I want you to get hired! Over the past 15 years, I’ve been involved in hiring hundreds of teachers. I’ve been privileged to support dozens of educators in job searches. I want to share with you the things I’ve learned and exactly what I tell job seekers. Whether you are looking for a support role, a teacher position, or a school principal job, these interview tips will help you get an education job.
Making more money is an important part of building financial independence. You may be getting your first education position, relocating for better wages or cost of living or just needing to make a change. The faster you complete a successful job hunt, the sooner you can make an impact on students and your financial goals.
Table of contents
- In the Interview – Key Concepts
- Bonus: If You Don’t Get It
- Summary – Interview Tips for Teachers (and principals)
In this post, I’ll share keys to help make sure you are prepared to succeed in your educator interview and get the job you want.
These concepts are applicable to all levels of the education career ladder. They’ll not only help you get the job, but also increase your chances of finding the right match, and of progressing in your career.
Related Post: How to Become a School Principal
This section is mostly obvious advice, and I’ll spend the least time here. I won’t waste your time with tips like “eye contact” and “dress appropriately.” Instead, here is a quick overview of a few simple things to do in preparation. In the next section, I’ll provide more detail on specific concepts that will set you apart in an education interview.
This post focuses on the interview itself. If you’re struggling to get an interview you may want to focus on your paperwork. Here is a great resume reference post to help you out: How to Make a Killer Resume and Stand Out. You can also share this process to make sure you get great teacher letters of recommendation.
If you’re applying for a principal position, follow these tips on how to craft a powerful principal resume.
Know What To Expect
When accepting an interview, ask the scheduler about the process so you know what to expect. These simple questions will give you what you need to know:
- How long will the interview be?
- What will the process include?
- Who will be interviewing me?
- Is there anything I need to prepare in advance?
It is rare, but not unheard of, for an education hiring process to be a single conversation with one person. In most cases, you should expect to interview with a team of people. Depending on the position, this team will represent a range of stakeholders – community members (parents), your supervisor, peers, and future teammates.
It is not uncommon for administrators to encounter panels of a dozen or more people.
You will also likely have some sort of performance task: examples include a writing sample, lesson analysis, or real-time data review. As a teacher you may be asked to conduct a demonstration lesson or provide video of one.
If you are interviewing with a single person and the decision is made only on a single interview – I’d be cautious about joining the district. It may just be a situation that calls for extreme expediency, but it could be a signal of autocratic culture.
Review Sample Questions
Some people are obsessive and compile exhaustive lists of hundreds of potential questions. (..some people…*cough*) You definitely don’t need to do that. But, it is worthwhile to take a look at sample questions. Here are a few links to get you started:
Be prepared to answer “Why do you want to be a teacher?”
120 Real Teacher Interview Questions (Categorized)
School Principal Interview Questions (200 and growing!)
Assistant Principal Interview Questions, Answers, and Tips
You can find more with a quick google search.
Research the School District
In my experience, too few actually do this. Before even addressing the impact on an interview – let’s talk about you. Researching a potential future employer is important to see if their beliefs and approaches align with yours.
Virtually all schools and districts have web pages. They vary by quality, but many will at least tell you about major initiatives, philosophies, and educational approaches. Spend a few minutes reviewing these. Even better is to talk to someone already working there, but of course this isn’t always possible.
Does it seem like a place you might want to work?
Okay, then. This information may be VERY useful in the interview. Trust me, it has an impact on an interview team when you drop specific knowledge about their school/district. It has a different impact if you say, “Well, I don’t know much about your school…”
If you can identify special instructional initiatives or needed skills, you can research those more in advance. You can also tailor answers to highlight how your experiences, skills, or philosophy mesh well.
At a minimum, make sure you research the student population the school/district serves. Again, this will help with your own personal alignment. You want to make sure your answers emphasize support for the students the school serves.
Know Your Craft
It should go without saying that you need to have the appropriate job skills. I’m starting with the assumption that you are qualified for this job.
