Published: December 7, 2007

Prepping for Principal Interviews

Question: I’ve been an elementary school teacher for 17 years (with 12 prior years of business experience), and I am now looking for a job as an assistant principal or principal. I would like to know what I really should focus on when being interviewed. What types of questions are asked when hiring an administrator?

Dawn Scheffner Jones, online education and health advisor for career services at Northern Illinois University: It’s great that you have decided to become a principal. Since school administrators are retiring in record numbers, the demand for all levels of administration has increased. Principals with a strong teaching base are in high demand. Your business background should make you an even more qualified and desirable candidate.

Agent K-12 now accepts questions about finding jobs in education. Our Web site is dedicated to providing job seekers with top school openings. E-mail careerquestions@agentk-12.org to have your questions answered by an expert in the school recruitment field.

The specific questions that you’ll be asked in an interview will undoubtedly depend on the district’s unique needs. There are, however, some standard questions that principals are typically asked. Here are some samples based on a set provided by the Georgia School Council Institute:

• What are your students’ test scores? Did their scores improve in your class?

• What role would parents play in your school?

• How would you go about recruiting teachers?

• How would you evaluate teachers and other staff?

• Describe your style of leadership.

• What words would best describe you as an administrator.

• What would be your short- and long-term goals for our school?

• Describe the best teacher you know.

• What are the steps would you follow in working with a child who is struggling in school?

• How would you measure the success of a school?

One of the biggest challenges for former teachers interviewing for principal jobs is in thinking like an administrator. The interviewer will look for skills in leadership, conflict resolution, negotiation, decisionmaking, management, and public relations. As you know, these are skills that transfer well from the business world. You’ll also need to be well versed in curriculum development and school discipline.

Another crucial part of the interview consists of your questions for the interviewer. These questions will demonstrate how well you’ve done your research into the school’s vision and needs. And they will provide one more opportunity for you to demonstrate that you can think as an administrator. Here is a list of five questions you may want to ask of the interviewer:

• What is the most recent innovation that this school has made?

• In what ways is the principal expected to work with community members/civic organizations?

• How would you describe collaboration between building administrators and central office staff?

• Describe the school's relationship with the union/collective bargaining unit?

• How well does the community support the school and its programs?

Finally, doing a mock interview with a school district’s director of human resources can really help. This can provide valuable feedback on your questions, responses, and demeanor.

This answer, provided by Dr. Dawn Scheffner Jones, online education and health advisor for career services at Northern Illinois University, is intended for informational purposes only. Opinions are solely those of the participants.

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