TEN LESSONS LEARNED AFTER 10 YEARS OF COACHING SCHOOL LEADERSHIP CANDIDATES

Over the last 10 years, I have coached more than 500 candidates seeking school leadership jobs. Most of my work has focused on revising resumes and preparing for job interviews. Once my clients get their new positions, they sometimes reach out to me to get advice on the next step in their careers or how to deal with problems they might be facing in their new job. Looking back and reflecting on my experiences as a coach, I decided to share my “takeaways”, lessons learned, that might help candidates be more effective.

  1. GET INPUT ON YOUR RESUME AND INTERVIEWING STRATEGIES—your resume is a work in progress. Advice you get will be well-intentioned, however, the field of public education is unique. You need to get guidance from an experienced educator who has reviewed countless resumes and interviewed 1,000’s of candidates. Don’t waste years of job searching trying to figure it out by yourself.
  2. CRAFT YOUR NARRATIVE—the first question you will probably be asked is: “Tell us about yourself”. In response, most all candidates review their work and educational experiences. After listening to a series of 15 to 20 candidates, interviewers grow weary –begins to sound the same. They’ve already reviewed your resume. So, craft and tell your story. They are dying to find a compelling candidate.
  3. BE AUTHENTIC—your story must be coherent, credible, and relatable. Be real. Present yourself as someone who shares their school-community’s values, and will easily fit in. Tell a short story about a success you had. Mention your own experiences growing up. Talk about your family.
  4. STICK TO 2 MINUTE RULE—most candidates talk too much. They repeat themselves. They go off on tangents and don’t answer the question. Discipline yourself to limit your responses to two minutes. If the interviewers want to hear more, they will ask you to elaborate.
  5. QUANTIFY ACCOMPLISHMENTS—speak to your accomplishments, not your job description. Wherever possible, quantify the accomplishment. “The result of switching to the new approach to literacy, our school-wide achievement went up by 12% over three years”.
  6. BE INFORMED BY PREVIOUS QUESTIONS—take note of the topics of questioning as you go to the next rounds of interviewing. It is reasonable to anticipate that you will be asked similar questions in future rounds. It’s an opportunity to fine tune your answers.
  7. OFFER INSIGHTS INTO THEIR PROBLEMS—do your homework in researching what’s going on in the school and the district. Find out what kind of problems they are facing. Prepare answers that will address their problems.
  8. BE AWARE OF STEREOTYPING—unfortunately, we in education tend to stereotype educational work experiences. There is a strong tendency on the part of decision makers to take a negative view of school settings that are different from their own. For instance, leaders in affluent suburban districts are dismissive of candidates from big cities, parochial and private schools, charter schools, vocational and special needs schools. This practice is not limited to suburban schools; the opposite is valid as well.
  9. STEER CLEAR OF CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES & DISAGREEMENTS—interviewers can be confrontational, and questions concerning controversial social issues can be asked. Avoid taking the bait. Try to remain neutral.
  10. GET OBJECTIVE FEEDBACK—the need to get objective and candid feedback from an experienced coach cannot be over-stated. Every interview is a learning experience. You don’t have to be in it alone.

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