How to be a Good School Business Manager
Part One: Getting the Right Job
“This week we're going to learn how to play the flute, how to split the atom, how to construct box girder bridges and how to irrigate the Sahara and make vast new areas cultivatable…” but first [with apologies to Monty Python] I’m going to show you how to find the right job as a School Business Manager.
Not many people finish their GCSEs or A-Levels with a burning desire to become an SBM. In my case I was 36 and freshly unemployed with a young family to support, applying for every job in the local newspaper. On interview day at a secondary school I had the opportunity to meet my fellow candidates, realised they were all better than me, relaxed and got the job. Somehow the interview panel saw something in me that I didn’t know was there and, by chance, I fell into the role that has defined my professional life.
At my second SBM interview, several years later, I met my fellow candidates, realised they were all less experienced than me, relaxed and got the job.
Having assisted several local schools with interview processes, I have been fortunate to sit on both sides of the SBM interview table over the years. I can say with some confidence that fields are not as strong as you might imagine. Indeed, in my experience it is rare to have more than two strong candidates on any particular day.
A successful interview is a little like a successful round of golf, in the sense that a combination of small inputs put together in the right order will greatly enhance your chances. With golf it’s all about posture, grip, swing, club angle, mood and a myriad of other minor adjustments. For an interview you need to think about:
- Read everything about the school that’s available to you
- Ofsted inspection reports
- Social media
- Visit the venue beforehand if possible
- Meet the Headteacher and/or existing SBM if you can
- Get a feel for the school and use the opportunity to make a positive first impression
- You can also decide whether you’d actually like to work there
- I once mistakenly went to the wrong school on interview morning and almost ruined the day before it had started
Try to relax [easier said than done] but not too much
- Having booked into a hotel the night before an interview I went to sleep listening to a hypnosis tape and was genuinely relaxed on interview day. Unfortunately somebody much more alert than me was offered the job
- Shine your shoes
- Comb your hair [if you still have some]
- Shave the hair between your eyebrows so you don’t look so much like a werewolf [maybe that’s just me]
- If you’re likely to sweat when nervous, choose a plain white top
- Clean your car
On the day
- Arrive about ten minutes before the stated time
- Arriving too early just builds up the nerves but arriving too late marks you down straightaway
- You’re on interview from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave
- Anyone that you come into contact with may later be asked for their opinions by the interviewers
- Try to remember the names of people you meet
- If you’re given a guided tour or face a student panel, show genuine interest and ask relevant questions. Interviewers are impressed if you recall the name of a student or colleague when recounting your experiences of the day
- Imagine yourself working at the school
- How happy do you think you would be?
- Could you work with these people?
- How easy would it be to get home late on a wet wintry evening after a fractious Governors’ meeting?
During the interview?
- Greet your interviewer by name, if you know it
- Use eye contact and a firm handshake
- Always accept an offer of a drink of water – you are sure to dry up at some point
- Take a moment to settle yourself and gain composure
- Remember to breathe
- Sit forwards if you can, and try to look alert [rather than startled]
- Hands on knees if you’re not sure where to put them, although it’s fine to mirror the interviewers’ body language
- Remember that the interviewers want you to be exceptional and are looking to see you at your very best
- They don’t usually try to catch you out or trip you up – and who would want to work with somebody like that anyway?
- If you’re really struggling to be yourself, try imagining that you’re an actor playing the lead role in the story of your life. It’s you but on your best day: You times one and a half
- If there is more than one interviewer, concentrate on the individual who asked the current question
- Don’t blurt out the first thing that enters your head when asked a difficult question
- To play for time, either ask them to repeat the question or, better still, repeat it back to them
- To use a trite example, if the interviewer asks you to name the capital of Peru, instead of going quiet and scratching the back of your head, slowly respond that “the capital of Peru is…” and by the time you reach that point the word “Lima” will hopefully have charged along a few synapses to the front of your mind
- Use the language of love [within reason]
- Let your passion for the school and the role really shine through
- Don’t waffle
- Interviewers are often easily bored, so answer the question and move on
- Summarise your answer by repeating the question once more. That way they’ll know you’ve finished. For example, “…and that is how to resolve all the school’s financial problems.”
- When it’s your turn, ask pertinent questions. For example
- Ask the Headteacher to describe the atmosphere at school. If they give a good answer, it’s an opportunity for you to say, “I’d love to work in a place like that”
- Ask why the job is being offered
- It is sometimes the case that the previous incumbent left weeks ago and won’t be available for a handover. Especially if they got completely out of their depth, left the finances in a mess and are presently on Police bail
- Ask what would be the biggest challenge that you’d initially face if successful
- However, take the answer with a small pinch of salt because they may not tell the whole truth to avoid frightening you away
So, having followed these instructions and you’re offered the job, take a moment to pause and weigh up all the circumstances before accepting the post, vigorously shaking all interviewers’ hands and then running a joyous lap of honour around the school.
Next time I’ll provide some ideas for the first few weeks in your new SBM role and, in the words of Monty Python, “Alan will be over in Moscow showing you how to reconcile the Russians and the Chinese. Until then, cheerio.”
By Peter Neale - May 2017