Interviewing: Scenarios and Role Playing

Role playing with a candidate during an interview has become a more frequently used exercise. Usually, a more senior member of the interviewing committee will pose a scenario with a common problem. The intention of this approach is to determine the candidate’s judgment and ability to think on his or her feet. Role playing requires at about five minutes of interaction. A role play scenario may appear to be simple and routine. However, like most real life situations, it has nuance. Typical scenarios might take the form of how to handle a fight between students, a complaint about a teacher from a parent, or a rumor about a dangerous situation. As the candidate talks through the first steps, the interviewer might introduce additional information.

Role playing is designed to reveal the critical qualities of (1) the ability to investigate and analyze a situation, (2) judgment, (3) resourcefulness, (4) creativity, (5) the ability to de-escalate a situation, (6) the ability to utilize resources and resource people, (7) communication skills, and (8) follow up. The skillfulness of the candidate to demonstrate these qualities can often be a make or break moment in the interview.

Here is a scenario that I’ve often used when interviewing teachers:

Norberto, a student who is known to be a little restless but has not been a discipline problem, while working on an independent assignment, walks over to the waste paper basket to throw away a piece of paper. From your peripheral line of vision, you think you see him hold up his middle finger in your direction. Several students who are seated near him begin to laugh. You have Norberto step outside the classroom and confront him with what you saw. To which, he seems shocked and denies that he did anything except throw away a piece of paper. What would you do?

I suggest that the interviewee might respond this way: “I believe I saw Norberto’s finger from the corner of my eye, but it did happen quickly; so I might not be 100% certain about what I saw. This behavior, in my experience, is out of character for this child. I cannot pursue this conversation at this time with my class inside the classroom door. While I might feel a offended, there is no emergency, and I believe I can, at this point in time, handle the situation by myself. I have some free time later in the day. I’d have a private one-on-one conversation with Norberto. I would also independently ask the three students who laughed what they saw and why they were laughing. I also need to be mindful of the importance of speaking with Norbert’s parents to inform them that I was investigating regarding what I believe I observed, and that I’d be back to them as soon as I concluded my investigation.  Being new to the school, I would also speak with Norberto’s guidance counselor to find out if Norberto has any history of exhibiting this kind of behavior. Finally, I would let the assistant principal know what I was doing and perhaps get additional direction.”

The interviewer interrupts, “Let’s say that the three kids independently report that Norberto looked at them and made a funny face, and they laughed.” I would still ask each of the students, “Did you see what Norberto did with his hands?” If they answered, “No”, I’d conclude there’s no evidence that Norberto flipped his finger at me. I’d believe that the students’ laughter incited me and it distorted my observation. The interviewer presses on, “What would you do as a follow-up?”  I would meet with Norberto and tell him that I misunderstood the situation and apologize to him. I would call his parents and review my conclusions and apologize for causing them any anxiety. I would also review my findings with the guidance counselor and the assistant principal.

I believe that the candidate’s response demonstrated that the he or she: thoroughly investigated the case; deferred on jumping to conclusions until there was more information; did not over-react as to the urgency of the situation; conferred with colleagues to gain context and get advice; acted sensitively by letting the parents know what was happening; and, was professional by offering apologies for the misunderstanding and the anxiety they may have felt.

Dr. Aronstein provides coaching for interview and resume preparation. Contact him at He is the author of “YOU’RE HIRED: THE INSIDE SECRETS TO LANDING YOUR SCHOOL LEADERSHIP JOB” and “YOU’RE HIRED: INSIDE SECRETS TO LANDING YOUR TEACHING JOB”. FIND ON AMAZON.


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