuckerman-Aviles, so take time after the fair to research the district, visit the school, and meet with the principal before you accept.
Photo by David
After the Fair
Send thank you notes to the recruiters who interviewed you, and anyone else you met, along with additional copies of your résumé. Then in the spring, when districts are finalizing their openings, call your contacts to remind them of your interest, suggests Grayned. “Those schools keep you in mind for years and years and if you need to apply later, they will remember you based on your performance and your follow up,” adds Evett.
Not all job interviews fit the classic candidate-interviewer mold. Here’s a primer on the most common interview scenarios you may encounter and some tips for acing them.
Use this one- to two-minute speech to introduce yourself at a job fair. Highlight your certifications, special skills, significant awards, and the reason you want to work for the school district. The goal is to entice the recruiter enough to offer you a screening interview.
This interview occurs at the fair or by phone. Stay focused, listen to the questions asked, and answer confidently and concisely. If you don’t have an answer, say “that’s a great question” or ask the interviewer to repeat the question to buy some thinking time. If the interview happens by phone, take the call in a quiet room without distractions. Don’t eat or chew gum. Use your voice to convey your enthusiasm for teaching.
This interview happens at the district and involves administrators, teachers, and even parents. Make eye contact with the person asking the questions, but connect with everyone in the room. Use examples and stories to demonstrate your ability to meet students’ needs.
Practice, dress professionally, and smile! Don’t forget to send thank you notes after the interview.
Tips courtesy of Buffalo State College and Putnam City (Oklahoma) Public Schools