Help! I’m a New Principal and I Need Interviewing Advice

Finding the right fit is crucial.

candidate interviewing for a job

When it comes to a principal’s job, hiring staff members can be one of the trickiest tasks. Recently a brand new principal wrote in with this question: “Hi I need to hire a middle school assistant principal right away. I’ve only been in my job since June. What qualities should I look for? Questions to ask? Any other advice? I’ll take whatever you have!” We reached out to some veteran administrators to see if they had any interview advice for principals, and this is what they had to say.  

Have a clear priority list

Everyone has their own wish list for the perfect employee. What you’re looking for may be drastically different than what a principal in a different building needs. The key to a successful hire is determining what is critical for your students.

Karmen F.L. tells us, “I would first decide what my priorities and focus are for the position. When I hired my A.P., I was looking for someone who had experience with leading PLC’s and had a background in math and science. I wanted someone who was collaborative, but would take initiative and could be trusted to complete tasks in a timely manner.”

Fawn N. shares her wish list, “I would look for someone willing to learn, take risks, and has best interests of students always in mind.”

Look for someone who will complement your style

Maybe you’re a big-picture person who has vision and grand plans. It would be a good idea to find a counterpart that is strong on detail and implementation.

Jennifer G.S. recommends asking yourself, “Are there areas that are not your strong points? Discipline, special education, organization, etc.?  Finding someone strong in an area that you are not as comfortable can be a great asset.”

But make sure you have enough common ground to make a good team

You want to complement each other, but you also want to be able to work together cohesively.  Make sure your work styles aren’t on totally opposite ends of the spectrum.

Maria F.H. cautions,  “I sure would have a conversation about work styles. One who plans working with one who flies by the seat of their pants…. they could be a good balance for each other, but it could be really tough to mesh those styles.”

Get insight on how current the candidate is

An important part of being a strong leader is staying current with research and policies that affect education.

L’Rae W. values having a lifelong learner on her staff and shares, “When I interview, I always ask the candidate what educational article or book they have read most recently and what they learned from it. It tells me a lot, especially when they say they haven’t read anything lately.”

Get more than one set of eyes on the prospect

Even when you’re giving all of your attention in an interview, your view of the candidate will be skewed toward your personal belief system. It’s always a good idea, and only fair to the person interviewing, to have people you trust in on the process with you as they may see different sides and strengths of a candidate.  

Harleen M. shares the process her team uses,  “Try to check out if the candidate is a team player and can work collaboratively. We have an informal round in the cafeteria called “the cafe test” wherein different people interact with the candidate in an informal setting and share their opinions later.”

Make sure the candidate will be a good fit for your teachers

You may find a candidate who looks picture perfect on paper, but if they don’t mesh with your teachers and staff, it will be a step backward in building a strong school. Their vote of confidence can make or break the transition.

Suzanne T. suggests, “Talk to some of your teachers regarding what they would like to see in a new assistant principal. Sometimes their answers can tell you a lot about either what they valued in their last one or what they hope to see in the new one!”

Paul L. agrees,  “Always ask candidates a question about how they would deal with a teacher who is struggling in the classroom ((i.e. Special Education, Assessment & Evaluation) and see what steps he or she would take to journey with this teacher.”

Interviewing can be a stressful situation, but with careful planning and a clear vision of what you’re really looking for, it can lead to a great partnership and a fresh start for your whole community.

Elizabeth Mulvahill

Posted by Elizabeth Mulvahill

Elizabeth Mulvahill is a Writer/ Editor for WeAreTeachers and a certified Elementary Teacher.