5 Tips to Interview to Be a Principal

Be confident and prepared the next time you face the hiring committee.

Be confident and prepared the next time you face the hiring committee.
By John Scudder
June 2019, Volume 42, Issue 10

Becoming a principal is an amazing opportunity to impact the lives of children, but interviewing to become one can be stressful. There are many unknowns before you step in front of a hiring committee: the size of the committee, the jobs of each committee member, what each of them wants in a school leader, and the specific questions they will ask.

But, with these five tips, you can make your interview less stressful and significantly increase your odds of success.

1. Do your homework. If you do not work at the school currently, set up a time to visit and talk to people, including the current principal, if possible. Ask about the school’s mission, vision, successes, and challenges. Find out what they are looking for in a new principal. Then, get online and gather some achievement and demographic data on the school. Think about what this school’s unique challenges are and why you are the person to help, and be ready to explain that in the interview.

2. Say more with less. Many people tend to ramble when they are nervous. A fix? Rehearse your answers. You might not know exactly what the questions are going to be, but you can probably make a fairly accurate guess about the topics they will ask about. Work on brief (2-minute) answers to address these topics, and then say them aloud in front of a trusted colleague who will give you honest feedback. A side effect of this practice is it tends to reduce nervousness.

3. Purpose over chronology. There is typically a question at the beginning of the interview about your relevant work experience. Most people answer this question by going through their experiences chronologically. But, if you have carefully considered why you are the best person to help this school face their challenges, you should answer this question purposefully rather than just chronologically. For example, if you are interviewing at a Title I school elementary school, include a short story about a successful initiative you led at a school with similar demographics.

4. Think from different perspectives. Another common mistake when interviewing with a team is to focus your answers on the person in the room you perceive as the most powerful. For example, if a superintendent is on the committee, you might focus your answers on what you think the superintendent wants to hear. But there are most likely multiple perspectives in that room: administration, certified, classified, and maybe a parent. Explain at some point in the interview how you are going to work with all of them and what you can do for each in your role as principal.

5. If you don’t get it, start preparing for the next one. Plenty of very talented administrators did not get positions they wanted at some point in their careers. It is OK to be privately disappointed, but not getting a position is actually a fantastic opportunity for growth. If you get the call that you didn’t get it, thank the person and then set up a time to meet so you can get feedback about how to do better next time. Then, make your adjustments and get back out there to interview again. Repeat as needed.

Start Now

Interviewing for the principalship involves a number of skills that you should think about ahead of time. Interviewing, like any other skill, can be developed with preparation, feedback, and practice. Thinking about the interview as an opportunity for growth, rather than a job that you absolutely must get, will also help lower your stress and improve your performance.

Being a principal is a fulfilling, challenging career that will allow you to lead change and help others to succeed. If that’s where you see your future headed, then why not start preparing now?

John Scudder, a former principal, is director of Title I Programs in the Litchfield Elementary School District in Arizona.

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