The Notebook- What to Expect from a Senior Leadership Interview

The Notebook- What to Expect from a Senior Leadership Interview

cream always risesHaving sailed easily through two Assistant Headship interviews to gain success on the first occasion with each post, I have over the last few years set my mind on becoming a Deputy Head. Although I’ve not been successful yet, I am cheerfully optimistic that it will come, so armed with great advice from a wise and well respected mentor (“If you shoot, you might just score Jane but if you don’t, you won’t!” and “Cream always rises to the top Jane”) I’m about to embark upon the process again and thought it would be useful to share my thoughts and experiences so far… So thanks for the unwavering support, belief in me and wise words of advice Mr AY, hopefully this time I might just make it…


It’s fair to say that I’ve been interviewed for AHT, DHT and even a Headship and all of these interviews I’ve found to be very similar. In fact I found one of the Deputy interviews to be more demanding than the actual Headship one.

Let me start by saying that I’m a big believer in being picky. I don’t just apply for any promoted post that comes along. It has to be something that ‘grabs’ me in some way, somewhere that I feel I could make a difference and somewhere that the Head has similar values and ethos as myself.  After spending 12 years in one school and working my way through the ranks from second year teacher to Assistant Head, I knew it was time for a change so I applied for a second AHT post as I felt that the job was written for me as it was to lead on teaching, learning and CPD. Before I applied, I took advantage of a pre-visit and met the Head on a one to one basis. I knew as soon as I got there that this was the Head that I wanted to work for; his easy manner, passion and beliefs won me over. I felt that he was very open and honest with me and spent time telling me where the school was warts and all and where he wanted to take it.  This transparency was key and I knew before I left the school that I was going to make an application. I went as usual with my gut feeling that it was right for me. I have visited other schools where the Head has painted a glossy picture that all is rosy in the garden, yet evidence deems otherwise. This is not a place I would choose to work.

I know that some people believe in ‘keeping their powder dry’ and not making a pre-visit but I always do this wherever possible and I feel strongly that this has given me an advantage in being shortlisted. With the exception of one post, I’ve never being disadvantaged by making a pre-visit. The one where I wasn’t shortlisted having made a pre-visit was a long shot as it was a pastoral role for which at the time, I had little experience.

Make sure you do as much research as possible about the school and local community before writing your letter. Look at their Ofsted, website, prospectuses, DfE performance tables etc. This will all help you form the basis of your letter and help you know if you really want to work there.

The application
I’m sure we’ve all heard horror stories of letters being addressed to wrong Heads, so much copying and pasting going on that letters don’t make sense and different school names being used in different parts of the letter, so all of that, including careful proof reading goes without saying. Having attended the ASCL course ‘Towards Deputy Headship’ (which I can highly recommend. This not only gave brilliant advice, but gave me the opportunity to measure myself against other prospective candidates. Provided  me with a mentor in the form of an experienced Head who scrutinised my letter of application, interviewed me and then offered a candid opinion as to whether I was ready and  had the necessary skills to become a Deputy) gave me a more focused insight into what my letter should consist of. So here goes…
1) Think about the presentation. Keep it clear, simple, well structured and relevant to the position advertised. Use a minimum font size of 11. Stick to 2 sides of A4 unless you’re asked for more.
2) Ensure you meet the deadline for applying.
3) Match the person specification and job description criteria throughout your letter.
4) Focus on your own educational beliefs, values, vision.
5) Sounds obvious (apparently so many letters don’t do this) but make sure you mention the students and highlight your passion in working with them.
6) Briefly explain why you’re seeking a career move.
7) Demonstrate an awareness of current national agendas and their impact on the school and the role that you are applying for.
7) Having researched the school, state what you would like to tackle as early priorities.
8) Try to avoid overusing ‘I’ as you will also need to demonstrate that you are a team player.
9) Ask for feedback on your letter from trusted people (however avoid giving it to too may people as opinions often clash and this can become confusing)
10) Demonstrate your sense of fun and enjoyment


