Principal interview questions tend to be unique, as the role of the principal is crucially important to a school. From school to school, interviews look different. The questions they ask differ, and so do the district’s requirements for the job candidate.
Because of this uncertainty and confusion, many soon-to-be principals panic when preparing for interviews. This stress and fear only decrease their odds of performing their best at the interview. So, what can future principal do if they want to make the best impression they can?
Prepare well! In this article, we will cover which questions you are most likely to be asked and offer you some other preparation tips.
What are employers and hiring managers looking for when interviewing people for a principal position?
If you are a principal, your job duties are likely going to be similar regardless of where you are employed. Still, school districts have many differences from one another. From state to state, curriculums are different.
There are different roles for parents, funding amounts, student population, student to teachers ratios, extracurricular activities, and even different values. Because of all of this, different schools seek out different candidates.
But, some skills are recognized as great to have regardless of where your school district is. Some of these valuable skills are:
As a principal, you will need to communicate effectively. Think about it: most of the day, you will likely be talking with someone. Whether it is teachers, students, administrators, parents, or other school personnel in a board meeting, you must clearly articulate what you wish to say.
Additionally, your communication should also be inspiring. Great leaders change their communication style depending on who they are talking to, and this is a good habit to get into. Communication is not all about speaking, though. You must also know how to actively listen.
As a principal, your job is to improve your school and maximize positive outcomes for students. Principals will need to collect data and think rationally when interpreting it. For example, great principals use test scores as metrics to help them decide whether certain classes need to be longer.
They use student input to help teachers form better lessons. Think data-driven approach, coupled with critical thinking, helps the principal optimize the school experience for students.
No matter how hard you work to avoid them, there will always be some problems you will encounter as a principal. The key is to mitigate conflicts and avoid unnecessary entanglements, but when a problem does arrive, quickly and effectively address it.
You can effectively address issues with problem-solving skills. Problem-solving sometimes involves thinking out of the box. You should be willing to experiment with your problem-solving strategy, and actively evaluate how well your risks pay off.
As a principal, you will need to make decisions every single day. And, your decisions impact an immense amount of people: everyone from students to other board members are all impacted.
This can make a principal candidate stressed. But, if you have solid decision-making skills, you will perform this part of the job with great efficiency and accuracy. When evaluating decisions, consider asking others around you for support if it is about a topic you are unfamiliar with.
Use data to help make your decision the best it can be. Finally, see the patterns in your decision-making. If a strategy consistently works, consider using it more often.
Principals are known to be leaders. After all, they are one of the most important leaders in a school. Therefore, you need to have proper leadership abilities to ensure you succeed in this role. To build up your leadership abilities, you need to practice. Learn from your mentors and absorb as much knowledge as you can from former principals. Also, ensure that your leadership style fits in with the team you work with. When there is a disconnect between these two factors, it often hurts the team as a whole.
27 Principal Interview Questions and Answers
As a principal candidate, you are likely stressing about your first interview. And, that is normal; most people feel stressed before their interviews. However, there are ways to simultaneously reduce your stress while getting more prepared for the interview.
This strategy is very simple: it is to simply study the most commonly asked principal interview questions. While it is impossible to know exactly what you will be asked during the interview, there are some questions you are more likely to be asked than others.
A few of the commonly asked principal interview questions are:
1. Tell me about your education and background.
The school wants to hire someone with training in this field. Most schools will not even consider candidates without some college education specializing in teaching or leadership. You should highlight not just what your credentials are, but also, how they can benefit the team you are applying to. For example, if your college had a unique volunteering opportunity that you learned an immense amount, mention it.
One way you could answer this question is: “I received my PhD in Education from the University of X 5 months ago. During my time at university, I had the opportunity to research the impact of technology in kids, and I specialized in technology-student relations. Now, I can apply what I learned there to help students optimize their test scores and use technology to their advantage.”
2. Where have you previously worked and what was your role there? Tell us about your work experiences.
Employers want to hire individuals that already have experience in their field. This does not mean that new graduates will not find work as a principal. Rather, it simply means individuals with experience have the upper hand, and if you have job experience, tell them to the interviewer. Be sure to note how you positively impacted your last team.
