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How to Assess Candidates in a Working Interview

Interviewing an early years practitioner in the form of a question-and-answer session can only get you so far. To really assess their skills and abilities with regards to the children, you sometimes need to see them in action with a practical assessment in the classroom as part of the interview process.

So, what’s the best way to conduct a practical assessment of your candidates?

To begin with, set out what you want from the ideal candidate. It may be helpful to make lists of ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’ qualities to make sure you know what look out for. While this may have already been done in the process of advertising the job, it’s always helpful to remind yourself of exactly what you want, while being aware there may not be the “perfect” candidate.

Remember also to make sure the practitioners coming to interview know exactly what is required from them. Leaving room for creativity in what they’re actually doing with the children, ensure they have all the necessary information about how many children there will be, as well as the space and resources available.

Sometimes we get a good feeling from one person but realise that they don’t have the skill set needed, and sometimes it’s the other way round. To make sure that we’re judging our practitioners on skills and performance, rather than our personal feelings, a more mathematical approach might be necessary. You could list a number of skills needed for the job and grade your candidate on how well they perform in each section.

For example, a simple 1-5 grading of the required skills could help you make your decision:

5 – Candidate is excellent at this and could teach others

4 – Candidate is quite good at this but could improve

3 – Candidate is average in this area

2 – Candidate is below average and could learn more about this

1 – Candidate will need help with this to be more effective

Photo by Zainul Yasni on Unsplash

Example skills to look out for:

  • Presented a friendly and warm demeanour
  • Got down on the floor with the children
  • Showed respect for individuals
  • Encouraged independence/self help
  • Promoted self-esteem in communications
  • Avoided labelling of children
  • Reinforced positive behaviour
  • Spoke to children regularly using positive phrases and tone
  • Showed good sanitary practices (hand-washing for self and children as required, classroom environment, etc.)
  • Presented age and environment appropriate activity for children
  • Created an inviting and welcoming learning environment
  • Anticipated problems and redirected matters as necessary
  • Was flexible and responsive to children's needs

While a grading-led approach will give you a clear, easy way to assess the effectiveness of a candidate, always remember to let them defend their decisions as well. Discuss the activity afterwards and ask them how they felt it went. If you disagreed with a choice made, talk about it – the candidate may have had experience in their past roles that led to them choosing a specific way of working with a child that may not be what you’re used to.

By clearly setting out your requirements, communicating with candidates about their performance and having a methodical approach to assessing their skills, you should be able to easily choose who the best practitioner is for your setting.