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The Single-Most Important Question You Must Always Answer!

It's the one question that is always in the mind of any interviewer. It doesn't matter whether you are interviewing for a job flipping burgers at your local fast- food restaurant, for the CEO position at a major company, or for a position as the manager of a minor league baseball club—every interviewer has this question on his or her mind. And here's why it is important—the question will never be asked in any interview, but it must always be answered.

The question is this:

: How will this person make my job easier?

You are being interviewed because the interviewer hopes you can bring value, dedication, and expertise to the job. Those qualities are what any boss wants to see in his or her employees. Those qualities help the boss (principal) do his or her job better and ensure that a product (education) gets into the hands of the consumer (students). That single question will never come up in any interview, but if you can answer the question—several times during the interview—you will put yourself heads and shoulders above the rest of the competition and ensure a very favorable assessment on the interview.

For most bosses—and for every building principal—their responsibilities are numerous and non-stop. They must handle a whirlwind of responsibilities, demands, schedules, unexpected events, and last-minute chores that strain their patience and their resolve. It's like a circus performer who juggles 15 bowling balls while encouraging a dozen lions to jump through flaming hoops, all while walking a tightrope a hundred feet in the air. And that's every day. To say that principals are overworked and overscheduled would be to understate the obvious.

Each of those principals is looking for ways to maximize his or her performance and minimize stress. If you can demonstrate ways in which you will make the principal's job a little easier—a little less crazy and a little less stressful—then you will be the one he or she remembers when it comes time to make a final decision on who gets hired and who doesn't.


An interview is like a sales pitch. You are trying to sell a product, and the interviewer wants to purchase the best product available. Only in this case you are not trying to sell "you." Rather, you are trying to sell the benefits of you. How will you benefit the school?

Here's an example:

Josh was interviewing for a third-grade position at Shady Lane Elementary School. A week before the interview, he read an article in the local newspaper about how the school's reading scores were going down. During the interview the principal asked him, "What will you be able to bring to this position?"

Josh responded, "During my student teaching experience I worked with another teacher in setting up an after-school tutoring program for students who were below grade level in reading. We met with the kids twice a week and offered them one-on-one tutoring services in addition to an outreach program for parents on how they can get actively involved in their children's reading growth and development. By the end of the tenth week, the kids were showing reading gains of 27 to 39 percent.

"I would like to have the opportunity to initiate a similar venture here—giving kids an extra chance in reading and working closely with their parents to promote reading in a very positive way. I believe my experience and organizational skills can go a long way in helping the program be successful."

By reading the article, Josh knew that the school was experiencing some challenges in regard to students' growth and development in reading. He also surmised (correctly) that this was a concern of the principal, simply because it had been featured in the local paper. So Josh wisely decided to address the principal's concern and answer the question that was in the back of her mind, the question she never asked: How will this person make my job easier?


"The two best pieces of interview advice I can offer teacher candidates are 1) Research the district prior to the interview, and 2) Share how they will be a team player."

Here's how another candidate answered the question:

Heather wanted to teach more than anything else in the world. She also knew that the competition for the 10th-grade social studies position at Central High School was fierce. Six students from her college were applying for that position in addition to dozens of others from various colleges and universities. The principal, Mr. Grove, had a tough choice to make.

During the course of the interview, Mr. Grove made two or three references to the school newspaper; it had gone through four different student editors since the start of the year and the morale among the staff was low. Heather sensed his concern and in response to the question "What would you say is your greatest strength?" Heather replied, "I'm a goal-oriented person. My greatest strength is my ability to be organized and stay organized. My classroom and my lesson plans are always well-planned and in order. For example, I believe I can bring those organizational skills to the school newspaper. I worked for two years on the college newspaper before my student teaching semester. I've taken a few journalism courses and interned at our local newspaper one summer—my uncle is the managing editor—where I worked in a number of departments. I enjoy a challenge and would welcome the opportunity to bring my background of experiences with journalism and newspapers to Central High School. If assigned as a faculty advisor, I can assure you of a newspaper operation that will be successful—and very organized."

