Month: January 2022

HOW TO ANSWER KILLER INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

I have been coaching school leaders and aspiring leaders in preparation for their interviews for more than ten years. My clients frequently ask me how to answer questions that they struggle with. Here’s a sampling of a few of those questions, my strategies as to how to answer, and my suggested answers:

1. “What would your direct supervisor say about you if I called her?” (You think you might not get a positive recommendation from her/him)

Analysis: You can’t criticize your supervisor, and you can’t say that she/he might say something negative about you. What you can do is to speak to your boss; let her/him know that a reference call might be coming; and ask for a positive recommendation that emphasizes the positive things that you’ve done. You might even consider making a list of a few of your accomplishments. Most supervisors are not out to destroy your career. Who knows, this might be seen by your boss as an opportunity for you to leave, and motivate her/him to give you a positive recommendation?

Answer: “I think she will say that I have great relationships with our students and their parents, that I’m always well prepared, and that I’m always willing to give extra time and attention to assist my students.”

2. “If you get this position, how long do you plan on staying in it?”

Analysis: You probably don’t know how long you’ll stay or how things will work out. Your new supervisors probably don’t want to go through additional transitions in the short run. However, you won’t be credible if you say you’ll stay for the remainder of your career. Employers seek leaders who are honest. Your answer needs to offer a reasonable rationale that supports your response.

Answer: “Assuming that things will work out well, I think five to seven years would make sense. The literature says that it takes at least five years to implement and sustain structural improvements. I’m committed to see my work through to positive outcomes.”

3. “You’re a certified school leader with very little leadership experience, why should we hire you over more experienced candidates?”

Analysis: Your aim is to present yourself as a self-confident, “can do” person who will grow on the job. Your selling points are your accomplishments as a teacher, your potential and willingness to embrace being mentored and molded into the culture of your new school and district, and your raw undeveloped talent and energy.

Answer: “I may not be your most experienced candidate, but I can assure you that no one will be more eager to grow and learn, and work harder than I. I believe my colleagues will tell you that I’m a teacher leader who has played leading roles in some of our most important school improvements. My resume outlines some of these projects. Let me add that as a high school and college athlete I was often chosen as team captain. I’ve been told that I’m a “natural born leader.”

4. “I see on your resume that you live more than an hour away. Is that going to be a problem?”

Analysis: Never hesitate to “shoot down” any obstacle that might diminish your value. You should provide evidence that any of their concerns have been overcome or resolved in the past. Employers want to be assured.

Answer: “I take full responsibility for my attendance and timeliness. Although my present place of work is 15 miles less of a commute, my time in traffic commuting here would be about the same. It is fair to say that I’m never late and usually one of the first people to arrive. It’s not a problem.”

5. “As an experienced school leader, tell us about a failure you experienced, and more importantly, what lesson did you learn from it?”

Analysis: This is similar to the often-asked question, “What is your greatest weakness?” The worst answer is, “I really can’t think of one”. Being humble and self-reflective are very desirable characteristics. The example you provide should be designed to resonate with the interviewers’ experiences and evoke their empathy.

Answer: “As an inexperienced leader years ago, I made decisions based on gut feelings. What I’ve learned over the years was to put more trust in evaluating the evidence and results; to slow down… to listen to people I trust and respect even when they have divergent opinions. I’ve learned what I call, “watch the movie”. In other words, listen, suspend judgement, slow down, and decide on what is in the best interests of my students. The example that comes to mind was when I was a superintendent. I had a strong desire to initiate an International Baccalaureate Program. As we debated the merits of the program, I became more inclined to start the program. However, I encountered some strong opposition from a segment in the community and from the teachers’ union. My gut told me that it would be divisive, and I backed away from moving ahead. I regret not listening to my leadership team who advised me of the merits of the program for our students.”

Larry Aronstein provides career coaching. Check him out at http://www.larryaronstein.com

