Interview Principal Essay

A few weeks ago, some fellow administrators and I presented to an awesome group of teachers who are preparing to become school admins. A great follow-up question was: “What kinds of questions can I expect in an interview for assistant principal or principal position?”

I can speak from my own experience, but I will also share a resource at the end of this post and would love your input!

First of all, a little history…or the story of 6 interviews:

Interview 1
Although I have participated in over a hundred interviews to hire teachers and staff over the past ten years, I have been interviewed for administrator openings only six times. Three of those resulted in offers I filled–two as assistant principal (two different sites) and one as principal (current position). So the best examples I have for aspiring principals are the thirty questions I will share below from those interviews.

When I interviewed for my first assistant principal position in 2004, it was for a high school with 1,400 students. I would be joining a team of two other assistants to work with a site principal. A committee did my interview for that position. It consisted of two assistant superintendents, a director, a principal from another site and the principal of the site with the opening.

I do not remember every specific of the interview, but the questions were generally as follows:
1. Give us some background information and take a moment to introduce yourself.
2. How would you describe your leadership style?
3. What are some ways you have dealt with challenges, and how did you find solutions?
4. How would you describe your classroom management style?
5. What advice would you give to a new teacher on his or her first year?
6. What advice would you give to a veteran teacher in need of improvement?
7. What steps would you take if you dealing with a student discipline incident?
8. Give some examples of how you have communicated with parents of challenging students.
9. What would be your ideal school environment, and how would you encourage that kind of culture?
10. What questions do you have for us about this position?

This committee interview was followed by a one-to-one interview with the district superintendent. She had reviewed the feedback from the committee and asked follow-up questions–these were mostly about my vision for school leadership and specifics about the school where I would be serving.

Interview 2
In 2006 I was recruited to a similar position at another school. Even though the move was “lateral” in terms of title, I was eager to be joining a leadership team led by a site principal I had taught under years before when she had been an assistant principal. My interview for that position was informal. In fact, I took a day off from work to tour the school and decide if it was a good fit for where I wanted to move. I accepted the offer and became assistant principal there for the next seven years.

In 2011, after I was named Oklahoma assistant principal of the year, I continued serving as an assistant principal but also began looking for opportunities to move into a site principal position. During the next two years, I interviewed for three different openings at schools—none of them resulted in offers. The experience, however, was good practice for the opportunity that would open up for me in 2013.

Interviews 3 and 4
Two of the interviews I had for principal openings (neither resulted in offers) were done again by committee. This committee was large: it included a superintendent, personnel director, two assistant superintendents, a site principal, two teachers, and one parent. After making it through round one with the large committee, I had a follow-up with just the admin team.

Here are examples of the questions I was asked during those interviews (with each person posing at least one question):
11. Please introduce yourself, tell us about your background in education and what interested you in applying for this opening.
12. Data is a large part of determining student and teacher success. Explain your involvement in professional learning communities and how you have used data to promote student achievement.
13. We are community growing in diversity. Explain how you would reach out to people from various demographics to ensure all students and community members are included in learning.
14. What is your philosophy of teaching? What advice would you offer teachers whom you are supervising?
15. Principal positions require intense time-management. Please give examples of how you organize your day to meet the various demands and commitments required as a school principal.
16. Conflict-resolution and communication are important parts of school leadership. Can you give examples of how you have successfully managed difficult situations at school?
18. What is your philosophy of leadership? How would you lead a school-wide initiative expected for an entire district?
19. What questions, clarifications, or concerns do you have for us?

Interview 5
The third principal opening I interviewed for but did not receive was at a smaller district where only two individuals met with me. Their questions included many of the ones above with others more specific to the school site:
20. How would you implement a one-to-one technology initiative at the high school level?
21. Describe a time you began a new program at your school. What steps did you follow to make this successful?
22. How do you build a positive school culture or climate? Give examples of how you would do that here.
23. Describe the way you interact with stakeholders in the community?
24. How do you handle relationships with direct supervisors even when you may not always agree?
25. How do you recruit and maintain quality teachers and staff members?

Interview 6
In 2012-2013, my site principal announced her retirement. When I interviewed for what would become my current position, I had two separate committee interviews. The questions were much more specific since I had been at my site as assistant principal for the past seven years.

I don’t want to share any questions that would be more confidential about my site; however, some examples of general questions included:
26. Please share priorities for a three-year site improvement. What specific goals, actions, and outcomes would you propose?
27. Give examples of your supervision, evaluation, and accountability standards in managing highly effective teachers and staff members.
28. How would you transition from assistant principal to principal in your present site while establishing new goals that match your own personality and priorities?
29. Why do you want this position? What motivates you to want to be a site principal?
30. Explain how you would build positive relationships with leaders across sites while working together for district-wide goals.

