Getting the Job Is Like Becoming a Chess Master

Recently, a suburban school district posted an ad for an assistant principal. The district attracted more than 200 applicants, met with 18 for a screening interview, and then had a hiring committee interview 6 semi-finalists. At about the same time, the Kentucky Derby had 19 horses “Run for the Roses.” Those horses had the benefit of the best trainers in the world to prepare them. Trying to get a leadership job is very much like a horse race.

How much of an investment does a serious candidate make in getting certified as a leader? There are application fees, tuition, books, commuting costs and time. That can easily add up to more than $15,000. Does investing a tiny fraction of that for a book, a seminar or a coach make sense to you?

Being a well-prepared competitive candidate is the difference between playing a good game of checkers and being a fine chess player. A good coach will prepare you. A coach can help you hone your resume and cover letter; present yourself with self-confidence; tell a compelling story about why you are the right match for the job; anticipate and prepare impressive and unique responses to interviewers’ questions; strategize your narrative; and how to read body language. Yes, coaching does work. Those who receive coaching and mentoring do so confidentially.

Most universities provide some assistance for preparing your resume and letter and giving you interview tips. However, the right educational coach has walked the walk. He or she has a diverse and well-positioned network of former clients and colleagues; knows the schools and districts, and the inside stories of what they need and want. You will be guided on how to fashion your approach to the special needs and wants of the specific school and district. People who play horses get lots of tips—some good, some shaky. Practically everyone gets, and oftentimes uses, tips on how to invest, restaurants to dine, and places to shop. A tip, of course, is only an opinion. Most of us have been disappointed with tips. But good preparation goes far beyond informal “tips.” Good preparation often requires a good coach who teaches you actionable strategies based on thoughtful analysis of tried and tested practices in getting school leadership jobs.

A good coach or mentor gives you feedback on your interviews, and assists you in closing the deal and negotiating your contract. The difference between a coach and a mentor is that coaches are experienced professionals, while mentors are well-intentioned friends and colleagues whose experiences and insights may be limited. Like any good service, you should not expect coaching to come free of charge; however the cost of coaching is much more modest than you think. Getting a good leadership job is a lifetime gain that requires a modest short-term investment. But remember: the best investment you can ever make is in yourself. All of these “investments” increase your chances of winning that position. In some respects, it is a game of probability. All things being equal, my experience has taught me that the best prepared candidate has the best chance of landing that job.

         If you are serious about your future as a leader, then getting job coaching is a great investment. If you are not getting interviews, consider seeking feedback on your resume from someone who has done hiring. The purpose of your resume and cover letter is to get you an interview. If you happen to be getting interviews but are not moving along to the next step in the process, then you need help in interviewing strategies.

        You should feel comfortable in relating to a coach and sharing your life story, your strengths and self-perceived insecurities. A good coach will help you craft your message, teach you strategies, help build your self-confidence, give you model responses, role-play both sides of the table with you, and offer honest and constructive feedback. Coaching is, pure and simple, a vital critical investment you can make in yourself.

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