School principal is a dream occupation of many people. However, it is not easy to get this position. And it is even a more challenging task to recruit a good principal, should you sit in a hiring committee at an educational institution. To understand the personality of each job candidate, their motivation, attitude to various work-related issues, and challenges the school faces, the hiring committee needs 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. Your interview answers 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 most common questions you may face in this interview. Lets’ start!
What do you know about our school? What are the main areas for improvement?
A tough start. Should you praise them, or criticize them? Should you point out the good things, neglecting the challenges, or should you start talking about the measures you would take if you led their school? 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 touching 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 the way they do their job. You will have plenty of time to take measures, and to improve everything, once they hire you for the 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 district, which you happen to know).
If you should characterize a great school principal with three words, which words would you choose?
This interview just won’t get easy, 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. 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.
Special Tip: To know how to answer the question, and to come up with a great answers on a big day, are two different things. If you experience anxiety or basically do not know how to formulate a great answer to each of these questions, consider having a look at my eBook, the Principal Interview Guide (published in 2019, updated in 2020)
You will find multiple brilliant answers to forty most common principal interview questions in the eBook, and winning interview strategies that will help you make the best possible connection with the people in the hiring committee. Thank you for checking it out!
Glen Hughins, author of the article
Do you think that the school principal should teach? If they should, why?
Do you prefer to sit in your comfy leather chair, enjoying the beauty of your office, never walking out unless someone calls you, or knocks on your door? Or do you want to actively participate in teaching, to take part in the classes, to observe teachers at work?
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, 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 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 mentioned 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 out with friends. 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?
Do you prefer to maintain a strong authority? Do you want the students to consider you a friend? Do you want them to respect you, or to love you? Or perhaps both? 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, if they interview ten pupils each day in your office (because they make problems and need intervention), then you should definitely go for an authoritative approach.
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. We may die, We may live in a different country, we may have a completely different position. And nobody will blame you if you leave the school after one year of working there. But your goal is 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?
Without any doubt, role of a principal is a leadership positions. But what does it mean, to lead someone? Leaders attract people, leaders believe into the people, leaders connect with people. At least good leaders do that.
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, back to the point. 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 much 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?
To lead an interview is not easy. Luckily, we have many excellent resources to help us out (think InterviewPenguin.com and their section for employers, or my website–more about it later). 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.
Other questions you may face in your Principal job interview
- From your point of view, what should be the role of technology in the process of education?
- How would you attract more students to apply for a study program at our school?
- Do you have any role models in your life?
- As a school principal, what message would you want your school to convey when visitors walk into the building?
- As a new principal, how would you go about building relationship of trust and collaboration with staff, parents, and students?
- What experiences have you had in working with low income and “at risk” students? How do you plan to work with them?
- How would you rate yourself as a disciplinarian? Do you think firm discipline is important?
- How will you market the school to the local community?
- What do you consider your most outstanding contribution to your present school district?
- How will you measure your success after the first year in this job?
- What strategies have you used in the past to confront and manage bullying?
- How will you support a safe and effective school wide learning environment
Conclusion, great answers to all 40 questions
Interview for a job of a school principal belongs to difficult interviews. You will typically compete with other skilled professionals for the job, and face dozens of tough questions (personal, behavioral, technical), often going through a lengthy interview process.
If you want to streamline your preparation for this difficult interview, have a look at my eBook, the Principal Interview Guide, in which I analyze 40 questions you may possibly get, touching all aspects of leading an educational institution. You will find several sample answers directly on the eBook page, so it makes sense to check it out even if you do not plan to purchase anything.
Thank you for checking it out, and good luck in your interview!
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- How to answer interview questions – It is not only about what you say, but also how you say it in an interview….