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Acing Your Ed Leadership Interview

Hey there, aspiring educational leaders. You’ve made it to the interview! You’re amazing! Now you have to stick the landing with the interview. Interviews are high-stress situations, so you’re more likely to do well if you’ve practiced beforehand and some of these “tricks of the trade” are muscle memory. Here are some of the top things I tell people to prepare for interviews:

1. Be On Time.

I cannot stress this enough. “On time” in this case means about 10-15 minutes before your scheduled interview time. If you’re earlier than that, it’s inconvenient for the interviewers to have you hanging out in a waiting room or office. Sometimes interviewers are running early, though, and you’ll get an edge on their good graces by being able to start a few minutes early (interviews are exhausting for interviewers, who usually have to sit through multiple interviews in a row). How do you get there precisely 10-15 minutes before the interview time? What I like to do is 1) scout the location ahead of time so I know where I’m going. You can also use Google Maps and input a different time to see what traffic is usually like at the date/time that you’ll be traveling. 2) I use the estimated amount of time and I DOUBLE it. If I have to go across a bridge or tunnel, I TRIPLE it. 3) I get to the interview early and put on an entertaining podcast while still in my car and use the time to check my makeup/hair, review my resume, etc..

2. Smile.

You’re on stage from the moment you leave your car to the moment you get back in. EVERYONE is watching you, and I have definitely seen people have lovely interviews and then lose the job because of something that happened on the way in or the way out.

3. Prepare Answers Ahead Of Time For Frequently Asked Questions.

Here are some that you’ll often get for an educational leadership position:

  • Why are you interested in this job?
  • Why do you think you’re the right person for this job?
  • Tell a time that you encountered a difficult situation with a colleague and how you handled it.
  • What do you feel are your greatest strengths? What are your greatest areas for growth? (Oh, and PLEASE do not answer that last one with a non-answer like, “I’m just too dedicated to my job.” Be honest AND positive. “I’m excited to learn more about early literacy because I have mostly taught in upper elementary. I know where the kids need to go, and I’m looking forward to learning more about how we get them there.”)
  • How do you create buy-in for a new initiative?
  • How do you establish a climate and culture of learning?

Better yet: Put the job description into ChatGPT and have it generate questions for you. Practice them with a friend or colleague.

When you’re preparing your answers, have SPECIFIC details about things that you’ve done. Do not simply answer in general. For instance, don’t just say, “Well, to establish buy-in, you want to meet with all stakeholders.” Say things like, “To establish buy-in, you need to meet with all stakeholders. For instance, when I was the summer school site coordinator, I met with each grade level of teachers beforehand to…etc..”

Additionally, you want about 7-10 “go-to” personal, educational anecdotes that you can tell off the top of your head and spin different ways based upon the specific question. These might include things like: a time you led a project, initiative, or team; a time that you failed and what you learned; a stretch project or goal and what you learned from it; difficult challenges you’ve mastered. 

4. Take Your Time Before You Answer Questions.

If they have a printed copy of the questions (which, no, you usually cannot take with you; please don’t even ask), take the time to READ the question. You have a grace period of about 10 seconds before anyone expects you to actually start talking, which seems really short but can actually encompass a lot of thinking. Interviewers would rather have you share a well-thought-out answer than ramble incoherently. You can also stall with statements like, “That’s a really great question,” or “Wow, I have so many thoughts on this one; let me think about my favorite thing to share about this.”

5. Practice The Following Formula For Answering Questions.

  • Explain a summary of what you’re about to say.
  • Give 3-4 quality details to support your summary.
  • Close with a concluding sentence.

If you get into the habit of this format, you’ll do better than if you just start saying random things. Remember, if you’re not the first interview of the day, the interviewers are often tired and may be getting antsy. Say what you need to say, say it well, and be done. For instance, “I think that early literacy is the key to a successful elementary school. As a summer school site coordinator, I helped to choose the early literacy materials by working very closely with our English curriculum supervisor. We reviewed several different programs to determine which we thought would best meet the developmental needs of our students, and finally decided to use Program X because we loved how hands-on it was and the amount of student choice it involved. Then, to help teachers understand it, we not only had a 3-hour professional development with the Scholastic trainer, but I met with all the K-2 summer school teachers ahead of time to plan as a group and practice using the various products. I conducted walkthroughs twice a week and provided feedback to teachers. We saw tremendous gains based on running records from our students in K-2. I would love to take a similar approach to early literacy in a school by working closely with teachers to ensure success.”

6. Read The Interviewers’ Body Language.

Some interviewers will be taking notes, and you won’t get much from their body language because of it. That’s okay. Continue to make eye contact with people around the room anyway. But if you notice that the interviewers are getting antsy, or the ones who were making eye contact stop doing so, it’s time to shorten your answers. Even if you prepared a 100-page portfolio (read more here about why you shouldn’t do that, though), if your interviewers’ eyes don’t light up when you mention something from it, take some time to consider whether you actually need to bring out the artifact…and please don’t insist the interviewer go through it all.

7. Have A Question To Ask That Shows You’ve Done Your Homework.

Yes, you can ask the perennial question, “When can I expect to hear about a decision for the position?” BUT, don’t start with that when they ask you what questions YOU have. Instead, treat this as your time to get to know the organization for which you’re interviewing. A great question to ask is, “What are some of the qualities that you feel are most important for this particular job?” You also get bonus points for having researched the organization. “I noticed that you’re the technology magnet school for the district. I would love to hear more about how teachers incorporate technology into their everyday teaching at this school.” OR “I’ve been following the headlines about the Academies model in your school division. What do you think has been the greatest part of the Academies implementation so far?”

8. Be Proud And Be Humble At The Same Time.

Obviously you think you’re a good fit for the job–you applied for it! Now, tell the interviewers why you think that. Yes, it’s a fine line between sharing why you’re a great fit and being boastful, but that’s why you’re sharing details rather than platitudes about your own awesomeness. Give credit to others where it’s due, and be honest about your own growth. You can share mistakes you’ve made and what you learned from them and how you’ve moved on.

9. If You’re Nervous, Think Of This As Your Big Opportunity To Geek Out About Your Educational Passions.

If you’re like me, you frequently struggle to find people who just want to geek out with you about your educational interests. (Maybe this is why I don’t get invited to more dinner parties)? To the greatest extent possible, focus on your content and your passion instead of the whole “interview” thing. Frequently when we get lost in the discussing the things we care about, it short circuits the nervousness. Just make sure you don’t start rambling or going off-topic in your excitement.

10. Be Grateful For The Opportunity To Interview…No Matter The Outcome.

Even if you don’t get the job, you’re getting invaluable experience at learning how to interview. Sometimes it’s all about the fit of the job…there may be a team that needs a particular skill-set that you don’t have. If you are gracious, knowledgeable, and amiable at your interview, you may not get that job, but they are more likely to call you back for an interview for another job…which may be perfect and you’ll knock it out of the park.

Kate Wolfe Maxlow is the Chief Creative Officer at eObservations and DCD Consulting. She has worked as: an elementary school teacher; an instructional coach; a Director of Innovation and Professional Learning; and a Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. She has a giant Great Pyrenees/Standard Poodle mix named Barkley that looks like a muppet. She can be reached at

1 thought on “Acing Your Ed Leadership Interview”

  1. Thank you for this article. I love using ChatGPT to generate a list of questions that may be asked and formulating responses using the STAR method. I’m wondering if it is still common practice, or even advisable, to send a follow-up/ thank you email after a panel interview? If so, to whom do you send it? The HR representative that initially greeted you?

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