Stacking the Deck During Interviews

by Scott M. Koenigsknecht

Most of us have heard or seen the story of a dishonest card player stacking the deck in order to win a large pot of money. The notion of stacking the deck is largely seen as unfair and fraudulent. However, when it comes to hiring the most highly qualified teachers, school districts should make every effort to stack the deck accordingly during interviews.

In a study I conducted titled “Interview Processes as a Factor in Teacher Job Acceptance,” newly hired teachers from Michigan's rural, suburban and urban school districts were questioned about controllable and uncontrollable factors during the interview process that influenced their decision to accept a job offer. The findings of the study suggest that newly hired public school teachers place a high degree of importance on their experience with multiple facets of the interview process when contemplating a job offer.

Often, highly qualified and heavily recruited teachers choose to accept contracts in school districts that incorporate certain subtleties in their hiring processes. The study suggests interviewers have the ability to stack the deck in their favor when trying to attract the most qualified candidate.

Hiring Power
Based on personal experience in hiring, I offer these practical suggestions for district administrators when conducting interviews:


  • Ensure direct involvement of a person with hiring power at every step of the interview.The teachers noted that the direct involvement of a person with hiring power at every step of the interview made them feel that they were being taken seriously as a candidate and they were not being cheated during the interview process. When asked about the routine correspondence that is part of the interview process, one teacher responded, “It came right from the top. There was no intermediate person at all.”



  • Carefully craft the tone and content of the interview questions.A balance of questions is important. Questions that allow the interviewer to get to know the candidate personally are just as pertinent as questions concerning curriculum or pedagogy. Regardless of the nature of the question, keep it positive. Negatively phrased questions elicited this response: “What I didn’t like about it is that I thought a lot of the questions had a negative spin on them. I think when you’re interviewing you have the responsibility to recognize that the candidate is interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them.”



  • Predetermine the location of the interview and the physical makeup of the interview room.Conduct the interview in the building in which the applicant will teach, preferably in the classroom. An English teacher accepted her position after being interviewed in a familiar room. She said, “I was very comfortable in the setting that I was in, in the media center surrounded by books.” If this is not possible, use a room with a round table and large windows and carpeting.



  • Incorporate a casual tone during the interview process.Stay away from a rigid, impersonal interview procedure. Though structure is an important part of conducting an interview, a casual, informal approach is much better received. One teacher stated, “I thought that that was kind of a relaxing thing when I went in and they were pretty much dressed like everyone here right now is. It wasn’t real stuffy.”



  • Wisely monitor the composition of the interview panel.Create a diverse panel of teachers, administrators and students. Involve departmental or grade-level appropriate teachers. One candidate noted, “I liked most meeting the department and other science teachers, getting a feel for what the department was all about.” If possible, involve at least one member who is the same gender as and close in age to the applicant. Another teacher shared, “I was really comfortable because my panel seemed younger.”



  • Involve students and include a tour of the facility.Have the candidate teach a lesson to students. Candidates want this opportunity because as one teacher said, “I’m a lot better in the classroom than I am in an interview.” Provide candidates with a tour of the facilities. One teacher stated, “The interview process itself didn’t influence me but when I came back and got the tour I was so much more excited about it.”



  • Be aware of the concept of time.Run an organized, time-conscious interview. From start to finish, communicate with candidates in a timely manner. Interview during the school day, in the morning when possible. One teacher said. “I liked [the interview] when school was in session, so you could see how it functioned, even if I had to take work off.” Never rush interviewees as they respond to questions. “I thought it was very professional that they let me answer my own questions, my own way, without cutting me off.”


    Lasting Implications
    Hiring a teacher is arguably the most important decision school administrators make. Great consideration must be given to the interview when interviewing those who will teach the future of our communities.

    The No Child Left Behind Act and the fluctuation of teacher supply and demand has not made hiring quality teachers any easier. Taking action by thoroughly reviewing and revisiting district interview practices will allow you to secure the best teachers for your district.

    Scott Koenigsknecht is superintendent of the Fowler Public Schools, P.O. 408, Fowler, MI 48835. E-mail: