Going for an interview for a leadership is in lots of respects no different from attending any interview.
If you have got as far as the interview stage then you have already made a positive impression. The interview means living up to your CV, supporting your claims and proving that you are a safe pair of hands.
1. Leave your footprints behind
From the moment you step foot in the college grounds be aware that you are being assessed. You are going to be noticed and on show and everyone is going to have an opinion. Be polite, professional and look the part, interact and show an interest in everything and everyone – go on a smarm offensive, make an impression. If you have presence then this will stand-out a mile. If you don’t have presence then fake it until you make it. Be visible during the day, learn names and walk as if you are the head of the school.
2. The Interview
The interviewers will have come to their own ideas about you before you’ve even said hello. Make those first few seconds count and establish rapport and trust by communicating with confidence in order to inspire confidence. Be positive, calm, smile but above all actively listen and answer the questions without waffling. Build a relationship during the interview and get them to like you by sharing some of your humour.
What can you bring to the table? What are your unique selling points? Write them down in 200 words. Although your application will be packed full of information, can you summarise who you are and why you stand out compared to others? Can you communicate your skills, aims and ambitions? Can you communicate your strong vision for a high quality education? Why are you a good fit for the school? Ask yourself: why would I hire me?
The interview is shared territory but it is your stage to showcase your experience and talents but not to show-off! This is your chance to connect your experiences and demonstrate what you have done, where you have done it and what you can do. Talk openly and with honesty about your successes and learning curves. Focus on the evidence, talk with authority and draw on plenty of concrete examples. If you have something to ‘show and tell’ then make it available, e.g. portfolio, website, photos, newspapers etc. Remember the core business of our work so focus relentlessly on learning.
5. Body language
Non-verbal information is something interviewers will pick-up on throughout so pay close attention to your gestures, the way you sit and eye contact. Look the interviewers in the eye rather than looking away and command their attention.
6. Be passionate
You want to be a college leader so make sure the interviewers know it. Communicate your passion with energy and insight and make sure you they realise you are in it for the students. Transmit your leadership qualities, inspire and engage.
7. Ask questions
Any questions? It always gets asked at the end of an interview and it is essential you do ask some questions at the end but not too many. Research the college thoroughly beforehand and know it inside out. Draw on your experience of previous interviews and your own experience as an interviewer. Ask some questions during the interview to avoid feeling like you are facing a firing squad dodging their bullets – fire some back! Does your vision match theirs?
8. Practice, Practice, Practice
Preparation is paramount so contact colleagues and ask them to support you with some questions they have asked in the past. Be data-savvy and think carefully about the ‘obvious questions’ relating to funding and others such as:
“How would others describe your leadership style?”
“What does our data suggest about the college?”
“Describe an example of when you adopted an innovative approach to solving a college improvement issue?”
Plan measured and intelligent responses and start collecting and familiarising yourself with the FAQs but try and think outside the box. Put different hats on and approach questions as if being asked by pupils, a teacher, a governor, an inspector. Have a mock interview with some willing colleagues, so that you can start to think about and articulate responses to a range of questions from self-awareness and self-management to holding others to account, impact, influence and delivering continuous improvement. You can prepare so far and you don’t need to have faced every problem in advance but it helps if you have dealt with ¾ of them.
Interviews take their emotional toll and the inner strength we have to muster is exhausting but with preparation and realistic expectations, you will make the difference and you will get there…eventually.
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About the author
John is an ex-primary school teacher and Ofsted inspector who has spent the last 20 years working in the education industry as a teacher, writer and editor. John’s specialist area is primary maths but he also loves teaching science and English. John has written a number of educational and children’s books, and contributed over 1,000 articles and features to various educational bodies. John is eTeach’s school leadership and Ofsted advice guru, sharing insights on best practice for motivating and enriching a school team, as well as sharing savvy career steps for headteachers and SLT.