13 February 2012

UNI Fair - Reference Post

Alright, it's been over a week, so I suppose I should post about the fair. I'll try to keep it relatively short, but I have so many experiences and so much advice to share!

Thursday: Everyone arrived in Waterloo; no one got any sleep because we were all so nervous. There was a gal in my hotel whose reservation was lost, so we ended up rooming together (really good idea).

Friday: We woke up at stupid o'clock, tried our best to look professional, and headed over to the convention center in the shuttle (it was freezing).

We arrived at the convention center a little before 7:00 and were directed towards our "mailboxes" (hanging folders with our names on them). Everyone began to go through the materials and interview invitations. I had a few from schools I had contacted previously and a few new ones, so I spent my time deciding which to accept/decline and making a plan for the round robin, circling table numbers on the floor plan and such. I also had my laptop, and I tried to research some of the schools I was interested in, but everyone was doing the same thing so the internet wasn't really working.

At 8:00, we had an orientation from some of the UNI staff, some school directors, and a married teaching team. It was mostly advice, encouragement, etc. We then had a meal break (brunch?), and everyone scarfed some food while furiously researching schools and finalizing plans of action for the round robin interview sign up.

At 11:30, everyone had crowded around the doors to the main room in preparation for the round robin. I had the urge to yell "NO PUSHING!" It was madness. The doors opened, and we flooded in to sign up for interviews.

We had a couple hours, but I really felt like I was pressed for time. My number of interview invitations was on the higher end (12 I think?), so I was trying to confirm the most important ones first and still leave time to decline ones I didn't want so other people could have the spots and then try to get interviews with schools who hadn't invited me. To be honest, it was very difficult. It was crowded; we had to wait in line a few times, and the interview slots fill up fast, so you really have to prioritize. I didn't get any interviews with schools who hadn't invited me to begin with, either because they were full or because I didn't have enough teaching experience.

I ended up with 10 scheduled interviews. A lot of people had less, but I tried to keep my mind open and accepted most of my invitations (I turned down a school from Egypt and one from Saudi Arabia). After the round robin, interviews began immediately.

I was SO nervous, but the interview slots are only 30 minutes; there's really not a lot of time to screw up. During my first interview, I was asked 3 or 4 questions about teaching, and then I was allowed to ask questions about the school. We parted amicably, and I walked away questioning why I had been so worried.

I had four interviews on Friday, all of which went fairly well. One director invited me for a second interview on Saturday. I got the feeling that the schools had a good idea about who they wanted to hire already from looking at our credential files.

Friday evening, there was a social for the directors and the teachers, but I missed most of it because I was in an interview. Supposedly this is a good time to chat up the interviewers, but I had enough already that I didn't bother. There was a cash bar and food, but my roommate and I were so tired that we just grabbed some water and chatted in a corner. We rode the shuttle back to the hotel and researched the schools we had interviews with on Saturday before going to sleep.

Saturday: Back to the convention center, interviews all day. I received a rejection from one of my Friday interviews that morning. About noon, I had already received two offers: Pre-school in Shanghai and 1st grade in Puerto Rico. This is where it got kind of hairy. Shanghai offered it to me in the actual interview, and I had to let them know that I was still interviewing with several schools I was interested in; I asked when they needed a decision by. The answer was basically ASAP. Puerto Rico offered after the interview, but I had to call back and ask the same question. Their response was that it was between me and another woman, and the job was going to whomever accepted first. Lame. I had kind of a weird feeling from the Puerto Rico interview, and wasn't sure I would be happy at the school. The director's whole selling point was that I wouldn't really be "leaving the U.S." I thought to myself, "well, that's not really why I'm here."

I had a panic-y moment and called Dad at this point for advice. Decided to go to a presentation by one of my top choice Friday interviews (Honduras) and ask if they had made a decision yet. They hadn't, and I still had the second interview with a school from El Salvador to go to, plus two more first interviews. I was 90% sure El Salvador would make an offer, so I decided at that point to accept it if that happened. I felt very happy with the school from the info I learned in the previous interview, and I was excited that I would be in a Spanish-speaking country.

The director did end up offering, and I signed the contract on the spot for a 3rd grade position in San Salvador! It was all very exhilarating and nerve-wracking. After signing, she gave me a poster and a little mantelito (place mat) from El Salvador! How lovely.

After that, I called Mom and Dad as well as my other offers, including a new one from Kuwait, to let them know that I had accepted something else. I also had to cancel my last two interviews. It was pretty stressful, but then I could relax! My roommate got an offer shortly after that, and we found a Mexican restaurant nearby to celebrate at.

Most people left on Sunday, but I thought I might have some interviews on Sunday and had bought my ticket for Monday. Oops. I hung out at the hotel and watched the Super Bowl with vending machine food.

SO. Words of advice:

1. Get a roommate! You can participate in the forum before the actual fair and find out if anyone would like to share a room or a ride with you if you're driving. Several people did this, from what I could tell. Having a roommate gave me someone to touch base with throughout the day, sit with on the shuttle, and get meals with. It was nice to have someone to talk to so I didn't have to stand alone awkwardly at any point during the weekend.

2. DON'T BE NERVOUS. The interviews are easy. They are not going to throw you a question out of left field. It helps to know a little about the school sometimes, but not always. Relax.

3. Prioritize. If you don't have a lot of interview invitations, prioritize which schools you want to focus on speaking with during the round robin. If you do have a lot of invitations, stop by the ones you're interested in the most first to sign up for a time. The slots fill up fast, and I didn't get interviews with a couple schools who invited me because I didn't make it to the tables in time. It helped me to make a list and then cross them off.

4. Bring food. I was terribly hungry throughout the day, and the cafe in the convention center was good, but I didn't always have time to buy and eat a whole meal. Granola bars were a life-saver, especially because I had back-to-back interviews at times.

5. Don't lug your portfolio or a laptop. Before the fair, you should have contacted and researched schools, so researching them in the convention center is not really necessary. Do that at home or in your hotel room beforehand. Also, none of the interviewers looked at my portfolio at all. I think it's a good idea to bring it, but leave it in the hotel and offer to bring it the next day if someone wants to look at it (rare). All you really need is your cell and a binder to organize school fact sheets and brochures and to take interview notes. Don't forget money for food.

6. Don't be afraid to tell an interviewer that you're not ready to make a decision yet. Most will give you a few hours to finish up interviews. While you do need to make decisions quickly, don't let them guilt you into accepting something you're not happy with. This is a big decision.

7. Bring thank you notes and leave them in interviewers' mailboxes as soon after the interview as possible, especially if you have a good feeling and want to continue speaking with them about employment. Leave details like a cell number and when you're available for second interviews.

8. Ask questions in the interviews. Important things to find out: What exactly is the housing situation like (make sure it's not a dorm)? What is living in this city like (especially important for women) and how does the school help its employees to stay safe? How does your HR department help new hires settle in? Is there a mentor or buddy teacher program? Are language classes available? What professional development opportunities are there?

9. And most importantly, have an open mind! You may get interview invitations to places you hadn't even thought of. Accept them! I planned for South America the whole time, and ended up with only ONE interview on the whole continent. That particular school was the most sought after in the whole fair. If I had limited myself, I wouldn't have ended up in the great school that I did. Decide beforehand what your "deal breakers" are, and then go from there. Accept any and all offers that seem even vaguely possible for you.

I hope this post is helpful for someone! I had such a stressful but awesome time participating in the UNI Fair, and everyone was so friendly and helpful. I've heard that other fairs are more cutthroat, but of course I can't judge any but this one. What a super experience; I can't WAIT to begin the visa process and get everything ready for my new job!