13 August, 2022
By Mike Simpson
Principals play a critical role in shaping young minds and ensuring positive educational environments, which is why so many people choose this career path. While there are an estimated 22,100 openings for principals each year, the number of people working in the field number in the hundreds of thousands. That means you could face stiff competition, which is why knowing how to answer principal interview questions is a must.
Fortunately, figuring out how to answer interview questions for a principal position doesn’t have to be challenging. With the right strategy, you can put your best foot forward, increasing your odds of landing the job. If you’re not sure where to begin, here’s what you need to know.
How to Answer Principal Interview Questions
Before we start digging into our top principal interview questions, it’s wise to take a moment to talk about strategy. Since every school and district is different, there’s always a chance you’ll get asked something unexpected. By having the right techniques by your side, that won’t be an issue, as you’ll know how to approach the questions correctly.
When you’re answering interview questions for a principal position, you need to showcase critical traits, such as leadership, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. Those are crucial for navigating the more social aspects of the role, as well as ensuring you can adjust your strategies as the situation demands.
You also need to demonstrate a clear understanding of educational best practices, as well as emerging learning theories and trends. Since being current is paramount, your best bet is to start with research.
Take the time to review articles in trade publications and from professional school administrator groups to learn about existing and future challenges and new advancements. Also, explore the school’s and district’s websites to see what projects are underway, as well as details about current practices and any mission and values statements.
After that, make sure to recheck the job description, paying special attention to any required skills or experience. You’ll also want to read between the lines a bit in more descriptive areas, letting you find out about desirable traits, the existing culture, and other critical details.
If the school or district has any social media pages, take a look at those, as well. Those can give you more insights about recent achievements, projects underway, broader goals, and the overall culture.
Once your research is handled, it’s time to explore techniques for answering different types of principal interview questions. Often, the simplest are the traditional ones. Those will mainly ask whether you have specific skills, experience, education, or training.
If you want to create a compelling answer, don’t reply with just a “yes” or “no.” Instead, if you have the capability or experience, follow up with an example, such as an overview of how you acquired a skill or where you participated in training and what it entailed.
If you don’t have the skill or experience, let the hiring manager know. Then, pivot to discuss any steps you’re taking to acquire it and a general enthusiasm for continued learning.
With behavioral and situational questions, you’ll need a different approach. Behavioral interview questions usually require you to walk the hiring manager through a past experience. For situational interview questions, you’ll discuss how you’d handle a hypothetical scenario.
In this case, using the STAR Method and the Tailoring Method together is your best bet. Along with a thorough answer, your response will be relevant and compelling. Ultimately, that’s a win, as it can make you seem like a more impressive candidate.
NOTE: We also have an assistant principal interview questions article too, if you’re interested!
Top 3 Principal Interview Questions
Overall, there are nearly 129,000 public and private schools in the United States, and each one is a little different. Since that’s the case, some candidates might encounter principal interview questions that others don’t, as hiring managers target what they ask to nuances of a particular role.
However, many of the interview questions for a principal position remain reasonably consistent, coming up in the vast majority of interviews. With that in mind, here’s a look at our top three principal interview questions and example answers.
1. Why do you want to be a school principal?
This is one of the questions that commonly comes up when a candidate is trying to transition from another role in education into a principal position. It’s a way for the hiring manager to gauge your motivations and enthusiasm.
In most cases, you want to point to an experience or person that inspired you to pursue these opportunities. Along the way, highlight your passion for educating young minds and supporting your community.
“I initially entered the field of education because I wanted to help support the growth and learning of children. Along the way, I also discovered that teachers and administrators played a critical role in their broader communities, something that I found incredibly rewarding as I had more opportunities to get involved.
However, I also discovered the value in having a supportive principal. Principals help shape teachers, ensuring they have what they need to thrive and support children and their communities.
My last school principal – who has since retired – made a powerful impression, going the extra mile to eliminate obstacles and provide critical support. After that experience, I found that was something I wanted to offer teachers, so I returned to college to further my education so that I could become a principal.”
