Home / Shortlisting and interviewing


An update about coronavirus (COVID-19):

Our advice during the current situation is to carry on with recruitment for your schools. We have created guidelines about recruiting and interviewing here.

For additional guidance and advice please contact us.

From the outset of the recruitment it is critical that you always do your utmost to provide the candidates with the best experience. In the current market the candidate is key and you have to create an environment that they will want to work in.


Decide who will shortlist and interview job applicants. The panel should:

  • Consist of at least two people to decrease bias. It’s also easier for one person to take notes while the other is asking questions.
  • The panel must agree the shortlisting criteria from the job description.

The shortlisting process

  • Assess each application against the job’s essential and desirable criteria.
  • Use a short-listing grid, to score and record your assessment objectively and methodically.
  • Identify applicants that meet the criteria to invite for interview and those that should be rejected.

Using the grid enables you to see a full picture of all the applicants and is more effective than making notes. It will also help give feedback and defend your decisions if challenged.

Important - check all applications carefully for:

  • Incomplete or missing information
  • Unexplained gaps in employment
  • Repeated or frequent job changes
  • Anomalies or discrepancies in the information provided

Make a note of any gaps or anomalies that you want to explore with the candidate at interview.

Unsuccessful candidates at the shortlisting stage

Inform unsuccessful candidates in writing within three days. This will continue to give the candidates the best experience of your school.

Candidates may ask for feedback to understand why they were unsuccessful. Give brief, clear reasons, e.g. "You do not meet the essential criteria of having relevant experience". You don’t have to go into a lot of detail; a summary of the main reasons for not selecting will be sufficient. However, always ensure that the experience the candidate has a positive experience of the school.

Invitations to interviews

When inviting the successful candidates to interview you need to be positive and encourage a warm and welcoming tone in your correspondence. Thanking them for their interest and telling them how really excited you are about what they can offer the school.

  • Names of panel members, length of interview and details of any selection activities you will be asking candidates to take part in e.g. presentations, testing, meeting pupils / governors, delivering a lesson or teaching session, preparing a lesson plan etc.
  • Date, time and location of interview.
  • Let candidates know about parking facilities and anything else they need to know about access arrangements, such as reporting to reception, whether there is a lift or stairs only.
  • Remind candidates that the interview is assessing their suitability for the post itself as well as their suitability to work with children.
  • Ask the candidates to let you know if they need any adjustments so that they can fully participate in the selection process.
  • Remind them to bring all relevant documents, such as their last DBS certificate if they have one, qualification certificates, proof of identity and right to work in the UK.

Only original documents can be accepted. If copies are provided at interview, the successful candidate must provide the originals before being confirmed in post. You must take photocopies of documents and keep them on the personnel file of the successful candidate. All copies need to be verified, signed and dated.

Pre-interview references must also be requested but not include any questions to candidate’s health or attendance. This information can only be requested after the offer has been made.

Important checks to carry out before interview

These are some important checks that you must complete before an interview takes place:

As soon as candidates have been invited for interview, write to the referees to request a reference.

References are an essential part of the selection process to check the background and suitability of applicants and help you make good recruitment decisions.

Always seek references directly from the referee. Do not accept open references or testimonials submitted by applicants. All references must be from a business address and must include references from their current manager.

If the candidate has indicated they do not wish you to contact their current employer on their application form, you must now seek their permission to do this.

You need reference information before the interview so that you can:

  • Explore any concerns arising from the reference with the referee and the candidate at interview.
  • Examine any conflicting information from the candidate's application form, the reference and their answers at interview. Waiting until after the interview means this opportunity is lost.
  • Gain information about any past disciplinary action or allegations and carefully examine the facts to help assess suitability, including for teachers, information obtained from NCTL Employer Access online checking process.

If teachers are not currently employed, check with the school, college or local authority they were most recently working for, to confirm details of their employment and their reasons for leaving.

The pre-interview reference cannot include questions about health, disability or absence record. See the next section for more details.

It is unlawful for an employer to ask questions about an applicant’s health before they are shortlisted or offered a job. This is intended to prevent discrimination during recruitment.

Therefore, health questions cannot be asked via a reference, as information disclosed may influence the panel’s decision and could be regarded as discrimination.

Health information should be requested only after the job has been offered.

Preparing and conducting interviews

Face-to-face interviews must be carried out with all shortlisted candidates. This is the stage at which it is easiest to make judgements about an applicant based on instant, subjective and sometimes wholly irrelevant impressions. Assess candidates against the requirements of the job and the job criteria.

When thinking about the interviews, make sure you are also thinking about the candidate's experience. You don’t want to create an oppressive environment. You need the candidates to feel welcome and feel positive about the school. Remember, you need to stand out from other schools when the candidates arrive, the chances are they will be interviewing at more than one school and you want to stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons. The following are a few suggestions of what good practice looks like:

  • Choose a quiet, comfortable setting, e.g. temperature, refreshments, seating. Avoid interruptions.
  • Think about the room layout. A table may be needed for refreshments and papers but avoid creating a barrier. The layout should help put people at ease.
  • Be prepared, read each application and have all relevant paperwork.
  • Before the interviews, the panel should agree a core set of questions to ask all candidates and the key points they are looking for in model answers.
  • This doesn’t mean you can’t ask other probing questions, to explore areas further or points from their references or application form.
  • Avoid discriminatory questions and look to ask questions that enable you to assess the candidate’s motivations into working with children. Also ensure that there are questions relating to safeguarding.
  • Prepare questions based on the person specification and job description and the information in the application form; avoid questions that are not relevant to the requirements of the job.
  • Agree who will ask which questions, take notes, collect the candidates and keep an eye on timing.
  • Where possible, make any necessary adjustments for candidates who have requested them, or be prepared to make adjustments on the day.
  • Be professional, respect the candidate’s feelings, put them at ease but set a suitable level of formality from the start.

See the interview planning and assessment pro-forma guidance notes for more details.

Other selection methods

Other selection methods can help you make good recruitment decisions, rather than relying solely on the interview. You can use exercises such as presentations, testing, meeting pupils / governors, delivering a lesson, preparing a lesson plan etc.

  • It’s essential for the panel to agree the purpose of a particular selection activity and what skills and competencies you are looking for.
  • Decide how to score candidates, ensuring that all positive and negative evidence is collected in a structured manner.
  • Assessment of all the selection activities should be fair and consistent across all candidates. In particular, you will need to give consideration to internal / external candidates. You can’t use information that is available or familiar to the panel with regards internal candidates as this information won’t be available for the external candidates.
  • When setting a lesson plan observation also consider the fairness around the pupils. The first candidate will have a natural advantage over the sixth as the behaviour of the children will alter over time.
  • Consider issues around whether the lesson topic is within the candidate’s field of expertise.

Unsuccessful candidates after interview

Inform unsuccessful candidates typically within 24 to 48 hours of the interview, but usually after your preferred candidate has verbally accepted your offer.

It is good practice to phone candidates with the news and then follow up in writing.

Offer feedback and where this is requested, use the notes made during interview. Never reference their performance against other candidates.

Well thought-out feedback sessions ensure that the unsuccessful candidates continue to receive a positive experience of your school.

Find out how to advertise your teaching vacancies for maximum results.

Find out how to shortlist and interview effectively.

Use this timetable to manage your recruitment process effectively.

Learn about onboarding techniques to help your new teacher settle in.

Learn about the importance of safeguarding in your recruitment process.

Contact us for help with your recruitment process.