I can’t provide you a short quick answer to demonstrate this. If you are a teacher, be able to describe your approach to teaching, your beliefs about assessment, classroom management strategies, and provide specific examples of how you’ve applied them.
As a principal, know all of those things, too. A good principal is able to speak to effective teaching. Also know your philosophy of leadership, your approach to student management, and the practices of effective supervision.
If you are applying for a classified position with specific skill requirements, be able to speak to and demonstrate those.
These things vary by context, so I can’t give you canned answers or even key general themes here. But, if you’ve done your research on the school/district to which you are applying you will likely have a good idea of which practices to emphasize.
In the Interview – Key Concepts
All of the preparation steps are important – but they only get you so far. Over the years, I’ve identified key concepts from interviews that help candidates get hired. They also increase the likelihood of a strong match for both candidate and employer. Finally, these things are good indicators of educators who will progress in their career.
After hundreds of hiring decisions, and seeing which ones worked and which ones didn’t (either for the school or the candidate) I tend to prioritize these concepts in hiring. They demonstrate a candidate’s approach to the job. I can, and will, support someone who needs to learn skills. Attitudes and beliefs are harder to train.
I believe deeply that interviews are for both the job candidate and the prospective employer. I want you to get a job you actually enjoy!
Stick to Your Core Beliefs
I mentioned earlier that it is important to know both your personal beliefs and the beliefs of the organization to which you are applying. This increases the likelihood that the job is a match for you.
In the interview, ground your answers in you core beliefs. Do not try to “play the game” or align to the organization in ways that are not true to your core. This is a prescription for misery and failure. Instead, speak to what you believe. If it resonates with the team – great. If not – that’s an equally good outcome because you won’t find yourself working in a job you hate.
Also, remember that in most cases you will be interviewing with multiple people with a variety of perspectives. If you have experience, or have done extensive research, you may know the core values of individuals on the team. It can be tempting to try and align your answers to the questioner’s values.
Don’t do this. You may score points with one interviewer while offending another. Worse, when you try this again with the next question, everyone will see what you’re doing.
Instead – stay true to yourself with your answers. Represent who you are and what you believe. This will lead to the best outcome.
Commitment to Improving Student Outcomes
It seems strange to highlight this. But you would be amazed at the number of times I’ve participated in education interviews and the candidate fails to mention students. Or, mentions only the need to manage them.
All positions in a school/district contribute to the core mission of the profession – improving student outcomes. Regardless of role – explicitly express your commitment to this.
You can express it in your core beliefs. Outcomes doesn’t have to mean test scores, despite the current obsession. But it should mean that you are somehow making student lives better and increasing their chances of success.
Working in education isn’t easy. There are constant voices attacking education systems of all types. Underfunding, increasing demands, societal challenges affecting our families, and clashes over belief systems are real. And they make working in the profession challenging.
If you believe these things make the job impossible or prevent you from being effective – you shouldn’t be applying. Too many candidates fall into a martyr stance or express a weariness towards the work. Or, they criticize these forces as preventing them from success.
It is perfectly possible to acknowledge these challenges and also make a significant improvement in the lives of students (see student outcomes!), and help lift up our communities.
Express optimism about the rewarding parts of the job, and the impact you can have. Demonstrate a belief in self-efficacy.
Doing these things will make you a better candidate, a better future colleague, and a happier and more effective educator. And, you can continue to fight against the broken system from a place of strength.
Most importantly – express optimism about the students you serve. No matter their characteristics, backgrounds, or reputation you have to believe that they can succeed. You will make sure they do so! Express this clearly, confidently, and often.
If you don’t believe in students….I can’t help you. You should not be hired.
Don’t Criticize Others
We all experience negative work environments, ineffective supervisors, and infuriating colleagues. Parents can be challenging. Districts may have ridiculous policies.