I could add more, but the above 30 questions are a good snap-shot of the kinds of questions I have been asked.

More Resources
Probably the best, exhaustive resource for dozens more examples of questions for principal openings can be found at Michael Smith’s Principal’s Page. The original link is hard to find, so I have made an easy download link here.

Just knowing questions ahead of time won’t necessarily prepare you for every scenario. As I explain 10 Tips On Interviewing For Education Positions, if you don’t know an answer, be honest and say so. Pause and think before answering. Don’t rush. It is much easier to have a meaningful conversation when you stay true to what you believe and practice. Be honest about where you need more understanding or growth.

Now It’s Your Turn
What are other questions you have encountered in interviews or have asked when interviewing for school leader openings? Share with the rest of us!

Principal Matters–The Book!

School leaders are very busy, so each of the twenty-four chapters is designed as a quick-read and followed with take-action questions for follow-up or reflection. If you want practical ideas on understanding your purpose, managing school teams, dealing with challenges, and leading with courage, action, motivation, and teamwork, go HERE to pick up a copy for you or your team.

Posted originally at Copyright 2015 by William D. Parker, Connect through Twitter with handle @williamdp or at Also check out Will’s Principal Matters Podcast or his Speaking Page.


Preparing for the school administrator job interview questions you will be asked is probably the most overlooked phase of securing a new principal or any other education leadership position.

Everyone thinks it is easy until they enter an interview room in front of a panel of educators who are judging every move and every word.

Then, reality sinks in!

The panel might include the superintendent of the school district, school principals, teachers, and parents, making it critical to address your answers to all involved. The more you prepare for an education job interview, the better your odds will be of securing a job offer.

If you took the time to write an achievement based, skill-focused educational leadership resume with accomplishments, it would assist you to ace the school administration job interview.

Sample school administrator job interview questions and possible answers

Get prepared for your next educational leadership job interview.

1. Why do you want to move into school administration?

Be a: Principal? Vice Principal? University/College Administrator? Assistant Superintendent?

If you have not already, mention your love for children and your wish to make a greater impact on their education by becoming an administrator.  This question also addresses the job for which you are applying.  Create at least two reasons why you are anxious to get the job.

For example, if you want a vice principal’s position, perhaps it’s because you enjoy interacting with students while dealing with discipline and helping students become more successful in school. You are a visionary and have the ability and desire to see the big picture or a school community and get excited when you know your decisions will be instrumental in the academic and social growth of students and teachers.

You can further state you would be in a position to motivate and make sure no one gives up on the students. If you are interested in becoming a university/college administrator, perhaps it’s because you enjoy finance, program planning, public relations, student retention, and maximizing resources.

2. Why do you want to leave your current position?

Interviewers want to find out why you are moving on from your past position. If you were fired or let go from your previous school, you shouldn’t lie about this. A background check will easily find you out, so you need, to tell the truth from the start. If you were fired as the result of a school closing, downsizing, or layoffs, explain this and tell them that you were not fired for your mistakes or poor performance. If you were fired due to a more serious issue like breaking a school policy, not meeting your teaching goals, or due to not getting along with your principal, tell the interviewers why you were asked to leave but try to paint it in as positive a light as possible. Don’t elaborate.

If you left of your own accord, be direct in your answer and focus your answer on the future, especially if leaving wasn’t under the best circumstances. Regardless of why you left, don’t speak badly about your previous employer. If you do, this may cause the interviewer may wonder if you will bad-mouth his district/school next time you’re looking for work.

Although it’s paramount, to tell the truth, you need to use some tact when it comes to describing any negativity in your past position. If you tell your interviewer that your last employer was terrible, that they didn’t pay you enough, the hours were awful, and you hated the job this will leave a negative impression.

Some other ways that you can phrase your interview response to this question include:

  • There isn’t room for growth with my current school, and I’m ready to move on to a new challenge.
  • I’m looking for a bigger challenge and advancing my career. I couldn’t job hunt part-time while working. It didn’t seem ethical to use my former school’s time.
  • I’m relocating to this area due to family circumstances and left my previous position to focus on moving.
  • After several years in my last position, I’m looking for a school where I can contribute and grow in a team-oriented environment.
  • I am interested in a new challenge and an opportunity to use my technical skills and experience in a different capacity than I have in the past.
  • I recently received my administrative degree, and I want to utilize my educational background in my next position.
  • I am interested in a job with more responsibility, and I am very ready for a new challenge.

