If you were to ask ten different hiring administrators their best advice on preparing for an interview, you'd probably get ten different answers. It reminds me a little bit of anytime I'm on the golf course and somebody tries to tell me "all the things" I need to do to improve my golf swing!
I don't know about you, but it's easier for me to think about a few key things before I take a swing at something. It's much more difficult for me to remember 10 different pointers from well-intentioned friends (or that one friend who wants to fix my golf game by changing everything about my swing). LOL
Before we get too far into the weeds on my golf game, let's just say, interviewing can be exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time...no matter what side of the table you're sitting on.
I recently had the chance to be part of an NAESP webinar supporting aspiring administrators. The format for the webinar was pretty cool, in that before we dissected specific interview questions, we discussed broader categories each question fit into. The goal was to help aspiring principals connect to their experiences without getting tunnel-vision on specific questions or canned answers. After the webinar I jotted down a couple reflections and wanted to share those.
Here are 2 Things to Bring to Your Next Interview (and 1 Thing to Leave at Home):
1. Bring a sense of purpose and your authentic self (these go hand-in-hand)
Long before your interview, it helps to reflect on why you're currently doing whatever it is you're doing, as well as why you want to serve in whatever capacity you're interviewing for. Think about your "why" in terms of your own training and life experiences, but also how those things intersect and support the vision of the organization you're applying for.
Interview panels don't always ask your "why" as a stand-alone question, so you should be prepared to weave your calling into several different questions (including the first question you're asked). And if you only communicate your purpose and "why" in the one question where you're asked about them, you'll definitely want to keep reading.
2. Bring your beliefs, but don't forget the stories and results
Nearly every candidate I've ever interviewed, regardless of position, has mentioned that relationships and/or communication is important. This is a widely-held belief (and one that I can't argue with). However, I can probably count on one hand the number of times a candidate has started by sharing a succinct and compelling belief, connected that belief to a story, and then highlighted the result they achieved based on their role in a situation.
Sharing your beliefs in an interview can be a conversation starter, but telling others the intentional steps you've already taken to help realize meaningful change can be a deal-sealer. I suggest you reflect upon 7-10 stories that show your authentic beliefs while also revealing progress you and your team made together as a result. Have those 7-10 stories ready and use your discernment on when to share one or more of them.
Lastly, be sure to leave the excuses and apologies at home.
In my experience, most candidates are all-too-familiar with their shortcomings and why they may not be as qualified as another applicant. Unfortunately, they sometimes lead with these thoughts when responding to questions. This may sound like, "I know I don't have any leadership experience yet..." or "I know I've never been a principal before, but..." I think it's reasonable to assume the hiring team is familiar with your resume and doesn't need you to apologize for it. In fact, I've found most hiring teams are actually looking for reasons to actually hire you. Go figure!
Instead of assuming you don't have valuable leadership experience, think about the times your compassion, decision-making, conflict-resolution skills, and servant heart were put to the test. Talk about those times. Share your beliefs and let them flow in the form of a story that made a difference to somebody. (This should sound familiar...unless you skipped #2 above.) Own your influence and give yourself and others grace...because that's exactly what many of the hiring teams I've had the chance to serve on are interested in.
If this blog post resonated, you might like my newest book, Reclaiming Our Calling: Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education. The book tackles a tension many educators are feeling using a combination of stories and practical strategies. If you’re interested in technology integration, Renegade Leadership: Creating Innovative Schools for Digital-Age Students is a best-seller with Corwin Press. Both books are built on the belief that everything we do in education starts with relationships and connectedness.