This not the time to rant about the helicopter parents at your last school, how much you hate your administrator, or colleagues you felt were not giving it their all. I’ve seen this happen and sour an otherwise strong interview.
Frame any comments in this vein in the positive, focused on what kinds of working relationships you hope to foster and encounter. Example:
“I’d enjoy working with a principal who knows instruction and gives me feedback for growth” as opposed to “My last principal was never in the classroom and had no idea what was going on.”
You absolutely should be affirmative and clear about what you want – again, this interview is for you AND the employer. But, throwing other people under the proverbial bus won’t get you what you want.
See the Bigger Picture
This (after improving student outcomes) may have the biggest impact on both your hiring and your ability to advance. Current education practice requires working effectively with others and building a strong school community. You need to see more than what is right in front of you.
Recognize that you contribute to the school/district culture. Create a culture of collective responsibility for student and peer success. A teacher that is only effective in their classroom is not as valuable as one that can impact their students and help elevate others.
A principal that “takes care” of their school by stealing resources from other schools is harming students in the long run. And, will typically lose over time anyway because other administrators will see it for what it is.
Share examples of how you’ve worked as part of an effective team. Mention how you look forward to sharing practices and improving together.
Even the best of us are better when our strengths and weaknesses are balanced and supported by others with different skills. Accept and expect collective responsibility for success.
Teachers should be committed to the success of peers. A principal candidate must mention the importance of supporting teachers and assistants to success.
Of course – if you believe in individual exceptionally, don’t pretend otherwise. (See core beliefs) Just know that you likely won’t end up in effective schools or districts. Speaking as a recovering “hero educator” I can tell you I was much less personally happy in that approach, and the schools that allowed it were not supporting students as well.
A vast majority of educators went to school, went to school to teach school, and then went straight into teaching school. The positive aspect of this is you have passionate, dedicated, people who have long believed education is their calling.
The downside can be a lack of perspective. This leads to horrible judgments about families, assumptions about other professions, and a dangerous martyr culture.
The reality is that families are struggling. Most jobs have rough patches. A huge percentage of employees in all professions have challenges with their bosses. (And yes – there are some education specific horrible things – few other professions have their salaries published in the paper for example…)
I often value candidates who have had other job experiences, even if just for a short time, because they can compare experiences. This isn’t necessary – don’t frantically work another job to prepare for an interview. Instead, demonstrate that you’ve paid attention to things outside of education and have the ability to empathize with others.
If you can’t demonstrate perspective, in addition to not getting the job, you are likely to burn out or become bitter quickly.
Killer Closing Questions to End the Interview
Okay – this isn’t a concept, but an actual interview tip. In the vast majority of interviews you’ll be asked if you have any questions.
Have a closing question. Not asking a question shows a lack of curiosity or initiative. And you, as a candidate, aren’t getting all the information you need.
Here are 5 examples that demonstrate at least one of the above concepts:
- What skills and beliefs do you need from this position to increase the effectiveness of your team?
- What things about your school/district are you most proud? Where do you still need work?
- How do you support new staff to be as effective as possible? (As a candidate you should expect a strong answer to this – they need to support you too!)
- I noticed (insert priority you researched) is something you’ve been working on as a school/district. Where are you in that process and what are the next steps?
- If you could change one student outcome instantly, what would it be? How are you addressing that?
Of course, feel free to develop your own. Any of these questions would be a strong closing to an interview.
I recommend saving any pay range questions or the typical “when will you make a decision?” discussions for the hiring supervisor or HR staff outside the interview. I, personally, believe it’s okay for a candidate to ask about pay, but the interview isn’t the time.
If you prepare well, integrate these concepts into your interview, and close with a strong question you’ll have a strong shot at getting that job. (if you still want it!) But, sometimes there are equally strong candidates with more experience or a specific skillset. Or, there may be an internal candidate you didn’t know about.
Bonus: If You Don’t Get It
In a good culture, any candidate who interviewed will get a call to inform them of the decision. It drives me crazy when that doesn’t happen! If they do not do you this courtesy, then it’s a good indicator of a poor culture.