To answer this question, you could say: “I have experience working as a principal for 4 years. I previously worked in Tallahassee, Florida for an underfunded public school. There, I learned how to make the most of limited resources. We built a program of direct parent-teacher communication by investing in technology and reaching out to the local community. This resourcefulness will stay with me for life.”
3. What do you think was your greatest success?
Every individual succeeds and fails at different points in their life. As a principal, it is important to learn not just from failures, but also from successes. Do not be afraid to openly speak about your success if you are afraid of sounding too arrogant.
Instead, you should make note of what the success was, how you achieved it, and what impact it had on both you and your team.
One way to answer this question would be: “I believe my greatest success was initiating a program that gave every one of the kids in my last district a device. During COVID, we need to go virtual but we did not have the funds to distribute devices. I got together a group of teachers to help with the distribution and reallocated funds from other activities into this program. In the end, we were able to keep school going, even during these tough times.”
4. What serves as your motivation?
Individuals need to stay motivated to achieve everything they can in life. The same applies to achieving your maximal potential as a principal. When the interviewer asks this question, they want to understand if you are committed to the job.
They need to know you have the right reasons for choosing this line of work. If you have a strong, emotional reason why you do this work, you will be more committed as a principal.
decision-making skills “My greatest motivation is seeing the impact I have on students. In my past jobs, I saw little kids light up when they received attention from the principal. And, I know that kids need someone to advocate for them. I want to be that person. I have seen the success of properly managing school funds: students accomplish more, get better grades, and even achieve their goals.”
5. What would you like to be doing in 5 years?
This question tests your long-term thinking. Here, the interviewer will also see what your longer-term goals are. If you show you are committed to being a principal in the long term, this will reflect positively on you as a candidate.
You should also add some more specific facts about how you would achieve your goals for the next 5 years and why you desire to be doing what you mentioned in those 5 years.
One way you can answer this is: “I see myself still being a principal. In fact, I would prefer to stay in the same district. This is so because I want to build long-term relationships with students, teachers, and the surrounding community. I want to make sure I serve this region as best that I could.”
6. Tell me about your greatest strengths.
Everyone has a combination of strengths and weaknesses. Many individuals struggle with answering these questions because they do not want to flaunt their talents or seem like they have an inflated ego. But, the interviewer directly asks for your strengths.
So they want to know the truth, without you being overly humble! Note not just your strengths, but also how you previously used them and the impact your strengths had on the team.
A sample answer would be: “I believe my greatest strengths are communication and decision-making. I have worked with many incredible individuals, and I have learned that to be a great communicator, you need to be clear and specific. In addition, I change my communication style depending on who I talk to effectively, and I actively listen, too. When making decisions, I tend to make lists to keep me organized. I use data and talk to those who are impacted by my decisions. This has helped me boost student test scores by 15% in my last job.”
7. What makes you a suitable candidate for this position?
This question not only tests what you believe your top skills are, but also checks your preparation. Do you know what kind of candidate we are looking for? Did you clearly look at the job description, and read the values listed on our site?
These are all implicit questions embedded in this query. Make sure you address how your strengths connect to what the interviewer believes the ideal candidate is.
When answering this question, you can respond with something along the lines of: “I believe I am suitable for this role because of my extensive experience on the job, and my track record of fostering student success. In my last role, I was able to effectively manage the budget so not only did STEM class activities receive more funding, but so did music and art classes. I also helped build numerous school clubs, which the students loved.”
8. What makes you unique?
It is clear that no two people are exactly alike. But, there has to be something that separates you from the likely dozens of other job applicants. This could be anything, from your experience in the job, to your communication or leadership style, or even the way you run meetings. Regardless, it should be something that leaves an imprint on the interviewer’s mind.
One way you could answer this query would be: “I believe I am unique due to the number of different schools I got the chance to work at. During college, we had a program where we could spend a semester abroad working and helping many schools in low-income communities. We visited over 50 schools. That experience taught me how much the little things matter, and how active communication and community involvement are crucial for student success.”
9. What is your leadership style?
The interviewer needs to ensure your leadership style fits well with their existing team. If you are too aggressive or assertive while they were losing for a passive leader, they may not hire you.
