What to ask the Head at an interview

“…and have you any questions?”

This is the one sure-fire question at the end of every interview and yet it isn’t always handled well by candidates. There are ways to prepare and a few dos and don’ts to remember but before I get to those I think it is important to set the scene from the Head’s point of view. After all, the Head is the one making the decision.

What is the Head teacher thinking during an interview?

Heads know that their school is never better than the staff they recruit. They also know that staff problems can be the hardest and most time consuming ones to solve. So every appointment is important, every candidate is special and they want to get it right. These thoughts will go through the Head’s mind on the day of your interview:

  • To get you here I have processed a lot of forms, read a lot of letters, compared a lot of cvs and yours was one of the best.
  • I want you to be the right candidate and I am really looking forward to you making my day.
  • You have the skills, qualification and experiences to do the job. When we meet I want to learn more about you.
  • I am looking for you to fill a space, work well within the team and hopefully add something new.

Remember this when you are sitting there answering questions, promoting yourself and probably worrying whether you are saying and doing the right thing.

You, the Head and anybody else in that room wants you to be the best candidate and this is your chance to leave behind a great impression.

How to make that last interview question work for you

Once all of the candidates have left the school or signed off their Zoom calls the school team is left to make a decision. Everybody is discussed, reviewed, kept in, ruled out and reviewed again. On a good day with good candidates it comes down to increments – the small positives or negatives within the school’s key variables that push and pull interviewees up and down the rankings. In my experience, the holder of the number one slot can change many times with that final question an important element in the decision, so make it work for you. Of course you should be your unique self and the best version of yourself, but here are a few key points to keep in mind.

Shine a light on your suitability and energy

If there is something you can offer the school that hasn’t been raised but might boost your chances then pose it as a question. Use this time to show what else you can offer apart from your subject or specialism. For example, I see the school offers the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, might I be able to take part and run some outdoor education? Or, I do quite a bit of mountain biking/dance/yoga/Muay Thai/chess/musical theatre/etc in my free time, are there any opportunities to run an ECA? Or I am a GCSE examiner, does the school have any objection to me continuing to do this if I am appointed?

Show you are eager to develop your career

If you have plans to take on a different role in the years ahead then ask if there might be opportunities for pastoral, academic or other responsibility roles in the years ahead. This sort of question gives a good impression about your willingness to invest time in the school as well as investing in your own career.

Pick up on something that has happened during the visit

If you meet pupils or other staff remember their names and something significant about what they said. Integrating their comments into a question shows you are alert and sensitive to those around you.

Avoid sounding selfish

Don’t ask about holidays, teaching hours, coffee breaks, how early you can leave on a Friday or similar. I have had all of these and more asked many times and every occasion makes my heart sink a little deeper. You can find out all these things if you are offered the job but asking at this stage will not boost your chances.

Avoid saying nothing

Please don’t say, “No questions, I think you have covered everything, thank you.” It can be tempting, especially if the interview process has been stressful or long, but don’t fall at the final hurdle – keep going!

At interviews the school determines where you go, what you do, who you see and what questions you answer but in the last few minutes you have your chance to take the lead, so make it matter.

Remember that all good interviewers spend the whole time listening, looking, assessing, thinking, theorising and trying to imagine you working in the school. This process isn’t over until you say your goodbyes so make every moment count, especially the final, memorable ones.

About the author

Peter HoganPeter Hogan has been head of four schools in the UK and overseas. He has taught at and led schools in the state and independent sectors, spent a decade as a schools' inspector and acted as education adviser for organizations including The Financial Times, HSBC and a number of international charities. He has also served as a school and a university governor.

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