I'm often asked by aspiring administrators how they can improve their interviewing skills to obtain their desired entry-level administrative position. Truly, the interview is just one part of the entire hiring process. While an interview can't guarantee a job offer, it surely can prevent one from happening. As a school site principal who has been a part of multiple interviews for administrative positions as well as having applied for a few entry-level positions myself, I'd like to share the following five suggestions for the future assistant principals of our educational community.
First, as soon as you've received "the call" about the upcoming interview, it is time to meet your new best friend: Google. As cliche as it sounds, your first task is to research everything about the school that's available on the Internet. Start with the school itself. Familiarize yourself with the website. Look over how they've structured their grade level teams. Check out GreatSchools and see what parents have shared. If there is a current site principal, find out everything you can. Odds are you know someone in your professional circles who works at the school and/or in the district. Reach out to them and glean whatever information you can that will help your understanding of the position. Research everything you can so you have the knowledge about the school and can frame your answers as appropriate. A well-researched interviewee begets a positive first impression.
Speaking of your first impression, there are some certain expectations of a future assistant principal and it begins as soon as you've hit "send" on your application. Be certain that your application is free of spelling and grammatical errors. A simple "You're/Your" mistake can be the difference between getting the interview and being put in the secondary pile. Your letters of recommendation should be updated, all within the last 18 months (unless certain circumstances dictate otherwise) and include recent contact information to assist with reference checking. I've often dropped off my applications in person with the administrative assistant in Human Relations, just so they can place a face to the name. A good reference from this brief meeting with the administrative assistant can be very beneficial. For the interview itself, don't be on time... be early. Make sure you "look the part" in all aspects. I'd also encourage male applicants to be clean shaven unless they have, at minimum, a month long beard. For the female applicants, please dress appropriately and professionally. If you have tattoos, consider covering them; you don't know who will be on the interview panel and what judgments they may make. It may sound silly but visually offending a panel member can be the difference between the call back and a rejection letter.
A common concern I hear from classroom teachers aspiring to be newly hired administrators is "how do I gain the administrative experience the position requires if I can't get the job and have the experience of the position in the first place?" While this catch-22 may seem frustrating, the challenge is to obtain administrative experience in your current position that translates to the desired opportunity. This means that you should have had successful years as the classroom teacher, balancing opportunities for leadership roles at your school site with your lesson planning demands. At our school, each team (there are 2+ per grade) selects one member to be the Team Leader for the semester. Additionally, there are opportunities to be the Department Chair, join the Technology Committee, volunteer to lead certain clubs, and join the current administrative team at various conferences. If your principal sends out an email offering a chance to participate in classroom walkthroughs, jump on the opportunity. There are pathways to demonstrate leadership at a school site without serving as an administrator -- figure out these roles and begin to enjoy the experiences. As a site principal, if the candidate can show that the transition to the assistant principal position will be a smooth one, I'm more likely to select them as a member of our administrative team.
For the interview itself, two of the worst things a candidate can do is to babble and avoid answering the question. While we all have a tendency to elaborate on certain questions more than necessary, I use the following strategy when answering questions. First, I begin by repeating the question and then sharing three examples that build toward the answer. Usually, the answers will all start with the same first letter for purposes of alliteration and memorization. Here's an example: "Explain how you address student discipline." My response: "I address student discipline by focusing on what I call the Three C's. First, it's "Caring" -- I listen to the student and work with the student to address the issue. They know I'm willing to support them and that our relationship won't be broken by a simple poor choice they've made. Second, it's "Consequences" -- as we know, there can be good consequences and unfortunate consequences from our actions, but both should have a purpose toward making sure we don't make the same mistake the second time. Third, it's "Communication" -- Together, the student and I will make the call to the parent, explaining the situation. Often, without this call, the parent may hear a different version from their student. Additionally, I'll communicate back with the referring teachers and support team about the student and the situation, explaining the consequences and outcome. This also includes updating my principal on key student conversations. Those are the main three ways I address student discipline as the assistant principal." I repeat the question, give my three examples, restate the question as my conclusion, and end with time to spare. Often, I'll share a story about a past situation involving a student. If you choose to share a story (often, it's a nice break for the panel from the usual "same old answers" they've endured throughout the day of interviews), be certain that there's a point to the story, that it's directly related to the question asked, and that you protect the confidentiality of all parties involved. Your future colleagues will appreciate your professionalism.
Finally, my fifth suggestion would be the "catch-all" of categories: everything else not mentioned above. Interviewing is a challenging process and each panel has their own wishlist for what they're looking for in a future co-worker. Some common themes I've noticed is a desire to have the candidate seem to relate well with others and share a good rapport with the panel. Being able to communicate clearly and succinctly are desirable qualities as well. It's good to be confident without being overly so. I've found that applicants who demonstrate personality coupled with positive energy are usually highly ranked. Be knowledgeable about the latest readings and curriculum changes; odds are that the panel has at least one person who wants an administrator who can assist with the changes to their lesson plans that Common Core will make. Personally, I've always sent a follow up "Thank You" email for the interviewing opportunity to the site and district level administrator within a few hours of my interview. As a site administrator, I've enjoyed receiving these emails from our interviewed candidates, no matter the position.
Just like what we tell our students, practice makes perfect; It is not uncommon to interview for multiple positions before the right opportunity avails itself to you. The practice you receive from each interview will allow you to reflect upon the positives and what you still need to work on. Consider reaching out to the individual who led the interview and ask them what you can do to improve upon for your next interviewing opportunity. Take each step as a learning experience and build upon it. As I've often told aspiring administrators and especially what I've gone through professionally as well, the right opportunity will happen when it's meant to happen. Being prepared to have a successful interview is just step one in the long road of your administrative career.