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Assistant Principal Interview Questions and Tips

career steps assistant principal interview questions

Getting the Admin Interview

Congratulations is in order! You’ve made the life-changing decision to become a school administrator. Depending on your region, the position may be titled Assistant Principal, Vice Principal, Associate Head of Schools, or Student Services. You are ready to take on more challenges and to improve schools on a larger scale. Welcome to school administration! These tips and strategies are here to help you take your dream and make it a reality. With Assistant Principal interview questions and step-by-step ideas to prepare and land the job, this guide will help you perform at your best.

Prepare for the Interview

Your Application

Many Assistant Principal jobs receive dozens if not hundreds of applications. The job application is the first, vital step to landing an Assistant Principal job. Every detail matters. Take your time, proofread, and submit your very best work on your application. For example, ensure that you use proper grammar, complete every detail on the application, and pay specific attention to putting your best foot forward in this initial step.

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Letters of Recommendation

It’s important to ensure that every letter of recommendation is tailored to a school leadership role. For example, don’t submit letters of recommendation that are meant to get you a teaching job. Be sure that the letters speak to your abilities as an instructional leader. Now, this could take some work. You may need to call your old references and ask them for an updated version of your letter. I’ve served as a reference for countless teacher leaders and am always willing to update an address and change a few words ~ even from someone with whom I worked many years ago.

As a principal, I’m also always looking for a letter of recommendation from an applicant’s most recent supervisor. Now, there may be excellent reasons why someone doesn’t include a letter invitation from a current supervisor; however, a missing reference can cause a Hiring Committee to wonder, “Why not?” It may not prevent you from getting an interview, but it may put a question in the Hiring Committee’s mind. Therefore, if you can get a current supervisor’s reference or letter of recommendation, I highly encourage it.

Research the School and District

We know that leaders who are ready for their first administrator job are often applying to many schools. It’s good practice, however, to not look like that’s the case. When a candidate interviews for a leadership position at my school, I’m always wondering, “Why do they want to work here? What is it about our school that drew them to apply? Are they just ready to lead anywhere? Or do they have an invested passion in our school and community?” Even if you are just looking for your first leadership role (which most of us are!), invest time and do research about the school to which you are applying.

Questions to research include:

  • How has the school fared on its state Report Card?

  • What are the school's values? Mission, vision, mascot, colors, legacy?

  • Who are the key players: Principal, other administrators, head secretary (the real boss!)?

  • How large is the school population – students, staff, custodians, secretaries?

  • What does the school’s website reveal about their passion, pride, and programs?

  • How does the school fit in the broader school district?

  • From where does the school draw its student population?

  • What is the school’s motto, colors, and themes?

  • What does a web search reveal about the school? (ex. News articles, awards, celebrations) Googling a school can uncover videos, so you can see the principal talking, hear from students and teachers, and get a better idea of what they value.

Know the Interview Format

In preparation for your interview, it’s likely that a secretary or the principal will send you a few details. Read these very carefully. Interviews are never meant to be a “gotcha,” but a way to get to know candidates and find the best one for the job. Listen carefully when you get the interview invitation call, ask clarifying questions, and take notes. Pay close attention to details such as how long your interview will last (as noted on your schedule) and what tasks are included. This will help you prepare and feel relaxed knowing what to expect of the assistant principal interview process.

Many interviews consist of some variation of the following: Panel interview, student and/or parent interview, performance task, coaching a teacher based on a lesson, a school data review, or a tour. Long gone are the days of simply a panel interview; plan to have the group look at you in multiple settings so they capture a well-rounded picture of you as a school leader.

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The Morning of Your Assistant Principal Interview

Dressing for the Job Interview

Do not be fooled: an Assistant Principal interview is no less formal than a Principal interview. In fact, my Director of Schools (#2 in the district) sits on all Assistant Principal interview committees because we’re actually hiring for a future principal! Therefore it’s imperative that you dress for the biggest job in the school.

Whenever possible, wear school colors. Ladies ~ this doesn’t mean dressing head-to-toe in orange and blue; you could wear a necklace, earrings, or some element that has a school color. Gentlemen ~ wearing a tie with the school’s most prominent color is always a smooth move. Perhaps it’s a bias of mine, but I always notice the colors candidates wear. Committee members notice, too. We talk about it during the deliberations, not as a major topic but as “a nice touch.” When Assistant Principal candidates don’t wear school colors, it is a missed opportunity to show that they want to join our school community.

Staying Calm

Everyone is nervous for a job interview. Whether you are a master interviewer or someone who dreads the pressure, committees understand this and often overlook the small initial nerves. It’s important, however, as you prepare for your interview that you identify tricks that work for you. Here are some of mine:

  • Eat breakfast with protein – sugary foods eventually make people sleepy and yawny; eating protein-rich breakfast like eggs or sausage helps stabilize energy for the long haul.