Getting that call, and how you respond, can help you land another opportunity. You can assume that virtually any school will be hiring again in the near future. They may even have another job opening at that very moment.
If it’s a place you don’t want to work, then a simple polite acceptance and thank you is fine.
If you want a job, this is an important moment.
It can be very hard in that moment of rejection to gather yourself. You may feel embarrassment or disappointment. That’s why I advise being prepared with two things. They will help prepare you for future opportunities.
1. Ask for Feedback
“Thank you for the opportunity to meet your team and learn about your school/district. Do you have any feedback that might help me improve?”
This simple question communicates both professionalism and a willingness to grow. Sometimes it might even actually provide you useful feedback!
2. Assume They Made A Good Decision (for now)
You may feel outraged. Ranting won’t do you any good. Also understand that, for the moment, the decision has been made. Instead of challenging, or attempting a sale in the moment – express confidence in the hiring team and express your interest in future opportunities.
“I appreciate the feedback and really enjoyed the process. I’m sure the team made an excellent decision. I believe I’d be a strong addition and effective for students, so please keep me in mind if you have any further openings.”
You aren’t going to change the decision in that moment. But, should something fall through, or another position opens up, you have maximized your opportunity with a simple statement.
Summary – Interview Tips for Teachers (and principals)
If you follow these keys, I’m confident you will soon land an education job that will be both personally and financially rewarding. In summary:
- Prepare for the Interview
- Know What To Expect
- Review Sample Questions
- Do Your Research
- Know Your Craft
- Key Concepts For the Interview
- Stick to Your Core Beliefs
- Commitment to Student Outcomes
- Express Optimism
- Don’t Criticize Others
- See The Bigger Picture
- Demonstrate Perspective
- Close with a Killer Question
- If You Don’t Get the Job
- Ask For Feedback
- Assume They Made A Good Decision (For Now)
After doing these things – you will get a job offer. You may even get multiple offers! In my next post, I share how to compare educator contracts to make the best financial decision.
Let me know if you have any other interview tips for teachers or principals!
one cup of rice says
This post and the last one have been scarily timely! You published them just as I decided to change workplaces. Taking this one to heart as I prepare for an interview this coming week.
I love the emphasis on optimism and honesty. You HAVE to believe the future will be brighter otherwise you’ll never be able to convince students you’re worth listening to. I find that I’m much more natural and have a smoother interview (even if I don’t get the job) when I don’t try to tailor my responses to what I think they want to hear.
Thank you for sharing, so helpful to have it come from someone on the ground instead of a generic agency website blog.
I’m glad they’ve been timely. Good luck on the job search. I can’t wait to hear about your next position!
Diana E Sung says
This is awesome advice. Candidates who are knowledgeable, effective, and principled shine. Following this guide will help you prioritize the interview in a way to highlight these keys. My question as a teacher interviewee (developed after taking a job that was… not a good fit…) was “What do you love about working in this school?” How they respond to being asked that question speaks volumes about school culture.
One note if applying to a large district: make sure you double and triple check your paperwork to submit all your required qualifications or you won’t make it to the interview stage. I’ve done paperwork reviews where I personally knew the candidate had a credential or experience not listed in their paperwork that they forgot to include, and it kept them from getting the interview. Often, that person would have been amazing in the job, but that first barrier prevented them from getting it.
“If you don’t believe in students….I can’t help you.” I want this on a needlework pillow I keep at my desk. Fighting this EXACT issue this week with people who are making decisions about which opportunities we offer our students. Don’t be the gatekeeper in education. Be the one smashing down the barriers so kids can shine brighter than you ever dreamed!
Great point about the paperwork. I chose not to write a paperwork post, simply because the requirements and preferences vary so much by district and HR professional. But your point is consistent across all!
Regarding the frustration – those moments are the worst. I hope you were able to do some barrier smashing. 🙂