Do not be afraid to tell them the truth about your leadership style. You could even give a few examples of how you used your leadership style previously to further illustrate the type of leader you are.
One way to answer this question is: “My leadership style is very hands-on. I like to make sure I do everything I can to help students, parents, and school staff members. I am not a passive leader who watches and slowly reacts to problems. I want to be involved in numerous aspects of the school, from budgeting to even club creation and promotion.”
10. What were some of your most challenging times as a principal? How did you overcome these hardships?
Everyone encounters problems during their time working. However, you must be able to quickly and effectively overcome problems to be a great principal. Give the interview an example of a moment when you encountered a serious problem.
It could be a lack of funding, parent-teacher miscommunication, or something else entirely. Then, articulate how you used your strengths to overcome that issue.
A sample answer would be: “At one point, I had over 10 teachers have to leave their job due to personal reasons or medical care. It was extremely challenging to find individuals to fill those roles. I had to completely change my schedule for the next few months ins earth of job candidates. I reviewed assistance from the board and experimented with posting job listings in numerous places. Ultimately, we found great candidates within just a month to fill all of those positions.”
11. What is your method of dealing with stressful work?
As a principal, few people can claim their job is stress-free. In fact, most principals face problems every day, and they carry an immense amount of responsibility, thus leading to stress.
You must be able to effectively mitigate and manage stress if you wish to succeed in your role as a principal. Highlight the strategies you use to stay focused and calm down, as well as how you avoid stress.
When answering this question, you can say something along the lines of: “I try to avoid stress by ensuring I remove myself from situations that are getting heated. If I cannot remove myself, then I will take some deep breaths to try to calm down. Then, I will evaluate my options if I am trying to make a decision. I will use graphic organizers to help me see the options. And, I will consult others to help me if I am too stressed to make the best decision I can.”
12. How do you believe your coworkers would describe you?
It can be a bit difficult to understand what your coworkers think of you. But, think about how you use your skills every day. Think about the greatest impact you had on your last coworkers. Then, tie those moments to strengths. Consider some of your top qualities and what other people mentioned they liked about working with you.
One way to respond to such a query is: “I believe my coworkers would describe me as hard-working and resourceful. I often asked individuals for assistance and learned from my supervisors. I would also often stay after school to do extra work, and that’s how I got the reputation of being a ‘work horse’ during my last job.”
13. What is most important in ensuring school safety is optimized?
Anyone who works in a school will tell you: the most important part of our job is ensuring the students are safe. Without safety, nothing else can be accomplished. When answering this question, you need to state how you plan to ensure the school remains safe.
You can make note of the technological devices that increase safety or talk about safety education, for instance.
When answering this question, you might say something like: “I believe that safety is the first and foremost priority every principal should have. When I try to improve school safety, I will bring notes to the school board advocating for increased police presence and camera funding. I will ensure we follow all safety drill guidelines set by the state, and even surpass them.”
14. Share any moments when you needed to approach a problem with immense sensitivity. How did you resolve the issue?
Principals sometimes get the reputation of being overly emotionless, threatening, and machine-like. But the truth cannot be further from this. Principals will often have to be gentle and careful in the way they approach problems. Most often, they have to approach issues in a sensitive manner when speaking with parents or with young kids (which happens quite often).
A sample response to this question is: “At one point, I got a report from a teacher saying a child was acting badly. So, I had to hold a conference with the student’s parents and the teacher. The parent came in the room with defensive mannerisms. I needed to make sure I never accused the parent of bad parenting but to simply tell her what her child was doing. She ultimately listened and agreed to speak to the child at home.”
15. If you got the chance to talk to a new teacher, what advice would you give them?
As a principal, your words and advice hold a lot of weight to them. When answering this question, consider what you would have wanted to learn about when you were a new to the education field. Think about what you needed the most help with. Consider saying something inspirational so the teacher would know how important their job is.
One way you could respond to this question is: “If I got the chance to speak with a new teacher, I would tell them to follow their guts and take some risks. Too often, I underestimated myself and held back from taking opportunities I thought were too challenging for me to succeed in. I would tell them that their job is to help students, and risk-taking exposes them to new knowledge that can help kids.”
