School principal is a dream occupation of many people. However, it is not easy to get this job. And it is even a more challenging task to recruit a good principal, should you sit in a hiring committee at any 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 the hiring process you will deal with screening, behavioral and technical questions, and at times will have complete a personality test as well. Your interview answers should help the hiring committee to create a good 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, 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…
I spent a lot of time researching about your school. I talked to teachers, met students, and consulted other people from local community. From what I heard and noticed, your institution is well organized and runs smoothly. You have balanced program of activities for students. However, I have some ideas for further improvement, as there is always a chance to make things better. It goes about the following ideas: …. (Your ideas)
What do you think should be the main goal of a school principal?
Another tough question, and you can approach it from various angles. Should a principal be “only” a leading figure, a person who represents the school in public? Should they just delegate the work, from a position of a wise leader who knows how to assemble the best people around them, 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).
In my opinion, a wise principal of a school is first and foremost a great leader, who surrounds themselves with the best people for the organization. And that is exactly my idea. What I try to say here is that while I hope to use my extensive experience in education and education administration to propose important changes and make sure we implement them in a manner that benefits students, teachers, and other stakeholders here, I do not dream of doing this alone. I know how important it is to have right people around you…
If you should characterize a great school leader 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.
Speaking honestly, I am seeking a new challenge. I’ve been in education for twenty years, and I’ve been through everything a teacher can experience with their students, colleagues from the staffroom, and also with the administrators. I am eager to try something new, to utilize my knowledge and experience and help to take this school to even a better level. I would like to leave a positive mark in this world, and this is my way of trying to leave such a mark.
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 2022)
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!
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 the teaching process, or even to teach some hours each week. 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.
I imagine coming here early, before the students and teachers arrive, to go by an example. I will have a quick look at the agenda, and talk with the assistant principals. I will also visit the staffroom, to check if they need anything, if everyone came, and if we need to arrange substitutes for some classes. In my point of view this is very important, to keep a close contact with the staff members to identify any problems early and address them promptly. Then I will work according to the agenda for the day, be it planning, evaluation of teachers, addressing disciplinary matters, representing the school outside of the building, talking in front of students, and so on.
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.
As a new principal, how would you go about building relationship of trust and collaboration with staff, parents, and students?
A good answer is to say that you want to be transparent in what you do, and open to both criticism and praise. You can also stress that you plan to have initial meetings with all staff members, and representatives of students and parents, explaining your vision of work, and asking them about their expectations on your work.
The willingness to admit your mistakes and to respond for both successes and failures will also help you to build a relationship of trust with most people. You should also say that you plan to talk to students regularly, and to attend various events organized for them, or events they will organize.
One way or another, trust is crucial, and you should emphasize that you understand the importance of building it.
I definitely want to take the first move and meet each staff member personally. I want to hear them out, to understand their point of view, the way the school works, and also the expectations they have on a new principal. The same I plan to do with the representatives of parents and students. And I want to be very transparent in my work, and discuss the progress with them, so they can see what we try to achieve, and how we try to achieve it. I believe this will help with building relationship of trust, which is absolutely necessary if we want to achieve some progress here.
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.
Well, it depends whether you ask about my personal plans or the plans for this school–because I definitely have some long term goals and plans on my mind, ideas that take time to implement… When it comes to my personal life and professional career, however, I just hope to be working as a principal in ten years time. It is my dream job, and I do not really think it will change in the foreseeable future.
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?
I suggest you to say that you plan to focus on doing your own job well, as the first priority, without expecting much from other people. You should always expect the most from yourself.
On the other hand, you will respond for hiring/promoting/evaluating teachers, and you should have some criteria which you can follow in the process. Without having expectations, it is hard to define the criteria to meet them.
You can say that you expect them to adhere to the guidelines and the vision you follow at school, to respect both students and their colleagues. Or you can simply say that you expect them to try their best in work every day, in given circumstances.
Alternatively you can say that you prefer a close cooperation with assistant principals, teachers, and other staff members, and expect to get a constructive feedback on your work from each staff member. But the emphasis should always remain on your own responsibilities and work—you should not want anyone else to do it for you.
First of all, I have high expectations on myself, and want to approach this job very responsibly. Hopefully that will set an example for teachers and school management.
I expect the staff to adhere to the guidelines and the vision we will follow at school, to respect both students and their colleagues, and to talk to me openly about any problems they face.
I will set some criteria to evaluate their performance, but before I can do that I have to experience the climate at school, in the classrooms, and understand where we are at the moment.
How would you go about hiring 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 hire, 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.
I took part in many interviews while working as an assistant principal. First of all, I always tried to understand the personality of the job candidate, and their motivation. Why did they apply for a job with our school? What did they want to accomplish as teachers? What motivates them to try hard every day?
Such questions helped me to get a good grasp of their personality and communication skills. Then I’d progress to situational questions, asking them how they’d address certain situations in a classroom, such as conflicts with students, problems with discipline in the class, lack of motivation, chicane, and other. This combination of questions helps, in my experience, to make a good picture of the job candidate.
But I will also always consider the options we have, and the situation on the employment market. If we need a new teacher and there is little interest from the side of the job seekers, I may focus more on presenting our school in a best possible light, and making a great impression on the job candidate, so they become interested in working for us.
Questions to ask at the end of a principal interview
Good job interview is always a dialogue. Soon or later, you will get a chance to ask questions, and they may even prompt you to do so. Remember that we talk here about a leadership role. A great leader is always wondering what they can do better. They talk to staff members, ask questions, trying to understand what’s going on at the school, and how different bodies see it. In my opinion, the time when you ask questions (and have a chance to initiate an interesting discussion) can definitely make a difference between the best and second best candidate. What questions should you ask though, as their future principal?
First of all, you should consider things that have already happened in the interview. You likely talked about some challenges the school faces, perhaps presented them your vision for their educational institution, and what you want to bring onboard as their new leadership figure. Hence you can ask about their opinion, and how it aligns with their goals and ideas. If you cannot come up with anything though, you can use one of the following questions:
- In your opinion, what are the main challenges you face at your school right now?
- How has the pandemic impacted the learning process at your school, and how has the school leadership dealt with that?
- What are your expectations on a new school principal? (Every member of the hiring committee can answer separately)
- What is the one thing you’d like me to change at this school, while working as a principal here?
Anything you ask them, make sure you listen to their answers carefully, and do not hesitate to elaborate on them, starting an interesting discussion…
Other questions you may face in your school leadership 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!
May also interest you
- Why do you want to be a principal? 7 sample answers to the question you will always face in this interview.
- How to dress for your interview – Four rules to consider when choosing clothes to wear.
- Assistant principal interview questions – Some of them overlap with the questions for principal, but some do not.