Interview Questions to Help You Hire the Right Person

Posted By: Jeff McHugh AASPA Blog,

The old adage “People are your most important asset” turns out to be wrong. 
People are not your most important asset. The right people are.     

- Jim Collins, Good to Great

In Good to Great, Jim Collins preached the importance of hiring the right people. This is especially true in education,where student success is largely dependent upon the adults in the organization. To ensure that the hiring process is effective, it is important to ask high-quality interview questions that allow the interview team to gauge each candidate's qualifications, experience, and ability to handle real-world situations. Unfortunately, traditional interview questions do not always provide a clear picture of a candidate’s strengths and areas for growth. Three types of questions we have found to be highly effective are situational questions, role plays, and the fast and furious Lightning Round.

Situational Questions

Situational questions are designed to assess how a candidate would handle a specific situation that they may encounter in their role. These questions could either be hypothetical or ask a candidate to share about a past experience:

  • For a Classroom Teacher: Think about a time in which a student was not making anticipated progress. What steps did you take and what was the outcome?
  • For a Social Worker: If a student came to you and confided that they were being bullied, what steps would you take to address the situation?
  • For a Curriculum Director: Give us an example of a successful professional learning experience you led.

These questions are designed to assess the candidate's ability to speak to situations that they may encounter in their role. If a candidate cannot provide specifics as to how he or she would handle a situation, that may indicate a lack of experience, knowledge, or skill in that area.

Role Plays

Role plays are another effective (and fun!) way to assess a candidate's ability to handle real-world situations. In a role play, the candidate is given a scenario and asked to play him/herself in the position for which they are interviewing. A member of the interview committee plays a different role (parent, colleague, administrator, student), and the two engage in an improvised dialogue around the given scenario. The interview team watches and takes notes on the candidate's ability to communicate effectively, handle difficult situations, and apply their knowledge of educational best practices. Here are some examples of role plays for educational positions:

  1. For an Administrative Assistant: An interview team member plays the role of a teacher who asks the candidate for information that the candidate believes to be confidential. 
  2. For a Learning Behavior Specialist: An interview team member plays the role of a gym teacher who is uncomfortable having a student with support needs participate in his or her gym class.
  3. For a Principal: An interview team member plays the role of a parent who doesn’t like his/her child’s teacher and wants the candidate to move the student to another class. 

Role plays provide an authentic way to assess a candidate's ability to handle real-world situations. To maintain consistency, each candidate should receive the same scenario, and the same interview team member should play the other role during each interview.  

Lightning Round

Lightning Round questions are quick, rapid-fire questions that require candidates to think on their feet and provide concise answers. These questions are designed to assess the candidate's ability to think quickly and prioritize information effectively. Here are some examples:

  1. Three words my colleagues would use to describe me are . . .
  2. One way I stay current in my practice is . . .
  3. An educational thought leader who has influenced me recently is . . . 
  4. In my free time, I . . .
  5. One way I build relationships is . . .
  6. When I don’t agree with someone . . .
  7. The quality I want most in a colleague is . . .
  8. The quality I want most in a student is . . .

Lightning Round questions provide a way to get a lot of information from candidates in a short amount of time. The answers also tend to be highly authentic, since the candidate does not have time to wordsmith the answers. This can be a stressful line of questioning for candidates, so we typically put the Lightning Round in the middle of an interview and frame it in a lighthearted way (“It’s like you’re on a game show!”). 

Hiring the Right Person

Hiring the right candidate for an educational position is essential to maintain the quality of education provided to students. Situational questions, role plays, and the Lightning Round can help assess a candidate's ability to authentically speak to situations that they might encounter in the role. When asking these questions, the interviewer should look for responses that demonstrate effective communication skills, critical thinking, and an ability to handle difficult situations with empathy and professionalism. By utilizing these high-quality questions, interview teams won’t just find a person for the role, but the right person.