From Both Sides of the Table

UVEI Principal interns participated in a mock interview experience that attempted to replicate what a principal might face when interviewing for a first principalship. Twenty education professionals from Vermont and New Hampshire came together to offer interns a look at how an interview committee develops a candidate profile and interview questions, along with the ethical practices and considerations a committee must attend to. The committee was comprised of an assistant superintendent, principals, assistant principals, teachers, paraeducators, school board members, students, and community members. Interns received feedback (think formative assessment) on their interview in order to assist the interns in honing their interviewing skills.

This unique model of supporting aspiring principals allows for a view from both sides of the table -- as the person leading the interviews and the person being interviewed. Through these lenses and in real time, principals interns were able to consider the complex world of interviewing.

Key Takeaways

For the principal as interviewer

  • Be prepared. The principal must provide a structure for the interview that allows for a quality, legal, and equitable experience for all candidates.

  • It is critical that the first contact with a candidate be with the principal. The principal can use this opportunity to represent the values of the school.

  • Create a profile that clearly states what is needed to support and enhance the grade level  or department team’s work toward improved student outcomes and collaboration among team members.

  • Develop open ended questions that help the committee link to the profile attributes.

  • Start slow, safe, and personal. Give the candidate a chance to warm up. You want to see and hear the best the candidate has to offer.

  • Know that the interview is just a part of the process to find the right match for a school. Principals should consider additional opportunities for less formal interactions between students and the candidate and teachers and the candidate. Another addition to the formal interview process is having the teacher candidate teach a lesson or read a book to a class.

  • Consider how students can participate in the interview process in a meaningful way. For example, student led tours of the the school school can offer an opportunity for students to showcase their school and offer observations about their experiences with the candidates.

  • Listen carefully and maintain an open mind by not making a decision about the candidate early in the interview. Try to limit the temptation to speak beyond asking the questions or answering questions posed by the candidate. The committee has very little time to learn about the candidate’s knowledge, skills, and dispositions.

  • After the interview follow up with the candidates in a timely manner, whether they will be offered the position or not. The principal continues to set a standard for courtesy and professionalism even after the interviews have been completed. When other positions open, the principal may want some of the same candidates to apply again. Give them a reason.

For the principal as interviewee

  • Dress and act professionally.

  • Create a digital portfolio and send the link with your application materials.

  • Create high quality application materials and submit all requested materials.

  • Be prepared. Know the school and the district by looking at their website, speaking with community members, parents, and students.

  • Practice general themes to respond to questions. This is not a time to be spontaneous, but this is also not an oral exam. Know who you are as a leader and anticipate the committee’s concerns and reservations, such as, you are a new principal.

  • Prepare meaningful questions, questions that cannot be found on the school’s website, that offer you insights into the school’s culture, climate, expectations, vision, and mission.

  • The interview goes two ways. You want to see if the school is a fit for you just as much as the committee wants to see if you are a fit for their school.

  • Write a thank-you note after every interview that refers specifically to what you and the committee discussed.

Interviewing is an opportunity for both sides to gain a better understanding of each other. I like to think of it as an opportunity for the applicant to share his or her passion for the field of education. When else do a group of people have to sit and listen to you talk about your favorite subject?

Commentary by Nan Parsons

Nan Parsons is UVEI's Associate Director for School Leadership and a member of the Program Faculty.  For other commentaries by Nan Parsons, see: