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 or country.

Sample answer:

I’ve been involved in education in this school district for the past twelve years. And since I have been always active, participated in events and gatherings, and networked with representatives of all stakeholders, I feel I know this school very well. I understand what you do great here, and what needs some improvement, and believe I can contribute to the improvement as your new AP. That’s the reason why you are my no. 1 choice.


Have you ever worked as a vice 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.

Sample answer:

I’ve never worked as an AP, but I worked as an elementary teacher for ten years. I have always had a personal relationship with my students, leading them, motivating them, and helping them in difficult times. I consulted parents and was constantly achieving good overall results in my classes. However, I believe that I should do more than just teach, since I’d have more options to change things as an assistant principal.


Young woman interviewsfor a job of an assistant principal. The members of a hiring committee watch her closely.

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, at least at the moment.

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 from a position of a deputy principal.

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.

Sample answer:

In my opinion, things can always be improved. On the other hand, I honestly thing you’ve done a great job here, which your results (when compared to other schools in the district) prove. From a position of an outsider I do not really see any major areas of improvement, but if I identify any, or if we identify any together, I will do my best to help to improve on those areas.


What do you think: Should the vice 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.

Sample answer:

I believe we should have some level of independence. At the end of the day, Principal and their assistants have quite different roles, and though our superior, principal should not be our manager. On the other hand, I believe there should be some unity in the school leadership, and hence it is important that we discuss all important matters together, and follow the same vision for the school we spearhead.


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.

Sample answer:

Role of a principal differs to a role of an assistant principal. Principal is more a decision maker and a school representative in terms of PR, the leader. I honestly do not know if I am ready to take such a responsibility. My goal for the moment is to work closely with students, and learn more about the way the school operates, in all fronts. Therefore I prefer the role of an assistant principal. I did not think about becoming a principal, but I do not exclude this option for the future.


Tell us what you learned from your most influential administrators. Try to identify at least one positive and one negative characteristic.

First of all, try to focus on the positives. There is something to learn from every person we meet in life (even the least competent one), and an emphatic teacher/administrator learns something in every encounter.

You can either simply list their core characteristics which you admired (decisiveness, leadership, empathy, organization, responsibility, consistency, problem solving ability, etc), or you can describe a particular way in which they addressed a particular situation in school—a way that you found effective, and would like to follow in your own practice as a vice principal.

Once you talk about the negative characteristics, always remember the following rule: Focus on the characteristic (practice, conduct), and not on the person of the administrator. As a professional you should be aware that each of us has some weaknesses, and we should not judge or even condemn anyone because of that.

Sample answer:

I have learned quite a lot from each administrator I worked with. They were all different, had different leadership styles, and I honestly believe that you can learn something from every person. What sticks with me the most probably is how my last administrator approached individual meetings with teachers. They were very supportive, listened carefully to all our concerns, and you had the feeling that they really tried their best for each teacher. It was an excellent example and I hope to follow similar behavior as an administrator.

One negative thing maybe, which I noticed with another administrator I worked under, was that they were very authoritarian. They weren’t receptive to the feedback from either the teachers, or from their assistants. Do not take me wrong though. They knew their job, had an excellent system in work, and I learned a lot from them as well. But I think that if they were more receptive to feedback, they would be even better in their job.

Special Tip no.2: Download a list of 25 questions in a simple, one page long PDF, and practice your interview answers anytime later:

assistant principal interview, PDF

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.

Sample answer:

One time a mom came, super angry, since I kept her daughter after school and she missed dancing classes, and cried at home later. At first I apologized for making her child upset. Then I described her position in the class, and said many good things about her. I explained that making her daughter to miss something she liked because of bad behavior was the right way to teach her to stick to the rules, and to respect authorities at school. I tried to stay positive, keeping the atmosphere friendly and open. Finally the mother agreed, and she eventually apologized for being angry with me.


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).

Sample answer:

I organized and supervised a yearly fundraising event at our school. It took place exactly one year ago. Children invited parents and people from local community to auction their works of art. The funds we raised were sent to the local charity that supported homeless people. As I carefully planned everything in advance, no big problems occurred. There was just a little problem with discipline of four students. I talked to them and stressed the purpose of the event, and why we were there at the first place, in a very friendly, human way. They stopped making problems and co-operated. The event was a success, we collected decent money.


If there was a conflict between a student and a teacher, on which side would you stand?

People in the interviews have a tendency to say that they would stand on the side of a teacher or a school principal (just because these people interview them for the job).
This is not a good answer, however, since teachers are only humans, and they make mistakes.
You should be transparent, have some conflict solving standards, and try to always find the truth. At least that’s what they want to hear in your interview answer….

Sample answer:

I really believe that assistant principals should be involved in solving conflicts, since they can look at them without emotions of involved parties. I would stand on the side of the truth in every conflict, letting both parties to tell me what happened, personally investigating the situation and deciding according to my conscious. Most important thing is to reconcile the conflict parties, so the relationship of teacher and student can continue, and both of them feel comfortable in the classroom, once the waters settled.

A teaching professional in work. We can see many papers on his desk, as well as his mobile phone, and some other items.

Please describe the role you feel parents should play in the operation of the school.

A representative of parents will often sit in a hiring committee, and this is one of a few questions (sometimes the only question) they will ask you. I say this to underline an importance of your answer. The parent in a committee is typically a very active person, who likes to be involved in the operation of a school (that’s why they are in the committee, that’s why they accepted the role).

Bearing this in mind, you should always emphasize that you believe in an important role parents play in school (and also in education of their children), and you plan to have them involved. You can also list particular ways of involving them, such as having a parent board, or even the board of trustees, or regular one-on-one discussions with some parents.

If you go that far, however, remember to stress that you look for balance, and won’t ever decide a case against one of the teachers according to the parent’s opinion only, without hearing out the teacher, and the students involved in the conflict.

Sample answer:

I believe that parents play an important role in the life of every school. Children often confide to them and express opinions which they are afraid to express in the classroom, or in a private discussion with the principal. I know you have a parent board in school, and I definitely plan to attend their meetings, and hear them out. My doors will be always open for a parent who wants to share feedback on my work, work of one of the teachers, or the school as a whole.



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…


Questions to ask at the end of an assistant principal interview

Every good interview is a dialogue. Sooner or later, you will get a chance to ask questions, and they may even prompt you to do so. In my opinion, however, you shouldn’t force a question just to ask them something. When the interview went well, and some questions popped up during the process (they asked you about something, you responded, asked about their opinion, short discussion followed, etc), it is fine just thanking them for the interview, and saying you have no more questions to ask. In any other case, you can use one of the following questions:

  • Do you have any goals on your mind for the new vice principal, for their first year in the role?
  • In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges a new assistant principal will face in their role here?
  • In your opinion, what do the students (parents) expect from a new vice principal? What should they bring onboard to meet expectations of these stakeholders?
  • What are the next steps of the recruitment process?


Answers to all 40 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, 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.
Glen Hughins
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