  • Pack snacks – again, protein! The interview process is often multi-stepped and lengthy. Snacks help stabilize energy throughout the day.

  • Bring water – When I am in high-anxiety situation, I always sip water. It gives me something to do, and buys me a few extra seconds to consider a question. It’s likely that the committee will provide you with a bottle, but don’t bank on it. Pack a bottle of water so you can use those extra seconds to think, refresh, and be human.

  • Recite an empowering mantra – At every stage of the interview process, from exiting my car to shaking hands with the committee at the end, I think one word to myself: CONFIDENCE. I think it over and over again as my nerves start to creep up. It just works for me. Now, you may choose another mantra, but it’s essential to direct your nervous energy to one of empowerment and focus.

  • If you don’t know an answer, take your time to process – I’ve witnessed many candidates miss a great opportunity to nail a question because they rush. They want to look like they have all the answers. Assistant principals don’t need to have all the answers; they need to show they’re thoughtful, calculated, and experienced. If you get a hard question, slow down and really think about it. The committee will view your reflectiveness positively!

  • Notice your nervous behaviors – Are you a knee bouncer? Pen clicker? "Um" sayer? Trembler? Think ahead to how you might appear to the Hiring Committee, and how to appear less nervous. Pen clicking, for example, is a huge pet peeve for many people but it’s common to do when you’re nervous. In this instance, make a plan to only pack non-clicking pens. Knowing your nervous tendencies can help you avoid being that candidate.

Arrive Early

It’s important to time your arrival just right for this interview. For my first Assistant Principal interview (which, by the way, I got the job), I hadn’t been to the school for several years. It was in a neighboring community, so I wasn’t confident in how to get there. In preparation for my interview, I visited the school in the days leading up so I was crystal clear on directions. I made note of the main entrance and where to find Visitor’s Parking. This small road trip helped me feel less nervous on Interview Day because I had a visual idea of my trip, how long it would take me to arrive, and where to go when I did arrive.

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Arriving 20 minutes early is perfect; much sooner and you’ll see some scrambling looks as the school realizes their first candidate is actually here. If you arrive any later, you’ll miss the opportunity to calm yourself down in the waiting room, or to visit the restroom to gather your nerves.

They’re ALL on the Committee

Assume that everyone you meet on Interview Day is on the Hiring Committee. Do not assume that the interview starts when you enter the Conference Room! For example, we ask our front office secretary and our Main Office student helpers to take notes on the candidates all day. The secretary is the last to provide the Hiring Committee with feedback at the end of the day. She typically shares what students thought, whether or not the candidates were solely on their phones, if/how they engaged with students and other candidates, whether or not they engaged with her, and their overall demeanor. You are “on” from the moment you park your car until the moment you drive away. And everyone is in on the hiring process!

What to Bring to your Assistant Principal Interview

It’s important to put some thought into those things that will help you feel comfortable and prepared during the interview. Some items I bring include: a clean, professional notepad and my favorite pen, a professional looking water bottle, a highlighter, snacks and gum for between bites, and personal care items that help you feel your best. For me, that’s ChapStick.

Power Down Your Phone

Unless you really need your phone because you are working or need your attention split, it is a great practice to power down your phone before the interview and not turn it on until you are finished. Phones are so tempting to look at! As I mentioned above, people are watching how you engage with people. Therefore, remove the temptation to calm your nerves with your phone and instead, focus your energy on building relationships. After all, this may be your first day on the job! Yes – I’ve seen candidates whose phones have rang or buzzed during interviews. It. Is. Awkward. Don’t just silence them; truly power them down.

Be Ready to Ask Questions During Your Interview

Without exception, the last question you will get during an interview is “What questions do you have for us?” Always bring questions to the interview. A smooth move is to base your question on something you found while researching the school. For example, if you see that the school’s motto is “Be Stellar,” ask about the origins of this or how it is promoted throughout the school. This may seem like sucking up to the committee; it’s not. It communicates that you’ve done your research and took time to prepare for this opportunity.

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When the Hiring Committee asks if you have any questions, there may be a temptation to placate them and say, “Nothing! You answered them all for me!” Don’t do this. Even if the committee did answer every question that you prepared, still ask at least one or two questions that show you are interested in learning more. Think ahead about these “emergency” questions, write them down, and bring them to the interview.

Jot down questions as the interview progresses. Surely you'll have a question as the interview progresses. This act of writing during the interview, again, communicates engagement and your investment in the school.

Resumes or No Resumes?

You’ll probably get different opinions on this topic depending on which principal you ask. Personally, I’ve never liked a candidate more or less based on whether or not they brought a resume. Has it ever hurt someone’s interview? No. Has it ever helped? Not that I can recall. It’s not a bad move, but it’s really up to you.

