Turning the tables on interviews

Todd Whitaker said that there are two ways to have an amazing school: Hire great teachers and improve the ones you already have. Now I’m not here to focus on the best means to improve the ones you have as that requires personalization and is work I continue to strive toward each day. However I have always been a firm believer in the importance of hiring well.  And have been surprised over the years by the number of school leaders that delegate this responsibility. It’s far too critical to both the health and success of every school. 


I love interviewing candidates. The main reason is that it allows you to be unapologetically aspirational. You have the chance to find someone that will make your school stronger than you may have imagined and someone who can take your kids to the highest levels. Now I’m not saying that you offer any deception about your current reality when seeking a best fit or job match among candidates. I am encouraging you to focus during an interview on those days when “we are at our best.”  Seizing the opportunity to engage in affirmative inquiry allows you to reflect on your wins without being discouraged by your areas in need of growth.

My campus has strived for excellence since the doors opened in 1955. For a large urban high school, the stability with leadership exceeds expectations and when coupled with a large core of veteran teachers committed to keeping a high standard for everyone, I know we are normally blessed with a sizable pool of applicants.  That being said, the evolution we have undertaken of late has been the means by which we have had to adapt and develop our strategies to impact that work toward similar lofty standards.  We haven’t done this work without struggle, doubt, and a lot of honest reflection. Our learning the past five years has pushed me toward this different slant when interviewing people to join our team.  Largely it is that we really should be the ones that sweat a bit as we search for that person that will make us better.  When sitting across from a strong candidate, it really should be us that is sweating a bit. Rock star educators aren’t everywhere, and so it’s at that moment that I feel the tables switch.  

As a team we now better understand that we aren’t looking for someone to remark that they are a quick learner and willing to “fit in” to our school.  I make it a point to let them know that I am not looking for someone to sit at the end of the bench for a year and wait their turn. Every hire must include a belief that the new team member makes us stronger and will push our thinking and thus the overall learning on campus.  And so we are really the ones that should be nervous that they won’t choose us.  We should wonder whether the learning that we emphasize for both our students and our adults is enriching enough to bring along the best. 

The clarity with which I have seen this over the past 6-8 weeks has excited me in new ways. And I think it may even remind all members of our school community that they have agency each day.  Finally, it reminds others of our vision as a school community. We get the chance to tell our story and our responsibility to do just that is paramount to every school community.  If we ignore or miss this chance, then we leave others to either tell their version or permit a suspect version to gain credibility (as there is no contrary response or narrative). 


Screening candidates, scheduling interviews, checking references, and then working with HR to bring on a new person is work.  It’s an invstement and deserves the same due diligence we would exercise within our personal lives.  The timing for most hiring couldn’t be harder as it’s at the most hectic juncture in the school year. But, I mean, c’mon, is there anything better than landing that rock star addition to your team.  What interview practices might you consider shifting this summer?

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