Month: April 2022

Blueprint for Answering Interview Questions

It is your final interview. Three Central Office Administrators are questioning you. “Do you have questions for us?” the Superintendent asks.

“Yes, what do you see as some of the greatest instructional challenges that the district has that I, if I’m lucky enough to get this job, would be expected to address?”

The Superintendent nods at the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. She responds to your question. “As you know, we have three elementary schools. Each of the schools has four or five classes at each grade level. What we have found is that despite our K-12 science and social studies directors having provided several teacher trainings that emphasize an inquiry approach to teaching in these content areas, there is little evidence that our teachers are demonstrating effective inquiry-based instructional strategies. Most of our teachers are pretty experienced and seem satisfied with the way things are. By the time the kids get to middle school, their content knowledge and skills are all over the place.”

The candidate silently reflects for a short moment, and responds, “What I’m hearing you say is that there is a need for greater teachers’ abilities to stimulate critical thinking and framing open ended questions that challenge students’ to tap into prior knowledge and identify evidence that justifies their answers. I encountered a somewhat similar situation in my experience. What I learned from these experiences was that the attempt to fix the problem could in some cases make things worse, but that there are approaches that work. This problem has obviously existed for quite a while. What I anticipate is that there are no easy quick fixes. It requires a well-planned and coordinated comprehensive approach that includes a comprehensive approach to professional development, feedback, demonstration lessons”.

The interviewers lean in and encourage the candidate to elaborate on how the problem was solved. The candidate briefly provides an overview of the context, the key steps and an analysis as to the advantages and disadvantages of alternative strategies. The interviewee then sums up his/her “lessons learned” from the case he/she described.

What is the “blueprint” for being a successful interviewee?

1. Find out what the interviewers perceive as their needs.

2. Paraphrase that need to demonstrate your understanding of it and, if needed, to get further clarification.

3. Concisely describe the context of a similar problem (i.e., situation, need) that you encountered, and briefly tell your story of what was done and what your role was.

4. Outline alternative strategies that were considered and briefly analyze the advantages and disadvantages of each strategy.

5. Summarize the key lessons learned, and the guiding principles that were the basis of how you solve problems and make decisions.

As an interviewee, effectively and spontaneously applying this blueprint is quite challenging. However, being aware that there is a blueprint and preparing yourself by practicing this process, is the best way to prepare yourself. A good coach can hone your ability to effectively respond to these questions. Your skillfulness in answering challenging questions will impress the interviewers and can seal the job for you.

Dr. Larry Aronstein is an experienced career coach who assists school leaders and aspiring leaders through the interview process.     www.larryaronstein.com

CONGRATULATIONS, YOU GOT THE JOB, NOW WHAT?

After going through an exhausting job search process, finally you have been appointed to your new leadership position and are starting the job. Of course, you want to be successful. Although you would never admit it, you are feeling insecure. You haven’t formed trusting relationships, you don’t know all of the aspects of your new role, you are trying to figure out the culture of the school-community, you don’t want to over-step your authority and offend anyone, and perhaps most importantly, you don’t know the internal politics. Most of your peers seem to be welcoming, and your staff appears to be friendly, but cautious and a bit uncomfortable around you. Of course, you want to make a good initial impression, but you need to figure out the social, political, and professional norms and expectations.

The best advice is to be cautious, go slow and steady, ask questions, be friendly, and pick “low lying fruit”, that is, easily accomplished goals which can be quickly achieved. However, you recognize that you are the “new kid in the class” and feel as if all eyes are on you, that you are being judged, and talked about. Most of your colleagues have been friendly and offered their assistance. Still, be careful about forming alliances and with whom you confide. Remember that your priority is to please your direct supervisor(s) and gain his/her confidence.

The trickiest job is figuring out the politics, that is who is allied with whom. On the surface it probably looks like one happy family. As you develop a clearer picture, you may find there may be bad histories among the cast of characters. There may be power conflicts, favoritism, grudges, and jealousies among and between colleagues. Therefore, you must be alert to behaviors and subtle signs that form a pattern as to the nature of the internal politics, and then you must figure out how to negotiate and navigate the politics.

I am an experienced, resourceful external mentor. For over forty years, I served as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent. As my client, I only have your interests at heart. I will help you analyze and sort out a clearer picture of your landscape, give you candid sound advice, and map out effective strategies. All of this will be done in the strictest of confidence

WINNING RESUMES

The job of your resume is to get you interviews. If you’re a well qualified candidate and you aren’t getting interviews, or if your rate of getting interviews is low, let’s say lower than 33%, 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 accomplishments, 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 Out-dated 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 4-6; 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. www.larryaronstein.com

COMMITTEE INTERVIEWS: A BALANCING ACT

Usually as a second step in the interviewing process, be prepared to encounter a 30-minute committee interview in which eight to ten interviewers are seated around the table. It’s important to grasp which stakeholders each member is representing. Usually participants will introduce themselves and tell you: “Jane Smith, President of the PTA,” for example. If their roles are not evident and they seem friendly, it’s okay to ask, “And what is your role?”

I suggest that you quickly sketch the shape of the table on the pad that you carry in. As the panelists introduce themselves, jot down their stakeholder groups. As the panelists take their turn in asking their question, glance at your notes. Knowing their roles will give you a lot better context as to the implication of the question. However, be aware that your answer must satisfy all stakeholders. Your answer is not limited only to the questioner. You must know your audience(s).

A parent who is serving on a panel asks, “Assume that a parent calls you and complains about how her child’s teacher is criticizing her child in the presence of the other children. Her child is very upset by this, and the parent wants his class changed. How would you deal with this situation?” As you look around the table, ask yourself how do the various stakeholders want you to respond. My guess is that the parents want you to be a good listener and take the request seriously. They expect that you will investigate the situation and get back to the parent promptly. The teachers prefer that you’ll be reluctant to change the child’s class, and that you will be supportive of the teacher. The school administrators will be focused on your diplomacy as to how you will neither alienate the parent nor the teacher, and the process you will use in investigating the situation. Finally, the central office leaders will be attentive to how you will avoid escalating the situation.

You must use caution and diplomacy in your answers so as not to sound hostile to one stakeholder group in deference to another group of stakeholders, which might have an opposing view on the same issue. The ability to do this balancing act requires the recognition that you are performing to all stakeholder groups, and that your response will be reasoned and acceptable to all. This requires coaching and practice. In a real sense, this balancing act is what successful leaders do every day.