You see, the Hiring Committee has already scoured your resume and your application. That’s how you landed this interview. Now it’s time to bring your resume to life! If you believe that bringing copies of your resume is a strong move, then go for it. Otherwise, don’t stress over it. One exception is if the Interview Instructions ask you to bring copies of your resume for the 10 committee members – don’t miss the mark on that one!

Assistant Principal Interview Questions

The following questions, or some variation of them, are a great place to start when preparing for how you’ll respond in interviews. Consider having a mentor or colleague ask you these Assistant Principal interview questions so you become fluent in how you’ll succinctly respond.

Consider how you’d answer the following common Assistant Principal interview questions or themes:

  • Tell us about yourself. (Your opening statement! How will you convince them you’re prepared and excited for the position?)

  • Why do you want to be an Assistant Principal at our school?

  • What experience do you have that prepares you for this role?

  • Describe what you think has the greatest impact on student achievement.

  • What is the Assistant Principal’s role in school improvement?

  • Describe your philosophy for student behavior management.

  • What do you know about our school? What are our strengths and opportunities to improve?

  • What will be your top priorities in your first 3 months, 6 months, and year as Assistant Principal?

  • Consider how you will communicate your communication style (questions often come up about communicating with parents, teachers, etc.)

  • Also consider how you will highlight the best skills, experiences, and values you bring to the school

  • Scenarios – these are very common in Assistant Principal interview questions. Themes include student management/due process, communication, prioritization, and conflict resolution. An example: A parent approaches you during a home basketball game, is visibly angry with you, and tells you to never speak to their student again unless they’re present. What do you do?

  • “Give us an example of a time…” These are SO common and I guarantee you’ll get at least one question like this. It’s important that you have some real-world experiences in your back pocket to share during an interview. Even if the team doesn’t explicitly ask to list an example, do it anyway! Your specific examples show the Hiring Committee that not only do you have the knowledge necessary to do the job; you have demonstrable experience that shows you’re ready for the work. Examples include times when you… Helped a student, had a conflict with a co-worker, got feedback from your boss, dealt with an angry parent, served in a leadership role, made a large-scale change for the better, disagreed with a school-wide initiative, went above and beyond, etc.

During Your Assistant Principal Interview

Be Professional and Courteous

If you think about who is typically on an Assistant Principal Hiring Committee, you’re likely to see counselors, teachers, parents and/or students, the Principal, and someone from the District Office. Therefore some of these people will become your boss, and you’ll be boss to some of these people. Think about that for a moment – your answers are going to have totally different influence on this diverse hiring committee, depending on their perspective. Focusing on being professional and courteous will go a long way with all stakeholders. Speak to the group from this vantage point ~ direct particular responses to those who are really asking that question.

30 days of journal prompts for educators

As people introduce themselves, write down their names. Use their names (not awkwardly…) as you answer the Assistant Principal interview questions. “It’s Evelyn, right? That’s a great question…” These little touches communicate that you are interested in the people on the panel, and the relationship-building starts today.

Be Genuine

Take your time when replying to questions. As people get nervous, they tend to rush and want to appear like they have all the answers. Many Assistant Principal interview questions are thinking questions ~ take time to think, go slowly, and put your best foot forward.

On a personal note, I know you really want this job. Trust me, I know you’re ready to take this next step. But believe me: you really don’t want to work at a job or school that you’re going to hate. The way to avoid this is to be your genuine self! If this is not the right school for you: for what you believe about kids and education, what you value as an educator, what your experiences prepared you for – you don’t really want this job. School administration is VERY hard work. When the going gets tough which it will, you want good people by your side who share similar values and your vision about education and kids. I know it’s devastating to not land a job, but if you’re not the right fit, I like to believe there’s a positive in disguise in the decision.

After your Interview

Thanking the Committee

Be sure to thank everyone on the way out the door ~ this includes that front office secretary who is really a Committee Member in disguise! It’s also a great move to send the Principal and District Office employee a thank you email before the day’s end. I recommend sending it within 1-2 hours after your interview. You see, most Committees deliberate well into the afternoon about who to hire. Principals buy the Hiring Committee dinner, the group rolls up their sleeves, and they start comparing notes. Your well-timed thank you email will definitely be mentioned as the group enjoys their Jimmy Johns.

In your thank you email, express your gratitude that you got to know the school better. Restate why you believe you’re the best fit for the job, specifically referencing something you learned (ex. Walker Middle School’s commitment to fostering healthy student relationships excites me, since that’s a value we have in common.)

Don’t forget to thank the Committee, too, not just the Principal! Rest assured he or she will read or forward your email on to the group.

 complete guide to prepareing for assistant principal interview questions

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