Author: laronstein


The screening interview, the committee interview, the central office interview and the board of education interview are the typical stages in the series of interviews that a candidate for a leadership position must face. Each of these interviews is unique by nature. The differences pertain to the goals, length, composition and number of interviewers, the substance of the questions, and the form of the interactions. The interviewing process can be perceived as a sports analogy. In basketball for instance, the first quarter strategy is often characterized as getting off to a fast offense start, during half-time the team makes adjustments to their strategy, at the end of a close game the strategy often evolves into a tight defensive game. In other words, the nature of the interviewing process evolves, and the candidate’s approach must adapt in order to continue to be successful and move on to the next phase.

One of the most frequent comments I hear from clients is, “I do well on my first interview, but seldom do I move beyond that in the process”. The reason for that is that most candidates are unprepared to make adjustments. Strategies that work early in the process such as making a good initial impression, demonstrating knowledge of the school-community, exuding self-confidence and positive energy are all approaches that make you successful at the initial phase. Demonstrating good judgement, a strong set of pedagogical knowledge and skills, and a sensitivity to understanding diverse stakeholders’ views in dealing with controversies are examples of strategies that work in the middle of the process. Finally, the ability to assure school leaders that you are a good fit in the leadership team and your ability to close the deal are essential at the end of the process.

Your skillfulness in making these adjustments is the key to your success in getting the job. Navigating this journey on a trial and error basis can turn into a long, disappointing and frustrating process. Consider the reality that you need guidance, like any other trips into unfamiliar territories. Wherever you are in the world, I’m just a phone call away. I can be your coach.



The Cover Letter

A cover letter is always required, unfortunately cover letters are seldom carefully read and there’s a good chance that it might never be read. Yet, you should develop the best one that you can. Here are guidelines and an effective template you might use.

General Guidelines:

  1. Keep the letter to one page.
  2. Carefully proofread for any mechanical errors—spelling, punctuation, grammar, word choice, capitalization, complete sentences. Have a colleague who has excellent writing skills proofread.
  3. Avoid adjectives and adverbs. Avoid flowery language (“It is with great pleasure that you kindly accept this humble letter of application for your recently posted position on OLAS for elementary school assistant principal.”) This should read: “I am applying for your assistant principal position.”
  4. After researching the school and district, identify what they need, and let them know that you represent the solutions to their needs.
  5. Emphasize your accomplishments, particularly those that are related to their school-community.
  6. Avoid presenting your job description.
  7. Address your letter to the person identified in the job posting. If a name is not identified, then address it: “To Whom It May Concern:”
  8. Make certain that you address it to the right district. You will usually send a similar form of the letter to various districts, so be careful to change the name when addressing the new letter.
  9. Use a four-paragraph format.
  10. Sign off as “Sincerely”.

Paragraph 1:

  1. “I am applying for the position of______________.”
  2. “For the last five years I have been serving as ____________ in the ____________School District.
  3. “As a result of researching your school/district, it appears that one of your priorities is _________________. One of my most significant accomplishments involved______________ which seems to be related to your priority.”
  4. “I earned my _____________________________. “(list your academic degrees, major areas of study, and the universities)
  5. Specifically indicate why you are interested in applying for this position. Why are you attracted to this job and this school-community? Be positive.

Paragraph 2:

  1. Briefly describe two or three other accomplishments that relate to this new position and/or school-community.

Paragraph 3:

        Identify three professional qualities and/or guiding principles that colleagues would use to describe you and define you, and briefly provide an example for each quality.

Paragraph 4:

     Briefly conclude with two sentences: “I look forward to meeting with you in the near future in order that I might provide you with more information regarding my candidacy. Thank you in advance for your serious consideration.”

Sign off: “Sincerely,”


Contact him:


Improvement of Job Performance:
1. How would you deal with a staff member who is either continuously late to work or excessively absent?
2. Please outline the process for evaluating teachers that you believe to be most effective.
3. Identify the essential elements of a plan for improvement for teachers whose performance is not satisfactory.
4. A teacher who has been employed by the district for many years is not performing
satisfactorily…how would you proceed?
5. A popular teacher is doing an outstanding job. How would you approach the required evaluation of this employee?
6. Describe reliable indicators of an effective classroom.
7. What have you done to assist a teacher in improving his/her areas of weakness and supporting his/her strengths?

