School principal, a specialized HR committee, or a local Department of Education–one of these bodies will typically lead an interview with you. You will have to answer tough behavioral (situational) questions, and convince the panel of interviewers about the value you’d bring to their educational institution as an AP (VP).
What is more, you will have to demonstrate excellent communication skills, and understanding of the things they try to achieve at their school–their goals, vision, and the challenges they face. While the questions will differ slightly from one school to another, and they depend also on the interviewing panel (the experience and expectations of each member), you can count to hear at least some of the following questions in your interview:
Why do you want to work at our school?
Tell them that you want to achieve something–not for you and your career, but for them, and for their students. Tell them that you have researched a lot about their school, that you understand the challenges they face, and believe you can help them to achieve their goals.
You can also praise them for something–excellent study programs, the reputation of their institution, their contribution to the local community, results their students achieved in regional and national competitions, great working environment, etc. Your goal is convince them that you have a clear reason why you applied for the job with them, and that you prefer to work for their school, and not for someone else in the city.
Have you ever worked as an assistant principal before? What can you say about the experience?
You should talk positively about your previous experience. Tell the interviewers about the things you achieved while working at some other school (in terms of tangible results). Explain the lessons you learned at your last place, and how they helped you to become a better assistant principal.
And if you have never done this job before? You can actually talk about experience from the position of a teacher, or basically from any other position. Your main goal is to show some enthusiastic for the role, and convince us that you know what will be expected from you in this job.
You probably know something about our school. Do you see any areas for improvement?
This is a tricky question, because your criticism can touch someone in the hiring committee–they may take it personally. Therefore, if you apply for a job at a good school–one that is managed well, you can simply say that you do not see any areas for major improvement.
Elaborate on it saying that you will try to help the team of administrators to maintain the current level, and their excellent reputation in the district, and that you will focus on improving some minor details of the education process–which can always be improved.
More often than not, however, you will apply at a school that faces some major challenges (it can be the reason why they want to hire new assistant principal). In this case, it is good to mention the challenges, but to show some understanding for the situation, and basically talk about the topic in a neutral way, not blaming anyone for the situation.
What do you think: Should the assistant principal work independently, or should they follow a strong line of hierarchy with the school principal?
Another tricky question, especially if the school principal sits in the hiring committee… Nevertheless, assistant principals should have some degree of independence, and they should have a power to make decisions (at least at their level of leadership).
You can tell the committee that you are ready to work independently, but at the same time understand the importance of teamwork, and unity of school leaders, and hope to meet the school principal on a regular basis, to consult your ideas and decisions you plan to make.
Special Tip: To know how to answer a question, and to come up with a great and original answer on a big day, when facing a panel of five interviewers, are two completely different things.
If you are not sure about your interview answers, or experience anxiety, check my eBook, the Assistant Principal Interview Guide. Multiple brilliant answers to forty difficult interview questions for vice principals will help you streamline your preparation for this important meeting, get ready for every challenge you may face, and impress the members of the interviewing panel. I updated the eBook with new questions in 2020.
Glen Hughins, author of the article.
Have you ever thought of becoming a school principal?
You can say that the idea has crossed your mind, but you understand that you are not at that stage of your career yet. Tell them that you prefer to focus on the present, and on the near future. Say that you think about getting a job of an assistant principal (that is your focus right now), because you feel qualified for this position, and ready to do an excellent job.
Tell them that you will see what happens in five, or ten years time, and that you may eventually become a school principal one day, after you gained enough experience as a vice principal.
What are your hobbies and interests?
Personal preferences play a role in every interview. When we talk about jobs in education, and in education administration, the personal preferences of the hiring committee members can play a significant role. Just think about it–the people who lead an interview with you (or at least most of them) are not skilled in leading interviews, or evaluating the skills of job candidates.
Interviewing people is not their specialization–they specialize in other areas. But they have their life, their reasons and emotions, and they are looking for a good colleague, for someone they will enjoy meeting in the school corridor, someone they can drink a cup of coffee with.
Can it be you?
You can say that you are open to do all kind of activates, including sports, art, hiking, etc. The more hobbies you mention, the more likely you will connect with them.
Special Tip no.2: Download a list of 25 questions in a simple, one page long PDF, and practice your interview answers anytime later:
How did you deal with upset parent whose child complained about you?
Every person (who had any kind of job at school) has this experience. You should choose a situation with a happy ending, meaning a situation when you reconciled the conflict.
Describe what you did in detail, and try to speak in a calm voice, showing some understanding for the emotions of the parents, and demonstrating that you try to solve conflicts without unnecessary emotions.
Did you supervise any school event in the past? What problems did you face? How did you handle them?
Assistant principals are often responsible for organizing and supervising various school events. Interviewers try to understand if you have such experience, if you have an idea about some problems that can occur during the event.
Try to stay positive, show them that you actually enjoy supervising events, that you enjoy doing things you will do in your new job. Talk about an example situation when you faced a problem, but eventually managed to solve it (can be a problem of discipline, can be organization problem, injury of one of the students, or anything else).
Describe a conflict you had with one of your colleagues.
Conflicts belong to every workplace. Tell us about the conflict you had, and what you did to reconcile the conflict. It is your attitude that matters to us, not the particular conflict situation you narrate. You can speak about a conflict you had with your boss, with another teacher, or with a school counselor.
Show us that you respect the opinion of other professionals (regardless of their position), that you admit that you can be wrong, that you try to approach each conflict in a constructive way, and that you do your best to ensure that the situation won’t have a negative impact on your relationship with your colleagues.
What are your goals in five years time?
Sometimes they need an assistant principal for a short time, and sometimes they prefer to hire someone who’d stay long. They may even be looking for a replacement of soon-to-retire principal, or have other goals on their mind. Some research should help you to understand their ideas, and you should adjust your answer accordingly.
Second intention is to see if you think only about your own career, or if your goals are somehow related to the goals of their educational institution. Try to talk about goals you can achieve together at the school…
Connecting with your interviewers
You should research about the school, and about the interviewers (if you know their names). Try to learn something about their values, their philosophy of teaching, the study programs they offer. The information will help you to connect with them on a personal level.
Most people sitting in the hiring committees at schools are not professional interviewers. These people can vouch for you (or against you) just because they like you (or they don’t) as a person. You should never underestimate this aspect in your interview…
Answers to all tough interview questions for assistant principals
If you aren’t sure how you’d answer the questions, or experience anxiety before your interview, have a look at the latest edition of my eBook, the Assistant Principal Interview Guide.
Great answers to forty difficult interview questions you may get in your interview will help you to calm down, and deliver your best on the big day. You will find some answers directly on the sales page, so it makes sense to check it out even if you do not plan to purchase anything.
Thank you, and good luck in your interview!
Glen Hughins, InterviewPenguin.com Expert Writer
More from Interview Penguin:
- Tell me about yourself – The most typical interview question all around the world. HR managers use it mostly in screening interviews, in the first rounds of interviewing process.
- Salary negotiation tips – Learn how to get as much as you deserve.
- Job interview etiquette – Regardless of your approach to the interviews, and your strategy in the meetings with the employers, certain borders should not be crossed.