Remain True to Yourself!
With Brave Wings She Flies…
In preparation for my first interview for an administrative position, I asked one of my educational leadership professors if he had any advice for me. He suggested that I pull my hair back, not wear makeup or perfume and to wear pearls. As I thanked him and left, two thoughts came to mind, I do not own pearls and what happens if I get the job. If I followed his advice, I would have misrepresented myself.
Regardless if it is your first interview for an administrative position, a next step in your career path or the pursuit of the superintendency, prior to beginning a search, candidates should identify key elements that they would want in their ideal position. While researching districts and vacancies, the educator must begin aligning their own strengths, goals and vision to that of the districts to decide if they would like to pursue the opportunity. Knowing what type of school or district you would like to lead inspires confidence and helps guide your search. An interview is an opportunity to show the interviewing committee who you are and how you can be an asset to their district while at the same time confirming if your skill set and educational vision are compatible with theirs.
Preparing for the Interview
You must research the district thoroughly in preparation for the interview. The district website offers great information regarding the district’s vision, accomplishments and opportunities for growth. Identifying these areas of strengths or current challenges will allow you to offer personalized answers to the interview questions. Identify your own areas of potential weakness and search for sample questions that you can practice responding to in a stress-free environment.
Here are some suggestions that would prove helpful:
- Look for and review the District Strategic Plan to understand their goals for the future based on primary stakeholder’s input.
- Review the User-Friendly Budget to understand potential financial challenges the district may be facing.
- Review Board Minutes to see what parents, staff or students have raised as concerns during public input and how members of the Board vote on key issues.
- Visit the community prior to the interview to become familiar with the commute and the neighborhood. If possible attempt to gain insight about the school district from the local residents.
- Identify three to four key elements that you would want the committee to remember after you leave the room.
During the Interview
Research shows that most committees make a decision if the candidate is moving forward within the first few minutes of an interview. Make sure you dress professionally, smile and make eye contact with all of the members of the committee. Remain focused on what you want them to remember about you and embed it strategically into the interview questions.
I recall recently how two male colleagues approached me after they completed a workshop session and uninhibitedly shared, “We were awesome!” I laughed out loud, as I could not think of a single woman I knew making such a statement publicly. Women tend to speak as collaborators and give credit to their team freely, it may take practice sharing your accomplishments in a way that emphasizes your own leadership ability. As women, we confront the unique challenge of speaking confidently without jeopardizing our likeability.
- Listen to the question carefully and take time to think before responding. Provide an example if appropriate.
- Answer the questions as if you were in the position, have them visualize what it would be like if you were the successful candidate.
- Follow up difficult, multi-layered questions with a polite request for clarification or an assurance that you have answered the question in its entirety. Take notes, if necessary.
- Prepare questions in advance that show your interest to learn more about the position while at the same time gauging what the committee members feel are the district’s greatest strength. This is where you have the opportunity to interview them.
After the Interview
- Do not play Monday morning quarterback and relive each question thinking of what you wish you had said. Focus instead on how you felt during the interview and after the interview was completed. Your initial “feeling” is crucial in helping you assess if there is a match between what you are seeking and what the position will offer.
- Send a personalized note or email to the committee chair or each individual member of the committee only if you have verified names and contact information.
These strategies are not meant to be gender specific; however, women typically need affirmation to seek opportunities for advancement. In a recent study I conducted as part of my dissertation, all eight female participants studied reported that through their mentors’ encouragement, support, and faith in their abilities, they gained the courage to apply to leadership positions that ultimately led them to the superintendency. Despite the confidence exhibited by these successful female leaders, they shared how self-promotion did not come easily to them and is not typically viewed as a feminine characteristic. They caution aspirants to the superintendency to ensure that they do not understate their knowledge and skill in an effort to exhibit humility, especially during the interview process.
So remain true to yourself, even if that means not wearing pearls.