19 April 2014

Don't mention the blog

I had a frustrating interview on Thursday. It was for an 11-week job teaching peacekeeping English in Burundi, and given the unusual nature and duration of the post I thought we’d probably have a chat about the specifics of the work, and how stuff I’ve done before could be relevant. Which was na├»ve, as I’ve worked for this organisation on and off for five years, and I know that’s not how they roll. This organisation uses a set of ‘behaviours’ to recruit staff, asking every candidate the exact same question and awarding points based on how many boxes your answer ticks. It makes the process transparent; I get that. But all too often it becomes a game of guess-what’s-in-my-head.

I mentioned it once
Click for image source
The interviewer asked me, ‘Can you tell me about a time when you went the extra mile to seek information?’ I thought for a moment and told her how, as a teacher mentor in Bornean primary schools, I’d often felt disconnected from my colleagues. There was no mid-morning chitchat over Milo since the other mentors worked miles away from me. So I joined Twitter. I slowly cultivated a PLN (personal learning network). I started reading and commenting on ELT blogs. After a couple of months, I felt bold enough to start my own. I wrote about what was happening in my schools and got really useful feedback that I could use right away in my work. Based on recommendations from people in my PLN I began to read more widely, watch conference presentations online and attend webinars. Basically, I spent months of my free time connecting with people in the virtual world to improve my professional practice, because a gap in the real world needed plugging.

I could almost her ears glazing over (it was a phone interview). There was a pause, and she said, ‘OK. But can you tell me about a time when you really went the extra mile to get information?’

Excuse me while I stab this (four-colour) pen into my thigh. You mean that time I hiked across the savannah to get the final clue to Stephen Krashen's Best Treasure Hunt for Girls? I heard your question the first time. Did you hear my answer? Or did you just hear, ‘Blah blah internetz blah blah’? Because now all I'm hearing is, ‘I don’t use Twitter and I don’t blog, so I’m choosing not to understand what you said. I’ll repeat the question to see if you can give me one of the examples on my list right here.’

I dunno. Maybe my answer really was crap and I should’ve come up with something else. But I didn’t. I said (less eloquently than this), ‘Perhaps I made it sound easier or quicker than it was, because it was also enjoyable. I’m sorry, but I don’t have a better answer to give you.’

I’ll find out today if I blew the interview. I suspect I did, and it’s kind of fine, as I’ve been having second thoughts since a friend said to me yesterday – and was right – ‘You know, if you want to be a writer, you need to write more and stop taking teaching jobs for the sake of seeing interesting places.’ But it’s also annoying. 

Although I blog less frequently than I used to, I’m a Twitter evangelist to the point of irritation. I’ve learned more since I joined than in 10 years of inane compulsory INSETs, and I want to tell the world! Except that half of the ELT world, including a lot of managers responsible for recruitment, have little idea what I’m talking about and apparently little interest, either. It’s not that I think everyone should be on Twitter. If it’s not your thing, fine. But it’s my thing, and interviewer, I think candidates deserve to be listened to when they give valid answers that happen to be outside of your experience.


  1. Amen! (giggling at the Twitter evangelist comment -could it be that I am also becoming one!?)

    On a serious note, I'm sorry to hear you had that experience during an interview. I can imagine that happening though, as standardized practices sometimes do lead us to stay within very narrow concepts of what works and what doesn't. Having been in China pretty isolated from coworkers last year, I definitely relate to your experience of using Twitter (blogs, webinars, etc) to seek additional information when there was not much physical support around me. Too bad your interviewer did not seem to appreciate or understand how powerful that is!

    1. Twitter evangelists of the world unite! It's BRILLIANT, isn't it? Although I suppose, to be fair to the interviewer, before I started using it I was quite dismissive - albeit on a personal level rather than a professional one. Thanks for reading and for your support :)

  2. I suspect you're right about the list of tick boxes. Don't let it stress you. Why not go home for a while and teach at a normal school with migrant kids? You'll get a lot more satisfaction out of it and your skills will surely be snapped up.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Sue! Going home isn't on the cards, but at the moment I'm volunteering with Burmese migrant kids on the Thai border, and that feels a lot more useful. Grateful for your support :)

  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHy06FMsezI

  4. Did you get the job???

    I just posted this comment on an old borneo blog, but then wondered if I had a better chance if i posted on your most recent post. :) So:
    I just got offered the mentoring job in Borneo and only have 2 days to decide. I've been searching the net for everythng I can find, and have enjoyed reading your blog. I'd love to ask you some questions about the job and life in Borneo. If you happen to get the message and wouldn't mind sharing, please email me at kesslernyc@gmail.com.
    Many thanks!

    Also, I just spent 8 months in Rwanda, so if you have an questions about east africa. We never made it to Burundi (we wanted to!) but we did here it's a lot more fun (and a lot more dangerous) than Rwanda.

  5. I know exactly what process and organisation you are talking about, and frankly I think you're being too kind about it. I've passed it twice out three times, but the second was for a teacher training job and when I asked why I failed they said "You didn't mention your teacher training experience" to which my (unspoken) answer was "That was because none of the questions were about teacher training and anyway you already knew about that because you had my CV in front of you while you were asking me the questions.