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Les Potter is currently the Assistant to the Superintendent (Educational Services Overseas Limited) in Egypt. He received his doctorate from the University of South Carolina. Les has over 45 years...
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Tips for Interviewing: Questions to Ask

Good interviewers have developed critical attributes of effective interview questions and questioning techniques. Interviewing is one of the most important ways to see if your candidate is a "good fit" for your school. Interviews can be both in person and virtually but the components of interviewing are very similar.  I currently work in an American international school in Cairo where we try to hire as many Americans as we can for all faculty and administrative positions. The great majority of our interviewing is by zoom. Here are several quick tips to help educational leaders in interviewing. In my 45 years in educational leadership in seven US states and Egypt, I have a lot of experience in interviewing (K-12 and university) and I hope you will find this information helpful.

Good interview questions:

Each question should have a purpose. Whether broad or narrow in scope, each question should be aimed at a target of some kind. You want to find out if the candidate is a good match for your organization. You will want to find out if the candidate will be successful in that position. I think it is also important if the candidate will be a cohesive part of your team. Can you work with this person?

  • Each question must be tied to job requirements; they should not stray into areas unrelated to the job. Such as: personal questions--are you married, do you have children, etc. Personal questions can also get you in legal trouble.  Keep the questions job related. Another good tip is NOT to ask questions to the candidate prior to the actual interview. Sometimes, the candidate will get to the table early and you are waiting for other interviewers to appear and to fill the "dead" time you start talking to/questioning the candidate. Is this part of the interview? Legally I would not even casually question the candidate until you and your team are ready. This can cause problems if the candidate does not get the position. That candidate could say that they were unfairly questioned in comparison to the other applicants.
  • Each question should be focused and clear without asking multiple questions in the same statement. Also give the candidate time to answer. You want the applicant to be thoughtful and reflective of each answer.
  • To be fair to each candidate, every question should be asked to each candidate. This will also help you in comparing answers of each candidate.
  • Each question should have a meaningful place in the entire sequence of interview questions. Spend time with your interview team to develop and arrange questions that are most useful to you. Also, check with your district's legal or HR team about writing comments about the candidates' answers. Often we take notes when the candidates are answering the questions. In some states I have found that  anything written by the interview team during the interview can be seen by the candidate and his/her legal team under the state's Sunshine Laws. If you are new to the interview process, I think it is wise to get direction from your district's HR department prior to interviewing.

Questioning Techniques:

  • Use open ended questions-these questions require more than a simple yes or no answer. It will make the candidate think and critically analyze the questions. You can begin with: "what", "where", "how", "who", "why" "when", etc.
  • Penetration technique-this technique is probing for great depth in a given area by asking a series of open-ended questions in succession. This forces the applicant into increasing levels of detail and provides the interviewer with considerable more information on which to base a hiring decision.
  • Pause/silence technique-the use of silence or a pause is an effective technique frequently used by experienced interviewers. It has the effect of compelling the candidate to talk more in depth concerning the question.  
  • Probing technique-this is one of the most useful techniques that the interviewers can use during this process. Some aspects of probing can also serve in other areas of everyday relationships with faculty and parents. The first step in probing is often as simple as repeating the question. In addition to repeating the question, try these:

1) What do you mean by that?
2) Tell us more about that?
3) Is there anything else?

  • Stalling technique-the stalling technique can be used by the interviewer to give the candidate more time to think of an answer. Candidates will be nervous during the process and sometimes just need a little bit more time to think. We would just repeat the question or perhaps rephrase it to assist the candidate.

If you are new to the interview process, certainly feel free to work with a more experienced administrator or your district's HR team. Interviewing is an important skill that comes with experience. Unfortunately, most graduate schools in educational leadership do not cover their classes and few districts that I am familiar with, have set procedures, guidelines, etc. for the interview.

Good luck!

Information was gleaned from the book: Tips for the Prospective Teacher. by Les Potter

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Dr. Les Potter
former Director and current Assistant to the Superintendent
American International School West, Cairo Egypt
[email protected]