Administration & Leadership

6 Ways to Prepare for Interviews for Administrative Positions

Two seasoned administrators share their tips for acing the application process for school leadership positions.

May 30, 2024
VioletaStoimenova / iStock

After successful years in the classroom, you’ve become ever more sure that you’re ready to assume the challenges and rewards of school leadership. You enrolled in graduate-level educational leadership classes, pored over a bevy of academic literature and research reports, drafted papers late at night, practiced leadership skills while volunteering for school and district committees, served as an administrative intern (devoting considerable time supervising school lunch!), and submitted certification paperwork to the department of education bureaucracy, and now the moment has come to apply for your first administrative position.

That’s when a thought occurs to you: You’ve learned how to be a school leader, but no one has taught you how to get a school leader job. The process shares similarities with a classroom teacher job search, but there are also significant differences, and the path into a school leader’s office continues to evolve. We’ll map the route with turn-by-turn directions.

6 ways to prepare for School Leader Job interviews

1. Do your homework. We liken the first step to detective work. Learn as much as possible about the prospective school before you send application materials. Browse the school website, download school report card data from the state department of education, and thoroughly scan social media. Try to learn the following:

  • What is the school’s professed mission, its vision of teaching and learning, and its annual goals?
  • What curriculum and instructional initiatives were launched the last several years?
  • What do standardized tests and other assessment measures reveal about the school’s strengths and deficiencies?
  • How do staff, students, parents, and the wider community feel about the school?

Your research into these questions will help you draft your cover letter, predict interview questions, and, most important, decide whether you and the school are a good fit.

2. Pinpoint your qualifications and how to strengthen your candidacy. Draw up a list of your experiences and accomplishments related to the position. Describe each experience in detail. If education is your second career, incorporate educational responsibilities from your prior job (e.g., training new company employees).

Consider gaps in your experience and knowledge base. For example, are you familiar with artificial intelligence, its applications in schools, and the educational and ethical issues? Since you’re liable to be asked about it, now is the time to learn more. If working with parent organizations is a deficit in your qualifications, perhaps volunteer to be the faculty liaison to the PTA.

3. Craft your cover letter and résumé. The cover letter is where your research into the school begins to show, and you have an opening to stand out from the crowd. The cover letter should be no longer than a single page and written in business letter format.

The school is not searching for a generic school leader, so don’t submit a generic cover letter. In the first paragraph, briefly introduce your main qualifications and concisely describe your approach to leadership. The purpose of the second paragraph is to demonstrate an alignment between your qualifications and leadership style with the school’s vision and needs. Ask yourself what they are looking for in a school leader. What are their priorities in the coming school year? For example, if you find that the school recently launched a science of reading initiative, refer to relevant professional development conferences and classroom efforts.

4. Prepare for the all-important initial interview. When the school contacts you to arrange an interview, ask who will take part. It’s helpful to know whether you’re walking into an intimate conversation with one or two administrators or a sizable committee composed of representatives from stakeholder groups. Rehearse under realistic conditions—see if you can arrange a practice interview with a friend or colleague sitting across the table from you.

These are some questions you are likely to hear during the first interview:

  • Tell us about yourself.
  • Explain your view of school leadership.
  • What are the developmental needs of children at this age, and what form of teaching and learning is most appropriate?
  • What are some best practices to meet students’ diverse learning needs, including special education students?
  • As a school leader, what would be your role working with parents? Provide an example.

Your research into the school will suggest more questions. Some educational issues prominent in today’s headlines that you may want to prepare answers for include diversity, equity, and inclusion; social and emotional learning; English language learners; teacher hiring and retention; use of data; teaching literacy; and political controversy in the classroom. Technology is a likely subject too—you may be asked about your AI policy recommendations or best practices in instructional technology.

What does “a good answer” sound like? There are two basic strategies for answering any interview query. One is to cite educational literature or theory—for example: “Studies find that manipulatives are an effective approach to teaching middle school algebra, building a bridge from kinesthetic learning and visual representation to abstract ideas...” You can also share an anecdote: “In my eighth-grade mathematics classroom, I struggled to teach algebraic concepts until I discovered algebra tiles and blocks...”

In addition, we suggest the following tactics:

  • Answer the question that is actually asked by listening carefully. You can always request clarification.
  • Responses should be limited to a maximum of two minutes. As you practice, you’ll acquire a sense of timing.
  • Highlight elements in your experience and knowledge base that dovetail with the school’s issues and priorities.
  • Strike a conversational tone. The best interviews evolve into a conversation rather than an interrogation.

5. Prepare (again!) for round two interviews. You’re almost there. The final steps consist of a second-round interview with the administrators’ superintendent, the superintendent’s cabinet, and very likely the school board too. There may also be an additional round with more faculty representatives and PTA leadership.

Keep researching the school, and take the opportunity to ask members of the school community as you learn more. Throughout the job application process, candidates are asked about their conception of leadership and recommendations concerning school priorities.

Second-round interviews offer an opportunity to turn the question around and pose probing questions to stakeholders: “What are you looking for in a new leader?” “What are your priorities for the next few years?” These inquiries demonstrate the applicant’s interest in hearing the perspective of all school community members, clarifying their vision of leadership and the school’s future. That’s the best starting point once the real work begins.

6. Make a decision you feel good about. The application process is a two-way street. As stakeholders assess whether the candidate is the right fit, candidates reflect on the reverse question: “Is this school the right fit for me?” Before you accept a new job, consider what you’ve learned about the school when doing your homework and participating in interviews. Did you feel you would get along with the leaders, staff, parents, and other community members you’ve met? Are our core values in basic accord? Every school has its share of problems and eccentrics—do you feel excited to be working together?

How can you tell if the particular job is right? We say, “Follow your head... and your heart.”

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