Notice how Heather quickly surmised that the operation of the school newspaper was an ongoing concern of the principal. She quickly looked for an opportunity to share how her unique experiences and qualifications might help the principal—to make his job just a little easier.

As you might guess, the key to answering this never-asked question is to be prepared before the interview and to listen carefully for clues during the interview when you can provide several responses to the query. Every principal has challenges that he or she must meet. If you can show how you can assist in that process, then you will be establishing yourself as a candidate any principal would love to have on the staff.


By visiting the school ahead of time, checking out the school or district Web site, and talking with teachers, students, or parents in the local community, you can obtain some very valuable information that will help you formulate appropriate answers during the course of the interview.

Here's how Tyler responded to the unasked question during the course of his interview with Mr. Hamilton at First Street Elementary School:

Mr. Hamilton: In reviewing your resume, I noticed that you've spent quite a bit of time with a group called Camp Wildcat. Can you tell me what that is?

Tyler: Certainly. It's a student organization at the University of

Arizona that works with underprivileged students from throughout Tucson. We offer several camping experiences throughout the year at a facility several miles outside of town. University students volunteer as counselors, activity leaders, tutors, cooks, and a whole variety of other jobs. It's a way of offering kids outdoor activities and experiences they may not get in an urban environment.

Mr. Hamilton: What kinds of things did you do?

Tyler: When I first got to the U of A, I heard about this group during student orientation. I knew I wanted to get involved, because I was planning to be a teacher. I started working in the student office and then volunteered for some of the weekend camps. I was hooked! I ran for Assistant Camp Director and was elected in my junior year. I was put in charge of organizing the summer camp program, recruiting student volunteers, and coordinating all the activities—all while taking a full load of classes. Because I'm a detail person, I was able to stay focused and organized while still maintaining my sanity. I love working with people—particularly when we all have the same goal in mind. It was a very successful venture, and I believe I was able to use my talents in a very positive way—helping less-fortunate kids grow and learn.

Through his response, Tyler gave Mr. Hamilton information he needed, but never asked for. Tyler demonstrated that he was organized, goal-oriented, a team player, and someone who always has kids' best interests in mind. These are all qualities of great teachers that principals want in their teaching staff. Tyler was never asked if he had those qualities, but he took the time to answer the unasked question.

During the course of an interview, you can create one or more "openings" that will provide you with opportunities to respond to this never-asked question. Notice how

Jennifer set up (in a very positive way) Mrs. Morrison, the principal at Red Ridge Elementary School:

Mrs. Morrison: Well, it's been a very interesting conversation, Jennifer. We've talked about many things. Are there any questions you'd like to ask?

Jennifer: Yes. Given the current emphasis on inquiry-based science, I'm wondering what challenges your teachers are having in meeting the demands of an inquiry-based curriculum?

Mrs. Morrison: We have several older teachers who haven't had a lot of training on inquiry-based science. They've found it to be a real struggle in designing lesson plans that are more student-centered and less teacher-directed.

Jennifer: Well, science is one of my passions. In our science methods course, we learned how to write inquiry-based lesson plans. During my student teaching experience I had the opportunity to help other fourth-grade teachers craft lesson plans using an inquiry model. I also worked with my major professor on a project to bring more inquiry-based science into some local schools.

Mrs. Morrison: It sounds like you have a real passion for inquiry-based science.

Jennifer: Yes, I do. I'd like to bring that passion here to Red

Ridge. I believe I have the skills and energy that can re-invigorate the overall science program. I'm a good organizer, I work very well with people, and I love writing science units. I'd welcome the opportunity to work with Red Ridge teachers on designing and implementing a new science curriculum. I love challenges, and I love hard work!

Jennifer gave Mrs. Morrison an opportunity to share one of the school's ongoing struggles. Then Jennifer provided a response that highlighted one of her strengths as well as her willingness to address that challenge. Mrs. Morrison never asked Jennifer, "How will this person make my job easier?" but Jennifer took the time to answer the question and, not surprisingly, secure the job.

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