MY 20 MOST FAVORITE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

  1. Tell us about yourself. Make your resume come alive.
  2. Why do you want to become a leader?
  3. What do you know about our school/district? Why do you want to work here?
  4. Describe your “footprint” that you leave in your current position and why you believe it will be sustained.
  5. Why would teachers want to follow you as a leader?
  6. How would you deal with a veteran teacher who is not receptive to your recommendations?
  7. How would you go about determining what your priorities should be in your new position?
  8. What role and what aspects should remote learning play once the pandemic is over?
  9. Assuming that the pandemic has caused many students to fall behind in their academic progress, what would you propose to attempt to accelerate their progress?
  10. What are most important things you look for when doing a classroom visit?
  11. Much has been said about equity in schools. What does “equity” mean to you? What have you done to bring about equity? What should schools do?
  12. What expertise do you bring to your staff in enhancing student learning through the use of technology?
  13. How would you go about assisting a teacher who is having difficulty with classroom management/student discipline?
  14. How do you know (what evidence do you seek) that students are learning the concepts and skills that are being taught?
  15. What are the most productive ways of doing staff development so that teachers can enhance their teaching repertoire?
  16. How would you go about leading a committee or a professional learning community?
  17. Assume that an unpopular policy has been made and many parents are unhappy about its implementation, how would you deal with a room full of angry parents at a PTA meeting?
  18. If you interviewed candidates for a teacher vacancy, what question would you ask them?
  19. Tell me about a student who you helped that might have changed that child’s life.
  20. How would you deal with a parent who is dissatisfied with how a teacher is conducting his/her class? Assume that the parent has already spoken to the teacher.
  21. Tell me something about yourself that is not on your resume that will help me better understand the essence of who you are and what motivates you.

Resumes and Cover Letters that Get You Interviews

The job of your resume is to get you interviews. If you’re a fairly well qualified candidate and you aren’t getting interviews, or if your rate of getting interviews is low, let’s say lower than 40%, then your resume is probably your problem. Well qualified candidates should be getting interviews at least fifty percent of the time that you send them off. If you aren’t getting this kind of action, then you need to revise your resume.

The people who screen resumes are busy. They often receive hundreds of resumes for a single job posting. It may take experienced screeners only 30 to 45 seconds to review a resume. Therefore, you must immediately catch and hold their attention. Developing your resume requires a strategy.

The most common mistakes that candidates make in preparing their resume are that they follow out-dated rules. You should not: (1) limit your resume to one page; (2) start the resume with an objective; and (3) follow a strict order of categories (education, certification, professional experience…). No, no, no. Another mistake is when your resume reads like a job description. The reader already knows what a teacher or an assistant principal does. Instead, your resume and cover letter need to clearly describe your accomplishments. What special experiences, skills and knowledge do you possess that will make you uniquely qualified to do this specific job, in this specific school-community?

Most job seekers struggle to identify their most significant accomplishments. Your greatest accomplishments may not be directly related to your professional experiences. Accomplishments may also define your true character or speak to a skill set or knowledge base that few candidates possess. A good career coach can stimulate your thinking and help you define yourself. I often advise my clients to add a category to their resume that might be labelled interests and activities. I recall, as an example, a candidate who was seeking a leadership position who served as a chief of his local volunteer fire department. He supervised and trained scores of fire fighters.

Here are some additional cautions and suggestions. Never fictionalize or inflate your credentials or accomplishments. Have your paperwork reviewed by a well informed and respected mentor, colleague or coach, and get objective feedback. Oftentimes, you are too close to your own resume to be objective. Your resume is a work in progress. Continuously revise it depending on feedback, the uniqueness of the position for which you are applying, and the results you are getting as measured by how many interviews you are getting.

Here are a few of my guidelines for writing resumes that get action:

1. Less is More—stick to the point

2. Accomplishments; Not Job Description

3. Lead with Your Strengths (list them near the top—catch attention)

4. Ignore Most Rules (omit objective; determine your own sequence of categories and timeline; keep format simple)

5. Start Bullet Statements with Action Verbs (past tense)

6. Emphasize Accomplishments that Match Job Posting –make them the top bullets

7. Omit Irrelevant Activities and Experiences for the Position

8. Interests & Activities Can Capture Attention– acting, kickboxing, interesting hobbies, unique travel experiences, fluent speaker of foreign languages

9. Tailor for Different Demographics (urban, affluent or blue-collar community, small town, rural)

10. Set Maximum Number of Bullets– current position 8-10; prior 3-6; before that 2-3

11. Sweat the Mechanics– spelling, subject-verb agreement, capitalization and punctuation; grammar; word selection; consistent format; readable font size

12. Cover Letter– 3-4 paragraphs– always required but seldom read

13. References upon Request

14. Get Authoritative Feedback—friends and family are well-meaning but often lead you astray

15. Never Confuse or Mislead the Reader– clear timeline; short and simple sentences

16. Never Lie or exaggerate

17. TELL YOUR STORY

Dr. Aronstein provides one-on-one coaching for leaders and aspiring leaders. Register for his virtual 90-minute workshop: https://www.mylearningplan.com/WebReg/ActivityProfile.asp?D=10056&I=3959241