16. Tell me about a time you had to give constitutive feedback to someone who was experienced in the field.
It can sometimes be difficult for new principals to give feedback to teachers who have been in the field for far longer than they have. However, it is crucial to remember everyone has something to learn.
Do not hold back from giving constructive advice even if the person is experienced. In fact, experienced individuals are more likely to appreciate your feedback, as they know the value of self-improvement.
When answering this question, you could respond with something like: “At one point, I had to give a teacher I looked up to some constructive criticism. She was known for being very kind and caring, but according to student test scores, it seemed like her focus on a specific part of the math curriculum was lacking. I told her about this honestly, and she appreciated the feedback. Then, she began to spend more time covering the topic, and student test scores rose.”
17. How do you measure student success at school?
Success is difficult to define. It means something different to every job candidate. Here, the interviewer wants to know how you will measure student success. What do you believe is most important to students success? This is the implicit question behind this query. Ensure that you say why that metric of student success is meaningful as well.
One way to respond to this query is: “I believe the best way to measure student success is a combination of test score results and student participation in clubs. Student test scores reveal how well they learned the material, and help teachers create lessons more tailored to students so they can get the best education possible. Student club participation shows student involvement in the school; it shows students are committed and are pursuing their interests, which I love to see.”
18. Tell me about what your ideal elementary school classroom looks like.
It can be especially difficult to know how to best serve young kids. It is thought to communicate with them, and the decisions you make will have a lasting impact on their educational careers.
With this question, the interviewer seeks to understand what you value most in teaching young kids. These values and goals will likely translate into how you lead the school as a whole, and how you allocate resources.
A sample answer would be: “In an ideal elementary classroom, I would ensure there are plenty of toys. Kids need time to relax and play during school, as play is a form of learning. Plus, I would make sure the room has tons of books. Ideally, the room would be welcoming with warm bright colors to make the kids feel as comfortable as possible.”
19. Can you tell me about this school’s improvement plan? What will you do to further our goals?
This is another query that tests how well you are prepared. Did you research any of the plans listed on the school’s website? Did you notice the improvement goals listed under the job description? You have to ensure you know what the school district currently struggles with. Then, you can tell the interviewer where you fit in on the team which will overcome these struggles.
You can answer this question by stating: “I saw that the district’s current issue is allocating funds for rebuilding the elementary school’s plumbing system after the pipe burst which happened a few months ago. I will look to maximize efficiency in the budget, and find ways to cut excess costs elsewhere and direct the savings to fix the plumbing.”
20. What do you think the ideal elementary school campus looks like?
The ideal school looks different for every candidate. By describing your visions for an ideal school campus, you show what you care most about in school design. This is crucial for the interviewer to know, since your preferences and values will make a direct impact on how you direct resources as principal.
When answering this question, you could say something along the lines of: “I believe the ideal elementary school campus needs to have high levels of security, with cameras and security guards. Student safety is my number one priority. It would be great to have a clean environment, as that symbolizes personal responsibility and taking care of nature, too.”
21. How do you energize teachers to reach their potential and serve help them pass the inspiration on to students?
Having inspirational role models is key for students. They need someone to look up to and emulate, and often, a teacher is that person. However, teachers need inspiration, too.
As the principal, you should be able to inspire teachers and help them become the best versions of themselves. Highlight why doing so is important to you and the strategies you use to help teachers grow.
A sample answer would be: “One way that I inspire teachers to reach their potential is to remind them of why they chose this job. I remind them of their role’s importance and how much they impact the next generation. Often, teachers lose motivation as they advance in their career. Even a few subtle reminders can make a teacher retain their passion.”
22. Suppose a teacher criticizes the school administration. How would you react, whether it was positive or negative?
Criticism is an important tool for growth. The greatest school personnel and principals know how to leverage criticism to help them optimize their decision-making for the future.
Do not take criticism personally. Instead, when answering the question, highlight why you would value the criticism. Note how you would take the criticisms into account when making decisions later on.