The Interview- day 1
SLT interviews are usually held over 2 days, with the second day (if you get through) usually being the formal panel interview.  The tasks below are from a series of interviews that I’ve attended. I would estimate that you usually get about 5-6 carousel tasks to do on day one.
1) An analysis of data task (usually pages of Raise to wade through, sometimes supplemented with internal data) I have been asked to simply analyse this and set priorities for improvement, but on other occasions, I have been asked to present this information to a panel, where they then asked  supplementary questions.
2) Mini-panel interviews. I’ve experienced these on leadership and management, teaching and learning, governing body, professional dialogue with the Head or another member of the senior team. They usually consist of 4-5 questions on each panel.
3) Student panel interview- always a joy. Be prepared to ask them questions as well as being asked questions about uniform, bullying, your own personal qualities.
4) Delivery of an assembly.
5) In tray tasks such as responding to particular scenarios. One that comes to mind asked me how I would deal with parents feuding over Facebook. I then had to write a letter to be published on the school website addressing the situation.
6) Lesson observations where you either give feedback to the staff member or comment upon the feedback given.
7) Work scrutiny
8) Fishbowl tasks. I’ve only had to do this once and to be honest I was dreading it, but surprisingly I really enjoyed the challenge of it. There were 8 candidates and each candidate was randomly given a different scenario. We had to chair a debate with the rest of the candidates, arrive at an outcome and feed this back to the Head who was observing, along with 3 other members of the Senior team/Governing body. An example of one of the scenarios was ‘It has come to our attention that a group of staff are extremely negative about all of the new strategies and policies put in place to enhance Teaching and Learning. What action should we take to deal with this situation?
9) Teach a lesson
10) Deliver a presentation on a given topic



The Interview- day 2
My experience of this is that if you are successful in getting through to the second day, you will be allocated a time to arrive for interview. Panels invariably consist of the Head, a second deputy, several members of the governing body and at times an external advisor in some form, depending on the role advertised. Question that I have had have ranged from 10-20 questions. I have included a sample of some of these below. Should anyone require any more, then please feel free to contact me. I have hundreds!
1) What qualities and characteristics do you have that make you a suitable candidate for this role?
2) Describe your leadership style
3) How would you raise achievement?
4) Describe a situation where you were placed in an unethical situation. How did you deal with this?
5) How would you address a curriculum that does not fully meet the needs of the students?
6) What are the characteristics of an effective school?
7) How would you go about raising staff, pupil and parents’ expectations
8) How would you establish yourself in your first term?
9) What ideas do you have to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the school?
10) We have consistently poor attendance and behaviour from a small number of pupils. How would you address this issue?
11) Describe your role in a situation where significant change was needed to be implemented to bring about improvement.
12) What constitutes good performance management?
13) How would you work with the governing body?
14) How will you ensure that the priorities reflected in the school improvement plan are the priorities of all key stakeholders?
15) From your experience what do you see as the heart of effective financial management?
16) What was the most effective form of CPD you have participated in and why?
17) Based on your experience, what are the most effective ways of increasing parent involvement with the school?
18) How would you go about improving the school’s image?
19) how would you manage work/life balance in such a challenging role?
20) To what extent is uniform important?

cropped-Note-to-self.jpgNote to Self- what have I learned from all of this?
1) I have tenacity! These are gruelling days and I’ve frequently managed to get through to day 2. I’m sure eventually I’ll make it the whole way!
2) Remain upbeat no matter what is thrown at you. The worst that can happen is you make an absolute mess of a question or panel (I have and withdrew from the interview as decided the school wasn’t for me anyway. However the Head did say he was impressed with my tenacity to keep going until the end of day one. He gave me excellent feedback and told me it would come and I was ready)
3) Take any feedback offered.  It is invaluable.
4) Forget about the other candidates and concentrate on yourself.
5) Get a good night’s sleep.
6) Be prepared. I’ve seen some candidates turn up late or not bring documents that they were asked to bring.
7) Expect the unexpected. Sometimes there are no breaks at all in the carousels and the day is just as much a test of endurance as anything else.
8) You’re being observed at all times. Think about what you say, body language,posture etc
9) Be certain this school is where you want to work. You’re going to be spending a lot of time here!
10) Believe in yourself. There are unfortunately, negative people out there who are all too keen to tell you that you’re not ready, don’t have the necessary skills etc, etc.  Unless this comes from someone you trust and respect, my best advice is to ignore it. Life can be full of negativity from people who have their own insecurities and agendas. Instead surround yourself with positivity and people who you know will tell you the truth in the most constructive way possible. We all have areas we are lacking in, but there’s nothing more frustrating and demotivating than hearing you have some sort of skills deficit but not being given any advice on how to improve or what it is you’re deficient in.
10) And finally- smile, try to enjoy it and just be yourself!   Sometimes it can seem like another candidate has been unfairly appointed, but you have no idea what the school is really looking for.  There will be job out there with your name on it.


Bring on the next interview please….