How Getting a Screening Interview Really Works
How is your resume screened? What is the screener looking for? How many make it through to the interviewing committee? How does the interviewing committee make decisions? Be aware that each district customizes their process; however, the variations are usually minor. So, how does it really work?
When you apply for a position, be prepared to wait. Don’t be a pest and call the personnel office to inquire about your status. They are busy people who are filling many different positions and dealing with other issues. My experience is that about 10% of the applicants are unqualified because they don’t meet the minimum qualifications with regard to certification, education and experience. My practice was to have the clerks in the personnel office print out the letters and resumes of all qualified candidates and send them to the direct supervisor for further screening. Let’s assume there are 100 candidates left in the pile. The plan is to have a screening committee interview about 15 to 18 candidates.
So, how do they get from 100 to 15 using the paper work? If it takes just two minutes to review each candidate’s papers, that’s 160 minutes. I’m sorry to say that papers usually will get less than two minutes. The reviewer is a busy person. Therefore, the reviewer will generally quickly scan the resumes. Typos and grammatical errors get tossed out. A frequent error is getting a letter addressed to another district’s administrator. These kinds of errors connote that you are sloppy and make mistakes. That aside, how does the paper screener use those two minutes? His or her goal is to sort the total pile of resumes into three piles. Pile A will contain the “must see”, B “maybe”, and C are of “no further interest”. Those in the A group are: (1) seeking a “good” parallel move; (2) people who hold degrees from outstanding universities; (3) holding a doctorate; (4) qualified internal candidates or courtesy interviews; and (5) unique and/or interesting candidates. The B pile is created in case they can’t get 15 to 18 into the A pile and then get a second look. The C pile is composed of inexperienced people with little in the way of accomplishments, folks with poor reputations, the “perennial” candidate, and those who have unexplained and suspicious gaps on their resumes. A “good” parallel move is when you have earned tenure in your present position, are seeking to move into a better district that often pays more, or the move represents a significantly shorter commute.
Outstanding universities, in my opinion, are the Ivy League schools or those fine schools with which we are familiar. In the New York area, graduate degrees from Columbia Teachers’ College, NYU and Fordham are the most coveted. Under-graduate degrees from fine colleges are also appealing on resumes. I always counsel aspiring leaders who are serious about their careers in leadership to earn the doctorate from a prestigious university. It’s an investment in yourself that will get you into that A pile, and will save you years of disappointment as you apply for positions that result in coming up empty. Yes, the tuition is expensive and you might have to commute longer distances, but in the long run, the investment will pay off.
Unique and/or interesting candidates are people who have been successful in: the business and corporate world; the non-profit sector; the world of entrepreneurs; the military. When qualified, these candidates, depending on their accomplishments, are often worthy of a good look. Finally, courtesy interviews are given to those who “have friends in high places” (Board members, recommendations from friends of upper level administrators). A courtesy interviewee is generally only guaranteed a screening interview. Then they are on their own; meaning that they must compete fairly with everyone else.
The screening interview usually takes 15 to 20 minutes. If it lasts longer, then that’s a good sign—it shows interest. Smile, shake hands, be friendly. The screening committee will likely consist of two or three people. If you’re interviewing for an assistant principal position, you will probably meet the principal, an assistant principal, perhaps the director of human resources, and/or a teacher. Be aware that the screening interview is essentially a “beauty contest”. By this I mean, it’s designed to see if you’re a “regular person” (not quirky, odd in some way, or inappropriate), well spoken, professional, intelligent, easy to engage, respectful, and seemingly a good fit for the community. They usually start by asking: “Tell us about yourself”.
Be prepared to answer what I call resume questions. “You’ve been an assistant principal at the ABC School for four years, why do you want to leave now?” “I understand that your school recently hired a new principal, were you a candidate for that position?” “I see you were a dean for two years and then you went back to the classroom. Can you explain this?” They may also ask, what I call, process or “how would you” questions: “Given the teacher evaluation regulations, walk us through how you would observe a teacher who is not in your area of teacher certification?” Limit your answers to more than two minutes. If they want more, they’ll ask.
They usually wrap up the interview with the moderator saying, “We’re speaking to a number of folks. Hopefully, we’ll be back to you within the next couple of weeks. Do you have any questions for us at this time?” Now remember, they are under strict time constraints. They are being polite. They really don’t want to answer a lot of questions. It’s time to thank them for the opportunity, indicate that you look forward to seeing them again, and leave them with an upbeat thought.
Then, the screening committee’s goal is to reduce the number of candidates to a reasonable number, let’s say 6 to 8. At the completion of all interviews, a good moderator might ask committee members, “Can we reach agreement on who we can eliminate?” Given the discussions between each interview, they usually can quickly get down to 9 or 10 remaining candidates. Ultimately, they screen it down to 6 to 8, and their job is done. The next step is the semi-finalists going on to the larger interviewing committee.
It’s time to wait it out and hope for the best. If you’re rejected and the moderator appeared to be sincerely approachable, you might want to write a short email thanking them for their efforts, and asking if it would be okay to schedule a brief telephone conversation to get constructive feedback. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t hear back, but if you do, you will get valuable feedback for self-reflection.