One way to respond to this query would be: “I believe that criticism is crucial in helping me become the best principal I can be. Therefore, I would welcome the criticism. I would listen to the critique and thank the individual for their input. Then, I would write down a few of the key points they made so I can remember them for the next time I make a major decision.”
23. What is your approach to teacher evaluations? How can they be leveraged to boost student success?
Teacher evaluations are one of the key tasks principals perform. Every principal has a unique way of approaching these evaluations. Your style reveals key factors about your personality, such as whether you are confrontational or passive.
In addition, you should also note why you think these observations benefit students. This will show how you have a student-oriented mindset.
When answering this question, you can say something along the lines of: “My approach to teacher evaluations is more passive. I will let the teacher do everything they usually do without interfering. I want to experience the lecture as a student would. These evaluations are crucial, because it gives me an opportunity to give teachers feedback. This helps instruction improve, and thus boosts student success.”
24. How would you assist teachers in improving their teaching style? Will you invest in professional development programs for our staff?
Everyone has room to grow and improve, even the greatest teachers in your school district. Thus, you should have a plan for addressing staff development and fostering growth.
Be specific in how you will be involved in staff development. Additionally, note if you previously used these strategies and the positive outcomes associated with their use.
To answer this question, you could say: “One way that I will help teachers improve their teaching style is by offering direct feedback through observations. I will also try to facilitate and encourage direct teacher communication with parents by including more yearly parent-teacher conferences. For our newer staff, I will ensure they have in-district training before they begin working.”
25. How does employee morale contribute to the success of a school district?
Mindset and morale are both crucially important factors in determining which school districts succeed and which fall short of their goals.
Thus, you need to clearly articulate why and how employee morale contributes to the success of both students and teachers alike. If you have any examples of you yourself using employee morale boosting to help the school district, articulate those examples.
One way to respond to the query is: “I believe employee morale is extremely important to student and staff success. When teachers lack morale and passion, their students become disengaged. As a result, they focus less and do worse on tests. These habits build up, and they get students thinking that school is tiresome. On the other hand, passionate teachers energize students and encourage them to perform well.”
26. Suppose a student needs to be disciplined. When do you involve the parents? What do you think the principal’s role is in ensuring the child has support at home?
It can sometimes be difficult for principals to know where they fit in on the discipline dilemma. How much discipline should be left to parents, and how much of a role should the school play?
This question not only tests your school-parent autonomy beliefs but also reveals whether you take a more passive parent-oriented approach to school or a more hands-on approach.
When answering the question, you could say: “I believe that when a student needs to be disciplined, it is our duty to inform the parents of the child’s misbehavior. I will not get involved in the child’s home life (unless it threatens the child’s safety) out of respect for the parent. But, during the school day, it is ultimately up to the teachers and school personnel go decide the proper punishment for the child, not the parent, although I will certainly listen to their input.”
27. How will you build positivity and acceptance within the school environment? Which specific changes would you advocate for?
Positivity and feeling welcomed are both important factors in a student’s success. If a child does not feel comfortable at school, they are less likely to succeed academically or reach their potential.
Thus, you need to have a solid plan for boosting acceptance and creating a positive school culture. If you have experience previously making positive environments, state that experience.
A sample answer would be: “One strategy I would use in promoting acceptance and positivity is diversity, equity, and inclusion education. There are numerous programs that teach kids about emotional learning and the importance of respecting other students, like Second Step. I would also promote teachers reading books about acceptance and outline clear consequences for students and teachers who discriminate against others.”
Questions for You to Ask in a Principal Job Interview
After reading over 27 different questions you could be asked during a principal job interview, you are likely feeling quite a bit more relaxed and confident. And, that is precisely the point of preparing for an interview!
However, if you stop there, you might miss out on an opportunity to further set yourself apart from the other candidates. And, taking advantage of this opportunity involves little effort on your part. What is this chance? It is the opportunity for you to ask questions during the interview.
Doing so will reveal that you are genuinely interested in this line of work and also have a particular interest in working for a specific district.
Just a few questions you could ask are:
- When would you like to hire the candidate by?
- Will I be reporting to the superintendent, board, and/or someone else?
- What types of performance reviews does the board perform for principals? How often do these performance reviews occur?
