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  • Kris Cosca, EdD

Navigating the Interview Process for Principal at Your Current School

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

An announcement is made that your principal is leaving, and you feel a range of conflicting emotions. Perhaps it’s sadness over a beloved leader stepping aside. Or joy that a person you weren’t quite aligned with is leaving. If your dream is to be the next principal, feelings of anxiety, trepidation and excitement are also thrown into the mix.

A Little Bit About Me

Let me share a little about myself and why I am qualified to help you navigate the turbulent process of applying for the top job at your institution. In 2021, I left a great superintendent job to recalibrate my life around the work I love and to step away from the parts of the job that weren’t working for me. I wasn’t feeling like I was making a difference in the lives of the 7,500 students I was hired to serve. Prior to becoming a superintendent, I was a classroom teacher, assistant principal, principal, director of curriculum and instruction and assistant superintendent of human resources. I’ve been involved in many internal promotions, including that of teacher to principal. I’ve coached several of those new principals to success in their new roles. I will share some of what I learned along the way in the hope that it benefits you.


Becoming the Principal at Your School Can Be Done and Well Done

When considering a transition into the role of principal at your current school, know that it can be done and done well. But it’s also hard. The right internal candidate knows the culture of the school and district, the systems in place, the players, the challenges, and the opportunities. They most likely know how the school has dealt with other leadership transitions and the strategies most likely to work in their community. They have assets and knowledge that no outside candidate has. This transition can be challenging for some of the very same reasons.

People know the internal candidate and likely have strong opinions about that person’s qualifications for the job. They may view the candidate in their current role and have a sense of what they excel at, as well as a thought or two on what they perceive as room for improvement. And so, the same familiarity that sets you apart from outside contenders may also work to your disadvantage. One thing is certain for any organization: It’s hard to move from colleague and friend to being the boss. The internal candidate often thinks this isn’t big deal, and some of their colleagues will, at least initially, feel the same. Others will struggle with your aspirations from the start. Relationships forged over years can be difficult to manage through the process of applying for the principal’s position to hopefully being hired for the position.

As the internal Candidate, You Need to Shine!

Educators are typically humble people who resist selling themselves. Internal candidates cannot afford to be shy about their accomplishments and plans. Remember, you possess attributes other candidates can’t match. This includes intimate knowledge of the school and district and relationships on campus and in the community. You can leverage these assets to collaborate and move the school forward.

When the interview panel convenes and meets up to eight candidates, you must be prepared to shine brighter than the rest. If external candidates are well prepared and articulate, they may win the day over the more familiar and locally experienced person. To shine brighter, the internal candidate needs to focus on the assets they bring to the role and be willing to own their areas for growth.

Appearance matters. Dress appropriately for the awesome responsibility for which you are applying. Ensure that the interview panel sees you as their future leader on interview day. If you need help in this regard, find the right person in your network to help you. Do not overlook this important element.

It Will Not Always Go Your Way

But what if you don’t get the job? There are countless reasons why an internal candidate isn't selected for the job. Some are within your control; others are not. If it doesn’t work out, remember that it’s a big world out there filled with amazing schools and communities that may be craving what you bring. If you are passed over for the job of principal of your school, lick your wounds, do your research, and find other wonderful schools that are ready for you to step in and be their next leader!

Best of luck on your journey and reach out if there is anything I can do to help!

Your dream job could be just a click away. Click here for your free 10-page PDF with 15 steps to help you get your dream principal or assistant principal dream job or here for a seven-minute video that will help you better paint a picture of yourself being successful in your dream job! And here if you want some principal and assistant principal interview questions


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