3. What are your professional goals for the next 5-10 years?

Be prepared to outline, briefly, your goals for the next five to ten years.  Include your educational goals that will develop your skills, as well as your job goals.  Don’t seem too anxious to move into other jobs.  State that you intend to stay in the job for which you are being hired for at least five years.  (Quick principal turnover is not considered to be good for schools.)

Never mention your plans to move to another area or take time off to have a child. This is also a great time to list some of your professional goals for the school you are applying for. State that you’d like to have the school renowned for its testing scores, its graduation rates improved, its technology increased, or its student retention increased. Showing that you have specific goals for the school will put you in the forefront as a serious administrative candidate.

4. Tell us a story about yourself.

Whatever story you decide to tell in this situation, make sure that it has some relevance to the world of your professional endeavors. The tale you tell should demonstrate, or refer to, one or more of your key behavioral profiles in action – perhaps honesty, integrity, being a team player, or determination. If you choose “team player” (maybe you’re the star player on your intermural basketball team), you can tell a story about yourself outside of work that also speaks volumes about you at work.

In part, your answer should make the connection between the two, such as, “I put my heart into everything I do, whether it be sports or work. I find that getting along with teammates, or professional peers make life more enjoyable and productive.”

The best way to answer this question is to tell a story that reveals something about your character and experience. A great story to tell about this situation is how you got started in education. What made you want to be a teacher? What made you want to transition into administration? You can use an unusual educational situation in which you have been involved and describe it briefly.

It could be a time when you showed your humorous side and improved the school community morale, climate, culture, and spirit. Make sure it makes you look good!  Explain how you were motivated to become a school administrator.

5. What is your philosophy of education?

This is a question you must think about carefully before interviewing.  It is a good idea to write out your philosophy of administration and leadership.  Bring the document with you to the interview to refer to if appropriate.  You should include:

  • A brief statement of why you became an educator.
  • Mentors you have had and what they taught you.
  • A statement about the purpose and importance of a good education in a student’s life.
  • The nature of the learning environment in a school, for example, challenging, enjoyable, safe, open, and supportive.
  • Your preferred administrative (leadership) style.
  • Ways in which you communicate with staff members, parents, and students.
  • Your beliefs on discipline.
  • How you will provide an excellent role model for students.
  • Ways in which you would like to improve education.
  • How your school will meet students’ individual needs.
  • The values you want students to learn including responsibility, good citizenship, hard work, caring, conflict resolution, excellent people skills, and honesty.
  • How you want to be remembered by students, parents, teachers, and others.
  • Your ultimate goal as an educational leader.

Here is an example of a response:

“My philosophy of education is a statement of my views and beliefs about education.  I became an educator because I want to improve the lives of children and the education process.  Education is vital to a student’s future success in life.  I believe a school should be intellectually challenging, motivating, safe, and supportive of students regardless of their needs.  I am a visionary, supportive leader who will maintain an open door policy.  I believe in firm, but fair discipline.  I will be an excellent role model because I am honest, hard-working, responsible, and caring.  I would like to improve instruction, and ultimately test scores, by implementing a school-wide ESL program and research-based instructional techniques.  My goal is to do the best job I possibly can as a school administrator.”

6. Why should we hire you over all the other applicants who have similar educational backgrounds and experience?

This is a difficult question as you cannot rely on your education and experience to sell yourself.  What hiring panels are looking for when they ask this question is whatever you feel is most important to share with them.  They’re looking for candidates who avoid canned responses.  They are seeking to learn how you see yourself and what you value about yourself.

You should focus on your best qualities, such as your work ethic: Did you work your way through college? Or were you the first in your family to earn a university degree?; your background in other areas: finance, fund-raising, charity work, adult education, training student teachers, ability to speak a second language, grant writing; maybe you have a license in special education, and so forth.  Interviewers like to hear about your tenacity or “stick to it” attitude even when things get difficult.

Interviewers also want to hear about responsibility, integrity, kindness and a love for children, as well as a desire to make a difference in their lives.  But don’t just focus on your love for children.  That is not enough to set you apart from the other candidates.  The panel wants to detect a sense of professionalism and wants to hear what is in your heart.  Make sure you express a real passion for improving education and helping students maximize their potential.

If there is a compelling reason, the hiring panel should hire you, make sure you mention during and at the end of the interview. Take a minute or two to tell why your unique selling feature will benefit the school district.  Perhaps in your last position, you and your staff raised test scores a significant amount or turned around a school with student gangs.