- How would you describe the superintendent and board members?
- What do you believe the ideal principal for your district is like?
How To Prepare for a Principal Job Interview
Principals have one of the most difficult jobs in the education field. They are responsible for a plethora of different tasks, from talking to parents to observing teachers. If you have a school district you would love to work with, you will naturally get stressed for your principal interview.
But, there is no need to fret when you are adequately prepared. Most individuals struggle with interview preparation, but you do not have to. There are a few simple steps to follow if you want to maximize your odds of acquiring your dream principal position.
First, you need to understand the questions you will likely be asked during your job interview.
This article serves as a starting point for that research. But, do not stop at just reading these questions. Come up with some answers. Consider incorporating your prior experiences into your answers.
Next, get a better understanding of the school you would like to work for.
Look at the job description carefully. Note how you align with the job description’s outline of an ideal candidate. Then, look at the school’s website. See if they list any values. Look over their clubs and after-school activities to get a better understanding of the school’s existing culture.
Also, listen to the school board meetings or read the transcripts if you can find them. This will help you understand what parents are complaining about and what needs to be changed.
Finally, another great way to learn more about the school you are applying to is to speak with former employees or current employees.
If you know someone who works at that school, talk to them. Learn what the school environment is like and what the school struggles with. If they remember what the interview process was like for them, ask them about it.
When approaching a job interview, it is sometimes helpful to have a specific layout you can follow. The STAR method is one such layout. It can help you clearly outline and describe your personal experiences. Using the star method is useful when you are asked questions like “tell me about a time when x happened” or “describe a moment when you…”
The S in STAR stands for situation. Ensure your interviewer knows the context for when this event occurred. Describe who was with you and where you were. Next, the T stands for task. Task encapsulates what you did in the story you are trying to articulate; what role did you play? What was your impact on the team?
The A in STAR represents action. These are the specific steps you took to overcome a problem. Outline the chain of events that you initiated. Finally, the R in this acronym means result. Essentially, what impact did you have on your team? How did your actions change the outcome of this event? Were you able to solve the problem (both in the long term and short term)?
Principal Interview Questions FAQs
What are the 5 qualities of a good principal?
Principals need to have numerous strengths to succeed in their career. Every principal has a different personality and strength profile, and there is no one perfect recipe for the greatest balance of principal strengths.
Still, some strengths are universally recognized as crucially important for principal success. One, principals need to be great communicators. They will speak to parents, teachers, students, and other individuals, so they need to listen well and speak clearly.
Next, they need to have great decision-making skills. Principals make dozens of decisions daily that impact the entire school, after all. The third skill for principals is critical thinking.
Principals should use data and out-of-the-box thinking to achieve their goals. Fourthly, principals should be adaptable. The education field is constantly changing, and principals need to keep up. Finally, they should also be inspiring leaders.
This way, they can have team members on the same page, following the same ultimate goal: helping students.
What are the 4 duties of a principal?
Principals have a plethora of tasks they must accomplish and no shortage of responsibility. When looking over principal duties, 4 stand out as the most crucial. First, they should promote a positive, inclusive, and accepting school environment.
This ensures students feel comfortable at school so they can focus on learning. Next, the principal is responsible for keeping educational standards high.
They must evaluate their teacher’s teaching style, and give constructive criticism so they can grow to serve students better. Third, principals should inspire others.
They must energize students to care about their learning. They should ensure teachers stay passionate. Finally, a principal is responsible for keeping students safe. Safety should be any school’s top priority. If students are not safe, then there is no opportunity for students to learn.
What is the most important role of a principal?
If you look at a principal’s job description, it is easy to get overwhelmed. They are responsible for everything from facilitating parent-teacher conferences and communications to ensuring board meetings run smoothly.
But, the most important role a principal has is ensuring that students have the best learning environment possible. It is their duty to ensure students are first and foremost safe. Then, they must also ensure that teachers are able to effectively communicate the curriculum to students. They should give feedback to teachers.
A principal must also ensure the students feel comfortable and accepted in the school environment to facilitate learning. All of these tasks are performed to fulfill the goal of boosting student success and helping students learn.