A Principal’s Guide to Hiring School Support Staff: What to Ask and Why

How to find the yin to your yang.

Hiring school support staff for the front office can be a formidable task. Not only do these individuals keep your school running smoothly by taking care of communications, logistics, and every other detail, they are also the people you’ll be working with most closely, day in and day out. In addition, they often set the tone for your school’s reputation since they are the public-facing members of the staff. So how can you make sure you make the right hire? By asking the right questions. Not sure what to ask? Here are the interview questions you need to find the perfect addition to your school support staff. 

What you need: 

A front office culture that is warm and positive. 

What to ask:

  • You will be the face and voice of our building for so many people. Share with me what they will see and what they will hear. 
  • How would you go about familiarizing yourself with all the new procedures, programs, students, staff, families, and community members?
  • In just a few words or phrases, what do you already know about our school? (In other words, have they taken the time to learn about your school?)

What you need:

Someone who will help your school run like a well-oiled machine.

What to ask:

  • What thoughts do you have about ensuring that the front office operates as efficiently as possible?
  • This job needs someone with customer service, administrative, and some leadership skills. How do you fit the bill?
  • What is your organizational style? 
  • What are some strategies you use to keep track of detailed work?
  • Describe your style of communication

What you need:

A competent administrative professional.

What to ask:

  • Technology is an ever-changing element of the job. Tell about a time you adopted a new technology to do your job better or more efficiently. 
  • Ask the candidate to perform a common task, like create a flyer for your annual fall festival, write a welcome back to school letter, or create a staff duty template. 

What you need:

A team player—someone who is able to work in a supportive role but also function independently. 

What to ask:

  • Give an example of a time you’ve worked on a team and what your role was. 
  • What is your threshold for calling an administrator for assistance? 
  • Describe your approach to solving problems.
  • What do you expect of your supervisor? Describe your ideal working relationship with a supervisor. 
  • What leadership styles do you work with best?

What you need:

Someone who can be trusted to hold work matters in confidence. 

What to ask:

  • Tell about a time when you struggled with confidentiality on the job and how you handled it. 
  • A friendly parent is trying to get the inside scoop from you about a student, teacher, administrator, or other school support staff member. How do you respond? 
  • A couple of teachers are hanging around your desk gossiping about the paraprofessionals. What do you do?

What you need: 

The perfect fit. 

What to ask: 

  • What type of people do you love working with? 
  • Tell me about your favorite job.
  • What do you like about your current position? What do you dislike?
  • Describe one of your best work days and why. 
  • Describe a time in the workplace when you went beyond the call of duty. 
  • When it comes to your work, what are you most proud of?
  • At the end of the year, what would your colleagues say about you and your work?

What you need: 

Someone who is willing to learn and grow. 

What to ask: 

  • Mistakes are part of the learning process. Please tell us about a mistake you made, how you fixed it, and what you would do differently if you were in the same situation again. 
  • What is the toughest feedback you have received, and what/how did you learn from it?
  • We all have strengths and weaknesses. What would you say is an area of growth you that would like to focus on?

What you need: 

Grace under pressure.

What to ask: 

  • How would you handle rude or disrespectful behavior from other school support staff, students, or parents?
  • Tell me about the most difficult person you’ve ever had to deal with and how you handled the situation.
  • What would you do if your supervisor asked you to do something you considered outside the scope of your job?
  • Describe a time you felt frustrated with work demands and how you solved the issue.  

What you need: 

Someone with a cool head and prioritizing superpowers. 

What to ask:

  • At times, this job is a maelstrom. It’s important to know how to prioritize your workflow in an environment that is filled with interruptions. How would you handle multiple issues coming at you all at once?
  • Scenario #1: An angry parent, a child needing a Band-Aid, a teacher asking about payroll or attendance, and a principal wanting your attention. 
  • Scenario #2: Your phone is ringing, the front door buzzer is buzzing, a parent is standing in front of your desk looking angry, a first grader is asking you a question, and the school nurse needs a word.
  • Scenario #3: A substitute teacher is checking in and doesn’t know where to go, a new family arrives for a tour, the district needs paperwork from you stat, and the monthly school newsletter needs to be copied and distributed to students by noon. 

What you need: 

Someone who recognizes the importance of keeping staff and students safe and secure. 

What to ask: 

  • What is your philosophy regarding school security?
  • What would you do if there was someone in the building who shouldn’t be?
  • How would you handle a noncustodial parent trying to check out a child?
  • You look out the window and see a child running away from school. What do you do?
  • You have a child completely freaking out in the front office. What do you do?

What you need:

A person with an inclusive perspective.

What to ask:

  • Have you ever worked in an environment where English was not the only predominant language spoken? How would you communicate with a non-English-speaking parent?
  • How do you ensure that communications going home are written in an inclusive tone?

Finding the perfect fit for your school support staff takes time, effort, and thoughtful consideration. But the work is worth it when you find that team member who makes your life easier, better, and more enjoyable. 

What questions have you asked to help you find outstanding school support staff? Come share in our Principal Life Facebook group

Also, check out Interviewing Potential APs? We’ve Got the Questions to Ask.

Posted by Elizabeth Mulvahill

Elizabeth Mulvahill is a passionate teacher, writer and mom who loves learning new things, traveling the globe and everything Zen.

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