Multi-Cultural Diversity:
1. How would you effectively promote or facilitate multicultural environment?
2. Cite specific examples where you have initiated programs and opportunities to meet the diversified needs of students.
3. How have/will you promote multi-cultural awareness and appreciation for diversity?
4. Share your experiences in meeting the needs of a culturally diverse student body.
5. What are your visions on multi-cultural education? How have/would you include this in the average operation of a school?
6. What strategies have you used to bring about unity and to increase inclusiveness in ethnically and economically diverse student populations?
7. What strategies have you utilized to increase student achievement of minority students where that has been a concern?

Exceptional Educational Needs:
1. What do you see as regular education’s core in servicing special education students?
2. What are your experiences and beliefs about fulfilling the needs of special education students?
3. What are your experiences and beliefs about fulfilling the needs of students at risk?
4. Describe your experiences in developing school programs for students with special needs.

Leadership Qualities:
1. Why would you like to be a (principal)?
2. What qualities do you consider essential for an effective (principal)?
3. Share the details of the implementation process by which you introduced an innovative practice in your current building/district.
4. What is your vision for this building/district in the next decade?
5. Describe how you prepare for and spend a typical workday.
6. What leadership attributes do you believe to be your strengths? Cite examples in which you demonstrated these qualities.
7. What are some beliefs and practices related to education administration which you absolutely will not compromise? Cite examples where you held to these beliefs and practices in the face of adversity.
8. How do you initiate/facilitate change? Cite an example.
9. Highlight the basic elements of delegation and share an example of how you typically delegate responsibilities.
10. How do you get staff members excited about new ideas/changes?
11. How do you motivate staff members?
12. What are the most important functions of an administrator in this position?
13. What are appropriate organizations/community activities for an administrator in this position?
14. If you were observed in your normal workday, what would be seen which would help to understand your leadership style?
15. What is your vision for your school/position? What special talents do you bring to facilitate this vision?
16. How have you provided educational leadership for classroom teachers?

Student Discipline:
1. What role should a principal take in regard to student discipline?
2. When is it appropriate for the principal to intervene in a student disciplinary concern?
3. Describe the process or system you believe to be most effective in addressing student discipline.
4. What techniques for managing children’s behavior have you used?


1. What type of relationship would you establish with the employees you supervise?
2. How have/would you encourage the involvement of parents and community members in the educational process?
3. How have/would you promote articulation and cooperation between departments?
4. What are the elements of effective communication?
5. What type of relationship would you like to have with students and staff? How would you develop these relationships?
6. How can cooperation and camaraderie be maintained in spite of competition for limited resources?
7. Please share a time in which you worked with parents and the community in some kind of school-community partnership. What did you do?
8. Just as the student population has become more diverse, so has the parent population. How have/would you make parents feel more a part of their child’s education and increase their level of comfort in a school setting?
9. What role have you taken as an educator and a leader in interacting with the community?
10. Describe a situation in your current position in which you had to deal with a volatile or sensitive encounter concerning a student, staff member, or parent. How was this situation resolved?


1. How have/would you utilize technology to be most effective as an administrator?
2. What new technologies and applications do you foresee for the future of education?
3. How does technology interface with education at this level?

Professional Growth and Development:

1. How have/would you insure an effective staff development program for your staff members?
2. What professional development activities have you pursued in the past year? How have you found them to be beneficial?
3. What are your main goals and aspirations for your professional career?
4. How do you determine your effectiveness as an administrator?
5. How do you balance the demands and stress of education administration with other demands and needs in your life?
6. What are your interests outside of education administration?
7. What is it about being an administrator that brings/will bring you the greatest satisfaction?

Problem Solving/Decision Making:
1. Share your beliefs/experiences with site-based decision making.
2. What areas lend themselves best to site-based decisions and what areas should not be open to a site-based decision-making process?


Laid Off, Resigned or Denied Tenure

It can be devastating to your career to be laid off, asked to resign your position, be denied tenure, or resign because you are very unhappy in your job. Potentially, these events can be career ending. Leaving a job before getting tenure is a bright red flag on your resume. During every interview, you will have to answer the question, “I see you only worked in Happy Hollow for two years. Were you asked to leave? What is the story regarding your leaving?”