It would also not be inappropriate to read a short recommendation from an upper-level administrator.  But whatever you do, don’t ever answer this question by saying, “I don’t know.”

7. Who has most influenced you to become an educator/administrator, and how did they influence you?

Try to make your response to this question as personal and as sincere as possible. Maybe you will need to spend some time thinking to figure out the real answer to this issue. The panel wants to know your motivation for entering into the education sector and if there was anyone that influenced you and how you discovered your passion.

Mention one or two university professors, other educators, or family members who have positively impacted you and tell how they did it. Maybe you had a special teacher growing up that made you want to become a teacher. If none come to mind, consider mentioning the mentor/coach who guided you through student (intern) teaching or your current principal. You could further say as you read and learned more about education and learning your interest in becoming an educator continued to grow.

8. Describe the best teacher, parent, and student you know. 

One or more teachers have positively influenced most of us in our educational career. We get into education because some teacher made a profound difference in our lives. Let the interviewer know about the best teacher you know, what makes them great and how they have influenced your education beliefs. This is the time to be passionate, sincere, and complimentary.  Make sure the interviewer knows precisely how you’ve been influenced and precisely how you will affect others.

The same method will work when describing the best parent you know. What characteristics does this parent have? What makes them so great? He/she is probably very involved in their child’s life, incredibly supportive and encouraging, and provides a very structured environment. This parent will no doubt also be actively involved in their child’s academic lives, be participating in school activities, volunteering in the classroom, and staying up-to-date with school work and their child’s progress.

Finally, you will need to describe the best student you know. This student will probably represent the very reasons why you wanted to enter education in the first place. He/she is likely to be enthusiastic and eager to learn, is cooperative and helpful with other learners, is social and friendly, respects the rules and the learning environment, and puts forth a strong effort in their education.

9. What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

This question offers a prime opportunity to differentiate yourself by presenting a vivid description of your life outside of work. Schools are interested in balanced, likable applicants. Your professional life is only part of an interrelated whole. Schools expect you to demonstrate the same level of dedication and passion in outside activities as you do in administration. They are also well aware that many of the best work-related ideas occur when people are not at work, so what you do out of the school has a measurable impact on what you can do on the job. Besides, funny, offbeat, interesting people make work and school more exciting and often are better at out-of-the-box thinking. Communicate feelings of passion, commitment, and devotion. Wherever possible, demonstrate the leadership abilities you have developed in these activities.

To answer this question, make a brief statement about your interests and hobbies. If you have a family, mention that you enjoy spending time with them.  Do not mention parties, drinking, or other pastimes that will give a poor impression of you. Reading and sporting activities are also good to mention.

10. What is your most significant achievement in education?

Choose your most significant achievement in education and briefly, describe what you did, what skills you used, and how you did it.  Consider mentioning: implementing curricular changes, establishing a school-wide discipline program, creating a tutoring program, earning a Ph.D., helping raise test scores, implementing an anti-gang or anti-drug program, creating a program for second language learners, writing a book, or creating a program for music or the arts.

Dedicate time to prepare for any potential school administrator job interview questions in advance.

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Don’t get caught off-guard.

If you are having a difficult time narrowing down your achievements to just one, try to pick one that you are most proud of or one that deals with an issue that is important to the school you are applying for. For instance, if the school you are interviewing with is struggling with bullying, it would be great to mention your experience with introducing successful anti-bullying campaigns.

To discover your accomplishment, answer these questions: What was the challenge? What was the action and skills you used? What was the result of your actions?

For example:

  • Boosted high-risk students’ academic and social success through coordinating with 150 special education educators in implementing 2500 IEPs to appropriately modify instruction, services, and expectations for students referred for special education placement.

    Identifying your greatest strengths to a critical exercise to help you answer the school administrator job interview questions you will be asked. 

Know them inside and out, choose educational leadership strengths that are RELEVANT and most VITAL to success in the position you wish to secure.

After you identify these strengths, be prepared to back up your core competencies with evidence, such as real stories or examples to prove you have that strength.

As you know, preparing for your next education leadership job interview is critical to a receiving a job offer. Review 142 additional school administrator job interview questions.

Check out this exceptional resource: A+ Principal Interview Edge eBook.

You can find our principal interview eBook here, along with our other education-related eBooks and resources to help you with your job search.


We also have the A+ Teachers’ Interview Edge – 152 teacher job interview and answers. Instant download.


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