Trials of a First-Year Principal: The Interview

Andrey Popov -

By Christopher Bailey, Ed.D.
September 2020, Volume 44, Issue 1

As an assistant principal, you love the work you do, but you know you are ready to become a campus principal. You’ve been preparing for it for years. All of your time and effort finally pays off when you get that call inviting you to interview for the principal position.

For my current position as campus principal, that phone call came the Friday before spring break. As it turns out, the weeks following spring break were soon to become the genesis of a new era of learning thrust upon us due to the coronavirus pandemic. As we were all figuring out how to operate in this ever-changing landscape, my first-round interview became a virtual interview. Take it from me, a virtual interview can be every bit as intimidating as a face-to-face interview.

Here are some tips to set yourself up for success for a virtual interview:

  • Set your stage. Use the highest quality camera you have available and position it in a way that allows your face to shine bright without creating shadows. Think about what your background says about you.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Ask a trusted colleague to record a trial run. Then, watch the video with the audio off. Is your body language distracting? If so, practice to avoid distracting body language that might take away from the substance of your words.
  • Use notes. Take advantage of the virtual environment by laying out some notes that will keep you on message about what you want the committee to know about you.

Every interview opportunity is different, even within the same school district. Therefore, it is important to prepare in a way that will allow you to be flexible to the environment so that you give the best impression. You have only a few minutes to show the committee that you are the right person for the job.

Interview Prep

Whether or not you are asked to write a transition plan for the position, this can be a great tool to prepare for the interview and the subsequent work should you be offered the job. A transition plan should highlight your knowledge of the campus and district, as well as be an insight into your organizational identity.

My transition plan consisted of three phases:

  1. Pre-entry (you got the job but might be finishing your previous position). Listen to stakeholders to develop a deeper understanding of the current learning ecosystem.
  2. Transition (handing over the baton). Continue to listen and learn from stakeholders while analyzing data to begin shaping the instructional and operational focus for the upcoming school year.
  3. Entry (you are in the seat). As you continue to listen, learn, and analyze, you begin to implement the plan to begin the school year.

This plan will change as you learn more about the position, but this is a perfect opportunity for you to create a document for your new position that highlights the attention to detail that you will have as principal and instructional leader. While your words might fade quickly after the interview for the committee, your written words will be an artifact that the committee can return to when it is making their final decision.

Be Yourself

Nothing is more important than an authentic interview where the committee learns about who you are. Even if you are interviewing in a school district that you have worked in for many years, do not assume that your interview committee knows the quality of your work as you answer each question.

Follow these tips to be your authentic self during an interview:

  • Be specific and thorough in your answers and think about how it connects to the work already happening within the school district;
  • Answer questions from the perspective of the principal and highlight the specific work that you have done that relates directly to the principalship; and
  • Demonstrate the power of vulnerability by taking time to think after a question is asked or saying “I don’t know the answer to that, but this is how I would learn.”

Remember that you are interviewing everyday through the quality of work that you do in your current role. Authenticity is vital to future success in the position you are seeking. Whether you are offered the job or not, use the opportunity to reflect on your work and how you might better support students and staff.

Feel free to reach out via Twitter (@stixbailey) if I can support you in preparing for the interview process. I would be honored to conduct a mock interview, share my transition plan as an example, or have a deeper conversation about the interview process with you.

Spoiler alert: I got the job! Next month, I get to share how the fun of principalship began.

Christopher Bailey, Ed.D., is principal of Clack Middle School in the Abilene Independent School District in Texas. Connect with him on Twitter at @stixbailey.