Assuming that you have not been involved in any serious wrong doing, you should be assured that the situation need not be hopeless. Once you clear your mind and harness your anxiety, then focus and plan your course of action. There are effective strategies available to you. However, let’s be clear that no matter how desperate you may feel, NEVER LIE. The field of education is small throughout your region; people gossip, and information about you may be on the internet. Sooner or later, a lie will be uncovered and you will be terminated for lying. That said, here are some suggestions:

  1. Get out in front—you may have some control over the timeline. If you are told that you’ll not be getting tenure, then you’re better off resigning. But submit that letter as late as you can. Do whatever you can to get assurances that a positive letter of recommendation will be forthcoming and that good things will be said about you if someone calls for a reference check. In return, promise that you’ll submit a letter of resignation. Start applying as soon as you can. If you get interviews you can honestly say at that point in time, you have not resigned.  
  2.  What happens if you resign and you don’t have a job? You will need to answer the question why you resigned; you must do so without hesitation– you can’t appear as if you’re covering something up. Most leaders have been through their own career crises and can be very understanding. Just take a breath and briefly tell your story. Your narrative must be credible and evoke empathy. A good coach can help you craft your narrative. Your narrative is the key to getting a new job. Never say anything critical of your present or past employers or supervisors. Always make a brief positive final statement beginning with: “I’d like to leave you with a final thought”. This will leave them with a powerful last impression. I suggest you say something like: “I just want to assure you that I have never done anything that I’m ashamed of. I am an honorable, hard working and sincere person who would never do anything that would discredit or embarrass me or my employer.”
  3. What if you are laid off because of budget cuts? You will be in a strong position to get excellent letters of recommendation and references. Your supervisors will undoubtedly be sincerely sorry to cut you lose. Don’t despair. You are now an experienced candidate looking to make a parallel move. Your potential new employer will have empathy for your plight. If you have a copy of a newspaper article that verifies that your position was lost based on budget cuts, then present it at your interview as documentation. It will immediately quell any doubts.
  4. What if you can’t find a comparable job? You still have options. If you are a supervisor, you can go take a step back in your career or return to the classroom. You can seek employment at a private school or a charter school. You can seek employment opportunities in a nearby big city. You can re-locate. In exploring these opportunities, you might find that you might move up the career ladder, from assistant principal to principal for example.
  5. What if you are accused of a serious infraction? If you have committed a serious infraction, then you should probably find a new line of work. If the charges are false, then find a good lawyer. Hopefully your union will provide you with one. Do everything you can to keep the situation confidential. Stay off social media. Do not respond publicly or in the media. In the interim, you should probably try to apply elsewhere.

As a final thought, you should remind yourself that your career is a marathon and not a sprint. Going through a career crisis or transition can be growthful. You learn how to be humble and more resilient, and you’ll find out who your real friends are and how supportive they can be. Larry Aronstein is a career coach who works one-on-one with clients preparing them for interviews and perfecting their resumes. Find out about Dr. Aronstein at


  1. Don’t talk too much. Answer each question within two to two and one-half minutes. Give one good example. The panel is working within a tight schedule. Nobody likes a chatter box. If they want to hear more, they will ask you to elaborate.
  2. Answer the question. Stick to the interviewers’ questions. Stay on topic. Panelists commonly ask the same questions to every candidate in order to compare answers. Be careful about getting on a roll and going off on tangents which might result in not answering the question. Not answering the question will be noticed.
  3. Never fake an answer. If you’re asked about something that you don’t know, simply admit that you don’t know. Nobody likes a faker. You should add, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I am a quick learner, and will learn whatever I need to know in order to get the job done.” If you don’t understand the question, it’s acceptable to say that you don’t understand the question and ask if they can repeat or rephrase it.
  4. Don’t overdo It. Laughing too long and too loudly at a joke that’s not all that funny, becoming overly enthusiastic about one of your own answers, being argumentative and emphatic about a minor issue, are all examples of “over doing it.” Professionals maintain an even keel. Act like an adult. Being over-the-top just raises eye brows and generates side glances.
  5. Direct yourself to the whole table. In a group interview, you have to try to please everyone who’s sitting around the table. You can’t afford to please administrators but alienate the teachers. Seek out the middle ground and demonstrate your diplomatic skills. As you speak, slowly look at all of the panelists.
  6. Don’t misrepresent yourself. With the availability of Google, Facebook, and on-line newspapers, it is pretty easy to check out your background. Stretching the truth or misrepresenting yourself and being found out is fatal. The regional educational community is a small circle. You will be checked out.
  7. Say calm. Don’t expect that every answer will be a homerun. Try not to get rattled if you think your answer to a question is weak. As the song says, “Just keep on keepin’ on!”  Interviewers are people too. They know that you’re nervous, and they are forgiving. They will recognize it if you redeem yourself by giving a strong response to the next question.
  8. Act like a guest. I’ve witnessed candidates come into the room and move their table and chair to be closer to the panel. I’ve encountered several candidates who became insistent about setting up a PowerPoint presentation, even after they were told not to do so. Most commonly, there are candidates who drone on and on, despite being told, “Thank you. Now, let’s go on to the next question.” You’re not throwing the party. Act like a guest.
  9. Be respectful. No matter how disrespected or provoked you might feel, always remain respectful. As a candidate, I have sat out in a waiting room for up to an hour and a half. I have been asked to do a writing sample, even though I’ve been published dozens of times and written a doctoral dissertation. A questioner has even criticized my current employer. Through it all, hold your tongue, smile, and be polite. Don’t be combative.
  10. Leave your baggage home. Question: “What do you expect from us in order for you to be successful?” The best response would be to say, “I work best as a member of a mutually supportive team.” Unfortunately, I’ve actually had candidates say, “My last boss was verbally abusive, I could not work under those conditions.” Another response was, “I need to have flexibility. As a parent, I must be home by 4:30, and, by the way, I can’t attend evening functions.” Don’t put up obstacles, and don’t present yourself as someone who may be difficult to deal with.

The best advice that anyone can give you is to just be yourself, let them know who you are and what you stand for, speak from the heart, be professional, and be appropriate.

Dr. Aronstein provides one-on-one coaching which prepares you for interviews, and helps you prepare your resume. Find out more– www. or email:



I’ll be finishing up on my work as the Interim Superintendent of North Babylon Schools on March 3rd (very proud of my leadership team for what we’ve accomplished over the last 6 months). Laurie and I will be traveling for the 2nd and 3rd weeks in March. My new and expanded book “GETTING YOUR SCHOOL LEADERSHIP JOB” will be published in the Spring. And I will continue coaching educators, as I have been doing for the last 12 years. LIFE IS GOOD!!

Understanding the Politics and Power of School Leadership

We all know that local education is fueled by politics and the use of power, but we seldom talk about power publicly. To understand the dynamics of politics and power is to be empowered. What goes to the heart of these dynamics are: (1) the more power that’s exercised, the weaker it becomes; (2) the most potent form of power is perceived power; (3) the most outspoken critics  are imposters; and (4) the real power resides with the students and their parents. Let us analyze these dynamics.

More Is Less. Mr. Smith threatens his students that if they continue to misbehave, he will send them to the office. Johnny steps over the line and is sent to the office. A lesson in power, right?  Not so fast. Thirty minutes later, Johnny returns with a smirk on his face. Then Mary acts out and she’s sent to the office. She returns in 20 minutes. Okay, Mr. Smith, what’s happening to your authority? Lessons learneddo not make threats that you cannot uphold; and the more you exercise your power, the more it will be tested and the faster it will erode.

Perceived Power. If you are perceived to hold power, then you have power. If your constituents believe that you can get things done, and that you can influence other powerful players, then that perception gives you power. Proportionately, the greater and more widespread the perception, the greater the power is. Be careful. If you exercise that power and you are ineffective, the power dissipates and erodes exponentially. Therefore, use your influence prudently—do not over-reach.

Imposters. An angry parent calls you regarding a routine and justifiable policy change you have just made. After failing to convince you of the unreasonableness of your action, the parent threatens to call your supervisor, get the PTA involved, and call all of his friends and storm the next Board of Education meeting if you do not immediately cave in. It sounds like you are really drawing fire from a powerful person. Remember that you cannot reason with an unreasonable person, but you can disagree agreeably. Now, I am not an advocate of poking anyone in the eye, hanging up the phone, or telling him where to go. Never exacerbate an already bad situation by being rude, because you will be accused of unprofessional behavior which will then become the issue. However, do not cower to a bully. Most decent people have been bullied, know bullies when they see them, and do not like bullies. My advice is to say, “Well, I see we disagree. Of course, it’s your prerogative to do what you please. Would you like the phone number of my supervisor?” Offering a phone number signals that you are not intimidated. Then get a quick message to your supervisor and the President of the PTA to explain why they may be getting a call. Remember: whoever gets the message out first usually is in a stronger position. Let the bully do his thing. He ultimately will not get the power he is craving.

The Real Power. Many years ago, a veteran principal gave me one of the best advice I ever got. He said, “Take good care of the kids. If the kids like you, they’ll go home and tell their parents how wonderful you are, and then the parents will like you. If the kids and the parents like you, then nobody can harm you.”

Dr. Aronstein is a job coach who helps aspiring and new school leaders prepare for job interviews, and prepare their resumes and cover letters. Get his new e-book: You can contact him at


I have been coaching school leaders and aspiring leaders in preparation for their interviews for more than 12 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 Bachelorette 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.”

What Does Career Coaching Involve?

Have you thought about being coached to improve your resume and your performance during an interview and what it entailed? As a successful coach of 100’s and 100’s of educators for over ten years, let me give you a brief overview of my approach: (1) review of your resume and cover letter; (2) free 10 minute telephone in-take conversation; (3) schedule and conduct virtual one-hour, one-on-one coaching sessions depending on client’s needs. The following is a brief summary of what takes place:

1. Review of Your Resume (no charge)         

2. 10-minute In-Take Conversation (no charge)

   a. What position(s) are you seeking?

   b. How long have you been applying for jobs? How many jobs have you applied for?

   c. How many first-round interviews have you had? Second-round? Beyond second-round?

   d. What do you think the problem might be in not moving on in the process?

   e. Provide information regarding fee; scheduling; brief feedback on resume; answer additional questions

3. Coaching Sessions (clients determine their needs and how many sessions they want)

  • Review and revise resume and cover letter; how to prepare for an interview; and begin analyzing and crafting response to “Tell Us About Yourself”
  • Send my attachment: “My 20 Favorite Interview Questions”
  • Finalize and practice response to “Tell Us About Yourself”; strategize answers to 10 to 20 of the most frequently asked questions.
  • Analyze what your future supervisor is really looking for.
  • Mutually create your narrative that emphasizes your strengths and neutralizes any potential weakness.
  • Do mock interviews and get constructive feedback.
  • Learn strategies and tactics on “how to close the deal” and negotiate salary.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, EMAIL:  or call 516-423-0240.



Assume that you are a well-qualified applicant who is applying for a mid-level leadership position and are 1 out of a total of 150 applicants. Assume that there are at least 15 other candidates who are equally qualified. Why do you need to be well prepared for a job search? What must you know and do so you don’t sound like the rest of the candidates? Consider the following:

  1. Do you know how to strategically organize and design a resume that gets the reviewers’ attention?
  2. Do you know how to differentiate yourself in your response to the inevitable question, “Tell us about yourself”?
  3. Do you know the best order in which to be interviewed and how to get that “post position”?
  4. Do you know when to stop talking in response to a question?
  5. Do you know how to read the “body language” of the interviewers?
  6. Do you know what questions to ask at the conclusion of your interview?
  7. Do you know how to frame a final statement at the conclusion of an interview?
  8. Do you know how to present yourself as someone who is likeable and a good fit?
  9. Do you know how to adjust your interviewing approach as you move from screening to committee to leadership to Board interviews?
  10. Do you know how to “close the deal” if you are a finalist”?
  11. Do you know how to negotiate the best deal for yourself if you’re offered the job?
  12. Do you how to make a good impression during your first 100 days?

There are many other things that you must know in order to be a highly competitive candidate. I have coached 100’s of my clients get their dream jobs. Let me help you, too.