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Landing your first principal job is no small feat. Likely, you’ve discovered some challenges already in this process. Maybe you’ve followed some principal interview tips and prepared the perfect answers to principal interview questions.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

However, there is hope. And there are simple steps you can take to find the right fit for you and land your first principal job when the timing is right! That’s what I’d like to share with you in this post.

Warning! This post is quite lengthy, so feel free to use the links below to skip to the section you’d like to read, and bookmark this post (or email to yourself) to come back to later.

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From Teacher to Principal

The first step to landing your first principal job is a long-term phase of building your leadership network and gaining trust with educational leaders.

In education, we always say relationships are the priority. The same is true for landing your first principalship. If someone trusts you, they’ll give you a chance.

Here are a few ways to start that move to a principal job.

How To Land Your First Principal Job

  1. Volunteer for Leadership Roles

    At every chance you get, say yes. Yes to committees, yes to after school events, yes to cafeteria duty, and yes to programs that help students. Help the team leader. Become a team leader. Gain experience with time management, project management, decision-making, and conflict resolution.

  2. Connect with a Mentor

    Find a mentor in your district, in your area, online, or in a program like ours here at Principals’ Seminar. A mentor gives you an objective third-party perspective on your candidacy.

  3. Increase Your Visibility

    Visibility is another word for a personal brand. No, not logos and social media – a personal brand is your reputation. Increase your visibility by submitting articles for publication (did you know you can publish for websites such at Nohea or here at Principals’ Seminar?), submit to present at local conferences, and attend national conferences to meet new people and offer a helping hand.

  4. Develop Your Specialty

    Apple does personal devices, Nike does shoes, Kardashians do fashion, what do you do? Find challenges in your school or district and do everything you can to help solve those challenges. Read voraciously as if you were already the principal – already responsible for the school’s success. Find a specialty that you can do better than the rest.

  5. Stay Hungry, Stay Humble

    If you’d prefer to watch Netflix and take a day off work every other week, that’s fine. But a principal job may not be for you. A school leader must be passionate about education and honest about your own appreciation for the people around you.

  6. Standout From the Crowd

    When everyone else is critical or negative, be optimistic. When everyone else calls parents only when they must, call them whenever you can. Go the extra mile. Be the difference.

In addition to providing immense value to your school or school district, the tips above will provide a wealth of leadership experience for your own professional learning and resume.

Principal Interview is About People, Not Paper

Yes, we push a lot of paper in education. Data meetings, IEP meetings, lesson planning, and more. But the principal interview is not about your resume or portfolio.

The principal interview is about the people in that room – and the school community they represent.

This is your chance to show what cannot be shown on an application. This is your chance to show your emotional intelligence, your self-awareness, and your energy.

If you’ve spent any time on an interview committee (which is another role to volunteer for!), then you know you can gauge someone’s fit at your campus within the first five minutes of the interview.

Here are some dos and don’t for the principal interview:

DO DON’T
> Make a personal connection with the interviewers (handshakes, eye contact, speak directly).
> Answer every question.
> Allow silence.
> Pause and smile – show you enjoy the pressure.
> Focus on your breath.
> Have three verbs that sum up who you are.
> Have three adjectives that sum up your work.
> Do your homework on the district/school.
> Be ready to share a quote.
> Be ready to share what you’re currently reading for a professional book and a children’s book/novel.
> Be ready to add additional value statements at the end, if prompted to do so.
> Look down, look at the walls, or forget that these are real people who are likely tired from a long afternoon of candidates.
> Present false information or make up answers.
> Try to fill every moment with talking.
> Get out of breath.
> Try to give the answers they want to hear.
> Try to be someone else.

You don’t have to be chipper, cut jokes, or smile as wide as the Joker, but you should convey an overall optimist strength in the interview. Back that presence up with stories about your positivity:

  • How do you support growth mindsets?
  • How do you show gratitude to the people you work with?
  • What do you do daily to actively build positive relationships with students, co-workers, and families?
  • How do you reinforce the efforts of others to do the above?

Mentors and Networks

Oftentimes you’ll hear the complaints, “It’s too political” or “It’s just about who you know.” It’s easy to get caught up in that cynicism, but if you think about it for a moment, it actually makes sense.

Leadership is about trust and relationships.

The higher up the chain of command, the more your position is about trust, judgment, and respect.

So yes, it is about who you know, who can trust you, and the relationships you build.

Two ways to land the first principal job include expanding your network via:

  1. Professional Mentors
  2. Professional Networks

A great place to start building or plugging into a network is on social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter (#leadupchat, #822chat, #principalsinaction). Get involved in the conversations on leading hashtags to learn with other educational leaders.

Also, start publishing your thoughts. This could be in a blog, an online portfolio, or any other outlet. It serves a few important objectives:

  • It allows you to better structure your leadership philosophies.
  • It provides you with a chance to garner feedback.
  • It enhances your network.
  • It brings value to other educators.

These four bullet points are essential to landing your first principal job.

Principal Interview Tips

Interview prep is important, but the aforementioned foundational steps must come first. That said, let’s look at some interview questions that you should always have an answer to. 

If anything, having an answer shows you’re serious about the job and know how to take initiative to prepare for the unknown.

General Principal Interview Questions

  • What would a day in your office look like?
  • How will you balance being a young leader with a veteran staff?
  • Tell me about the most difficult team you’ve ever lead…why were they difficult and how did you cope?
  • Tell me about a time when you didn’t agree with something, but had to do it anyway…
  • When was the last time you faced an unexpected setback?
  • How would you go about improving our (math, reading, etc) scores?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to think outside the box to complete a task…were you successful?
  • Tell me about a time when you faced a challenge in a leadership role, and how did you approach the challenge?

Stopper Questions

Stopper questions are the tough ones. These are the questions in a principal interview to see how you struggle with a tough situation and to sift through the candidates who can think on their feet.

  • [Scenario about teacher conflict] How would you handle it?
  • [Scenario about a defiant staff member] How would you handle it?
  • If you learned a supervisor or colleague had committed some sort of illegal or unethical act, what would you do?
  • [Scenario about a challenging parent conversation] He states that you have to be the worst principal the school has ever had or calls you names. How do you react?
  • [Scenario about several major campus events] How would you manage the projects and time to make sure the events are a success.
How to get your first principal job. Principals' Seminar

Getting Your First Principal Job

Your first principalship is important for your career. It will shape you in many ways more than merely learning and growth.

It will shape how you view yourself as a professional. It can shape how you perceive your own worth as an educational leader.

For these reasons, it’s just as important to find the right school to fit you. You should have the freedom to be yourself at work – to lead as yourself. The emotional labor of flexing too far outside of who you naturally are can create work fatigue and maybe even burnout.

Your success in landing that first principal job is will quickly be overshadowed by your success in your first principal job.

If you need help preparing for the principal interview or landing the principal interview, we’re designing a workshop for you. It’s called Get The Gig.

If you enjoyed the free resources in this article, then you should definitely follow the link below to get started with Get The Gig!

Click here to Get The Gig.

Matt Foster


"I help people discover new perspectives." Matt is an educational creator, writer, business owner, certified teacher, certified principal, and sailor. He is CEO of TeamTom Education LLC and co-founder here at Principals' Seminar.

  • It is also important to not focus on “what are the questions they will ask me” but rather focus on “what do I need to share with them about myself”. Believe in yourself, share your passion for leading others and give examples of your impact.

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