To understand the personality of each job candidate, their motivation, attitude to various work-related issues, and challenges the school faces, the internal HR committee, the local Department of Education, or the recruitment agency (whoever will lead the interview with you, this differs from one school to another) need to design a complex interview process, that typically consists in more rounds of interviews.
During these interviews you will deal with screening, behavioral and technical questions, and often also with a personality test, or an IQ test. Your interview answers and test results should help the hiring committee to create a complete picture of your abilities, attitude, and personality.
In this article we will have a look at the common questions, the interview template.
Table of Contents
- What do you know about our school? What are the main areas for improvement?
- What do you think should be the main goal of a school principal?
- If you should characterize a great school principal with three words, which words would you choose?
- Why have you decided for the job of a principal? What motivates you the most to do this job?
- Do you think that the school principal should take part in teaching? If they should, why?
- How do you imagine a typical day in work?
- What will be the first thing you do if you get this job?
- From your point of view, what should be the relationship of a principal and the students?
- What are your plans in long term horizon, let’s say in 10 years?
- Do you have any experience with leadership?
- What do you expect from the students, the vice principals, and the teachers?
- How would you recruit new teachers for the school? Have you ever led a job interview?
- Other questions (see short hint in the brackets)
- About the author, eBook
What do you know about our school? What are the main areas for improvement?
One way or another, you have to prepare for this question in advance. Research about the educational institution. Check the reviews, try to find out what the teachers, and the students think about the school. Learn more about their activities, and about the way they present themselves in a local community.
The more information you have, the easier it will be for you to come up with a good answer. But try to avoid touch the emotions of the people sitting in the hiring committee. Focus mostly on the good things, and praise them for their good work. People at schools do not like change–at least most of them don’t like to change things.
You will have plenty of time to take measures, and to improve things, once they hire you for this job…
What do you think should be the main goal of a school principal?
Another tough question, and you can approach it from different angles. Should a principal be “only” a leading figure, a person who represents the school in public? Should they just delegate the work, or should they actively participate on a daily life of an educational institution?
Honestly, a good answer to this question depends on your philosophy of work, and leadership. But you have to justify it with your answer (perhaps with an explanation how your methodology and approach to the role helped you to achieve good results in your past job, or how it works for ABS school, one of the successful educational institutions in the city).
If you should characterize a great school principal with three words, which words would you choose?
This interview just won’t get easier, will it? A good principal is a good listener. Therefore you should answer with three words–no more, no less. Which words will you pick for your interview answer?
Leader and role model? Attentive, smart, decisive? Listening, learning, doing? You make the choice. Just do not forget to use three words exactly (or five, or three sentences, or whatever is the actual question they will ask you in an interview).
Why have you decided for the job of a principal? What motivates you the most to do this job?
Is it money, personal recognition, and respect of your colleagues and family that drives you forward? Or do you dream of achieving something big with the educational institution? Or, perhaps, you care for every single student, and consider it your personal mission to turn this school to the best possible place for everyone, the place where both students and teachers will thrive?
You should show some ambitions in the interview. But your goals and ambitions (the things that motivate you to apply for this position) should relate more to the school, and to the students who study at the school, and not only to your personal ambitions, recognition, and salary.
What really motives us to do the job, and what we should talk about in an interview, are typically two different things. Keep it on your mind on a big day.
Do you think that the school principal should take part in teaching? If they should, why?
A good answer depends on your philosophy, on your attitude to work. Nevertheless, a good principal is not afraid to participate in teaching, or even to teach. They understand the importance of feedback from all members of the school community, including teachers, students, parents, and administrators.
Show them that you are not afraid, that you understand the importance of seeing the school life also from the perspective of students, and teachers.
How do you imagine a typical day in work?
Reading newspaper in the morning, drinking good coffee from your beautiful secretary, and taking pleasure in your prestige and position… Is this a typical day in your work? Do you imagine it as such?
Well, you will have to show a totally different approach, if you want to succeed in your interview. Show us that you like to be busy, that you always look for things to do, for things to improve. Check the job description, list some duties from the description, and add some activities that aren’t advertised on the job description. Show us that you actually plan to do more than we expect from you.
What will be the first thing you do if you get this job?
Celebration. A night in the club. Buying a new car.
Oh, well, we are actually asking about the first thing you do in your job, not outside of it :). A nice idea is to invite the assistant principals, the school counselors, and some teachers for a board meeting, or perhaps talking with them one on one. You can actually invite also some students, perhaps the people who struggle with discipline in the classroom.
The meetings should help you to get a good grasp of the school, of the main challenges and problems they face, and of the people you will work with (and lead) in your job from now. That is likely a first thing you should do in your new job. But feel free to come up with your own ideas, if you do not like our idea.
From your point of view, what should be the relationship of a principal and the students?
A good answer to this question depends strongly on the school you will work at. If they struggle with discipline in the lessons, if fights are common every day, if they interview ten pupils each day in your office (becasue they make problems and need intervention), then you should definitely go for an authoritative approach.
But if you happen to be leading some private institution, or a school for talented children, or perhaps a University, you can talk more about leadership, creativity, and friendly relationship with the students.
What are your plans in long term horizon, let’s say in 10 years?
Captains are the last to leave the sinking ship. And Rome was not built in one day.
Show us that you understand it takes time to make a great school. Tell us that you plan to stay long with us, that you plan strategically, and that strategical goals take many years to attain.
I know that you may dream about starting your own business (perhaps your own school), or about traveling the world (soon enough you will have enough money to set on a long journey). But you should not talk about these things in a job interview…
Nobody knows what will happen in ten years time. You may be dead, you may be living in a different country, you may have a completely different position. And nobody will blame you if you leave the school after one year of working there.
But it is your goal to get a job in this interview. And to achieve this goal, you should say that you plan to stay with us, for many years to come.
Do you have any experience with leadership?
But we have to be leaders in our everyday life as well. Have you taught before? Have you led some students? Or your own children? Or, perhaps, just your own career?
There are many levels of leadership. Sadly, most people can’t even lead their personal lives. They just listen to the authorities (authorities that care mostly for their own profits–think media gurus, religious leaders, politicians , etc). Such people do hardly make any decision on their own, even though they do not realize that they are just blindly following some authorities. Hopefully it is not your case.
Anyway, you should think about your professional career, and your personal life. Describe a situation when you led someone towards attaining an important goal, or when you led yourself to achieve something big. Show us that you can make decisions, and that you are ready to lead the school, and the people who work there (and that you actually think about them and their welfare, not only about your own career).
What do you expect from the students, the vice principals, and the teachers?
Everything. Perfect obedience. Amazing results. I am just joking, of course :).
Good principal should expect a lot from one person only–from themselves. You can have some basic expectations, such as honesty, transparency, being open for discussion, basic discipline. But you should not expect anyone else to take care of your job, or to make it significantly easier for you.
Show us that you focus on the things which you can control–that means your attitude to other people at school, your motivation, the way you help the others to do their job. Law of action and reaction can never be fooled (at least not in a long run). Expect little and give a lot–and the other people will follow your example.
How would you recruit new teachers for the school? Have you ever led a job interview?
You can describe the very basic procedure of recruiting a new teacher. Step one is understanding who you want to recruit, and describing the profile of this person. Second step is advertising the job offer on the right places, so it will attract the right audience. Third step is preparing an interview template, and fourth step is leading the interviews, according to the template.
* An in-detail explanation of the process of leading interviews exceeds the purpose of this article, but many other articles on this website deal with the topic. Check the main menu, Section for Employers, to learn more.
Other questions (see short hint in the brackets)
From your point of view, what should be the role of technology in the process of education? (The main role of anything, in the process of education, is to help the students to understand the lessons better, to make the lessons more engaging and interesting for everyone. Technology is no different.)
How would you attract more students to apply for a study program at our school? (Making the school a better place to study, improving the reputation of the school, and the marketing and PR, are definitely some things you can influence as a school principal.)
Do you have any role models in your life? (Pick some leaders, some people who left a positive mark in the history of mankind, or at least in a local community. It can be Einstein, Gandhi, or it can be “just” an excellent principal who led your elementary school, and who motivated you to pursue this career.)
- If we decide to move forward with your job application, when will you be able to start?
- Speaking about public relations, what activities do you think should a school principal do?
- Why should we hire you, and not one of the other job applicants?
The author of the content is Glen Hughins, a reputable interview coach with a background in education administration.
Glen has helped hundreds of teachers and education administrators to get their first job, or to progress in their career.
He has written an eBook called Assistant Principal Interview Guide, which offers and analysis of, and brilliant answers to twenty most common assistant principal interview questions (many of them overlap with the questions for a school principal interview), and much more…
You can find Glen’s eBook here: Assistantprincipalinterviewquestions.com/assistant-principal-interview-guide/ . If you enjoyed reading this article, and found some inspiration in Glen’s words, then you should definitely have a look at the book. It can be the part of the puzzle you are missing…
Alternatively you can continue your preparation with Interview Penguin:
- Follow-up call after the interview – Learn how to follow up your interview in style.
- How to dress for your interview – Four rules to consider when choosing clothes to wear.
- How to answer interview questions – It is not only about what you say, but also how you say it in an interview….