2. If you could change one thing about your current school, what would it be and why?
With this question, the hiring manager can learn about your leadership style, priorities, and potential goals if you’re hired. It can help them determine if you’d fit in with the culture and if your targets would generally align with the district.
“If I had a chance to change one thing at my current school, I would make breakfast and lunch free for every student. That simple change could remove some of the stigma associated with qualifying for free meals. Plus, it ensures that lunch debt doesn’t prevent a child from getting the nutrition they need. Ultimately, high-quality meals are critical for maintaining energy and focus, both of which support learning. That’s why I feel I would change that aspect of the school experience if it was within my power to do so.”
3. How would parents at your current school describe you?
Principals often have a significant amount of interaction with parents, particularly in regard to negative feedback or challenging situations. This question gives the hiring manager insights into how you engage with parents, allowing them to determine if you have the right traits to manage those relationships as a principal.
If you’ve worked as a principal or vice principal previously, you can tap on that experience. If not, refer to your time as a teacher to highlight your capabilities.
“At my current school, parents would describe me as engaged, compassionate, and solution-oriented. When I’m discussing a problem or challenge with a parent, my first goal is to understand their perspective. I employ active listening to ensure they feel heard and ask clarifying questions to ensure I get complete pictures of various situations.
Additionally, I strive to avoid placing blame. Instead, I work with parents to find pathways that let us move forward, as that’s often what’s best for the child. Being solution-oriented means I want to find the answer, but my compassion allows me ensure I approach it in a way that’s respectful of unique situations.
Overall, that’s why I believe parents would describe me as engaged, compassionate, and solution-oriented, as those are the traits I try to demonstrate in every interaction.”
17 More Principal Interview Questions
Here are 17 more principal interview questions you might encounter:
- Why are you interested in becoming a principal at this school (or in this district)?
- Why did you start teaching, and why are you now focused on being an administrator?
- Describe your educational philosophy.
- What do you enjoy most about teaching, and what do you like least?
- How would your current students describe you?
- How would other teachers at your current school describe you?
- What skills or traits make you uniquely qualified to work as a school principal and succeed in the role?
- Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a particularly difficult student.
- What is the most significant contribution that you made at your current school?
- Can you tell me about a time when you had an incredibly challenging student? What was involved, and how did you navigate the situation?
- What goals would you have for your first 60 days in the position?
- What’s the biggest challenge that the world of K-12 education is facing today?
- Tell me about a time when you had to handle a particularly sensitive situation involving a student.
- Can you describe your experience with delivering constructive criticism to teachers?
- How do you approach student discipline?
- What steps do you take to ensure high teacher and student morale?
- How do you motivate students and teachers to thrive?
5 Good Questions to Ask at the End of a Principal Interview
After you’ve spent time answering principal interview questions, you usually have a chance to ask the hiring manager a few questions of your own. When this moment arrives, don’t let it pass you by. Thoughtful questions make you seem enthusiastic and engaged. Plus, they help you learn more about the job, culture, and more.
During your interview, you may have questions that come to mind that you’ll want answered, and you can certainly ask them. However, it’s an intelligent move to have a few on standby, too, just in case nothing comes up during your discussion with the hiring manager.
If you aren’t sure what to ask, here are five good questions to ask at the end of a principal interview:
- How many students are currently enrolled at this school, and do you expect the student population to grow or shrink in the coming years?
- How engaged are parents when it comes to their child’s education?
- What’s the biggest struggle this school is facing, and how could the new principal help solve it?
- How much flexibility are teachers given in this district in regards to lesson plans or teaching strategies?
- How would you describe the current school culture, and are there any specific areas where you’d like to see improvement?
Putting It All Together
At this point, you should have a solid idea of how to approach interview questions for a principal position. Make sure that you use every tidbit to your advantage. That way, you can create compelling answers that will help separate you from the crowd, increasing the odds that you’ll ultimately secure a job offer.