You made it to the interview, now what?

Your writing, experience, and endorsements got you through the door, but it’s a different ball game at the semi-final level. These three things will help you make the right impression.
Gary Arnold
Head of School, LRCA

In a few months, a fresh executive search cycle will commence. Boards, aspiring heads and heads of school will be prayerfully asking the question: is this the year for a change? We predict many choice leadership opportunities will come to pass.

In the last six months, NextEd conducted three successful executive searches for school boards. Scores of applicants were considered, and each search team diligently narrowed the field to an intriguing list of candidates. Timing, written presentations, experience, interviews and endorsements all contributed to an applicant’s advance to the category of candidate. From there, candidates were – for lack of a better word – “tested” to advance to a semi-finalist level. The semi-finalist interview is where it gets interesting.

There are a dozen tips we can share going into the critical semi-finalist interview but, let’s start with three.

  1. To enhance one’s reputation among schools and school boards, we urge you to not pursue a leadership opportunity unless you are truly willing to accept the position, if offered. It leaves a lasting impression if, after weeks of consideration and real investment, a candidate turns down a bona fide offer.

Yes, real leadership is in scarce supply and there is leverage in that fact. But in the case of Christian school leadership, character trumps everything. Professional pursuits must be bathed in prayer. Granted, in prayer one might be guided away from an opportunity. We highly recommend the courtesy of keeping the search team informed of your guidance. By the time you enter the finalist stage of a search, you should be ready to commit if called. Deal-breaker terms should be vetted well before you compete for the finalist interview. If you’d like to discuss this opinion further, please contact us. We’d be happy to unpack this tip in greater detail.

  1. Whether an interview is virtual or in-person, enliven the room. 

In our experience, we are too-frequently surprised by the lack of vigor and professionalism during a virtual interview. Everyone knows the limitations of 2D, but make every effort to enhance the experience. Your dress, background, eye contact and countenance are just as important as if you were in a corporate conference room. If you have the pleasure of interviewing in-person, take a few moments to read the room. Notice who asks what and why. Ask a perceptive question of the committee. Acknowledge the presence of the quietest person in the room. Here is the most important counsel: come up for air during your answers. Even the best essay answers are boring. Letting the committee dig deeper into your answer is often more invigorating to the room than a long, complete response. Keep them wanting more. Read the room to gauge whether the team wants more or is ready to move on to the next question. Share compact, confident answers pregnant with the promise of more.

  1. You will be asked, usually early in the interview, “What does your first year as head of school look like? Resist the temptation to answer: “I intend to spend time listening!”

Though wise, it has become a pat answer, a cliche. Search teams expect it but want more. So, give them more. Don’t attempt to rename the school, of course. Instead, share a fresh idea that flows naturally from the school’s strategic plan, or comment on the potential of the leadership team and your desire to get to know them on a more personal level. Share your earnest desire to get to know the teachers. Share your plan to mentor twelve high school students. These ideas require listening, but they offer a far richer response.

One thing we have learned in a short amount of time is this: the Lord knows your future. He planned it from the beginning. Rest in that and let him direct your path. Be transparent, winsome and humble. Take heart: the Lord’s will shall prevail for you and for the school.