They have ways of making you talk

21st November 2003 at 00:00
I've been invited for my first assistant headteacher interview and was wondering if you had advice on the sort of questions that are currently being asked and any general tips.

Practice regarding the selection of members of senior leadership teams is very variable. Prepare thoroughly and be prepared to think on your feet.

The whole selection process is about questioning. The application form itself is seeking answers to questions about you. How you fill this in, especially the personal statement about why you want the job and why you would be good at it, is very significant and requires planning. On the day of the interview a variety of techniques will be used to get information from you. This includes the formal parts, such as some form of psychometric testing to see how your personality strengths preferred leadership and management styles fit in with the rest of the team. A possible in-tray exercise will aim to find out how you respond to situations and prioritise.

There may be group interviews Interviews with students are becoming more common. Informal chats with students and staff on tours and in the staffroom will also play a part in how the school answers the question - "Is this the right person for this post?"

Questions you can expect include:

* Why do you want the job? (avoid glib comments such as I need the money or it is closer to home);

* What makes you the best candidate for this post? (do not run down other candidates or yourself).

One of my colleagues who recently went for such an interview was asked:

* What is your managerial style? (it's worth using an analytical tool such as Goleman's (see The New Leaders, Little, Brown 2002) to find this out before the interview);

* Give an example of a compromise you have had to make and why you made it;

* Describe yourself in one word;

* Give an example of a good teaching style;

* Describe your involvement in one working party, including evaluation;

* How do you identify an underachieving department?

* How would you handle parents who are upset about an information and communications technology homework when they do not have a PC at home?

* How would you help to give students a voice?

A good technique is to get you to talk about one initiative you have led well. A skilled interviewer can glean a great deal from this, perhaps partly by cross-reference to tests on your leadership style. This could be complemented by a question about one that you led less well and what you learned from this. Be honest. Take your time, if you need to, to think about your response in the interview. Don't just talk off the top of your head to fill the silences. Make sure your answers do not go on too long. It is good to bring in some relevant personal experiences. Look at people who ask you a question but also scan anyone else on the panel. Smile. Humour is a good idea if you can pull it off. Thank the people interviewing you and those who have organised the process.

It is a two-way questioning process. Make sure that all of your queries are answered, including how the school will support your induction and professional development. You could be working in this school for the rest of your career. You need to get it as right as you possibly can. If all your questions are answered by the final interview there is no need to invent them - tell them you have all the information you need to make your decision.

Remember it is a subjective process. Selectors may not necessarily make the best choice, but no one will ever know whether they did or not.

Robin Precey has been in education for 31 years, the past 12 as head of Seaford Head community college in East Sussex. He is also a consultant on the National College for School Leadership's New Visions programme. Do you have a school leadership or management question? Email

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