Ask Anna – The SBL Interview

Dear Anna, I would like to be a School Business Leader and I’m really pleased that I have my first interview soon but I’m not sure how to prepare for it so that I give myself the best chance against other (probably more experienced) candidates. Interviews in schools seem to be very different to offices and I know I will need to come across as self-confident. Can you help please? SBL-in-waiting

Dear SBL-in-waiting,

Congratulations on getting an interview! You have successfully navigated the first hurdle on your way to becoming a School Business Leader. You’re right in thinking that now you need to prepare carefully for the interview day as it is likely that the vacancy will be hotly contested and there may be internal candidates to deal with as well. I will try very hard not to scare you witless because, if you haven’t been to a school interview before, you are going to find it very different. I’m not being negative when I say that you might want to consider the first one as a learning experience.

  1.  The Interview Day.  Usually, in a school interview, all the candidates arrive together so you will get to know them over the course of the day. Be friendly, but remember you are in competition with these people. Keep the conversation neutral. Stick to small talk; weather, sport, hobbies etc. I would advise against talking about children (even your own), politics or even what job you currently do. Not because you want to be secretive but because you don’t want to listen to their previous roles in schools or experience of working with children. Don’t be telling the other candidates about preparation you have done or the questions you have lined up for the panel and try not to listen to others trying to tell you. It will derail you and what you want to say to the people who will be making the decision. If you can, try to discover if there are any internal candidates (they are usually helpfully vocal about this) and be careful what you say to them, if you get the job and are then line managing them, it might come back to bite you!
  2. The Tour. Staff and students are usually very proud of their school and the tour serves two functions. Firstly, those showing you round will be asked for feedback by the decision makers (don’t think you have a moment to switch off in this) and a first question in the main interview is often “What do you think of our school?” So, during the tour make sure you speak to the guide, but let others have a chance too. Ask questions such as “Does this Dining Hall fit all your students?” “What is the food like?” “Are you able to have whole school assemblies?” “What is your favourite subject?” (if the guide is a student). Also make observations “The students are very well behaved.” “Learning looks fun here.” Don’t get drawn into anything negative with either the guide or other candidates and don’t hang back, keep up with the guide and listen to what they are telling you. As you are going round think of some positive responses to that first interview question. “It’s lovely/friendly/quiet/vibrant” is not going to cut it. Find something positive and then show how you could improve it further. “You have such eye-catching displays, in my last role I worked on designing sales pamphlets so I would be really keen to coordinate keeping your displays fresh.” or “I thought your new building was really well designed, there is so much natural light in the Art classrooms. I led a build project recently that used roof lights to get the same effect.”
  3. The Task. The dreaded task. There is going to be something about budgets and monitoring and there is likely to be something about prioritisation and conflicting demands but every school will give you something different to do. Try to keep calm and fill the time you are given, there are no prizes for being first to finish. Look for obvious answers but also a couple of more in depth answers as this will identify you apart from other candidates when it is being assessed. If the task doesn’t have clear right or wrong answers, be adventurous. Some schools ask you to do a presentation on a topic and you will get it in advance. I can’t advise enough that you practice this in front of anyone (and everyone) who will listen. A quick run through in front of husband/toddler/dog is not going to give you the confidence you need.
  4. The Student panel. Do not, I repeat do not, take this part of the day lightly. Students, from Reception to 6th Form are surprisingly perceptive. In my experience they usually nail it. Answer their questions at their age level. Do not talk down to them, do not try to bamboozle them with big words and do not pretend to be something you are not. I promise they will see right through you. Be honest, open and friendly and try not to be too nervous, they don’t like that as a rule, I find.
  5. The Interview. So this is it. The main event. Take a few moments to compose yourself and sit comfortably and calmly. You have prepared for the first question don’t forget so use it to help you relax. You need to come across to the panel that you are self-assured, confident and capable and you need to project this onto them. You will have read the job description and the person specification. Use the questions to show that you understand what the job entails and what you can bring to it. Try to give examples of how your previous experiences fit their SBL role. Try to make a connection with the Headteacher, as this is the person you will be working most closely with and you want them to remember you. Try to give the panel something that will impress them, even if is not work-related.
  6. Over to you. Lastly you will be asked if you have any questions. Try to ask at least one. I like “Are you able to tell me why the post is vacant?” and “What are the opportunities for professional development?” As a future SBL you will have already researched how support staff pay works in a school so I would steer away from this unless you have a burning question!

Depending on the role and size of school, you may be asked back for a second day. This usually involves taking part in an SLT meeting. All you can do is enjoy it, be positive and contribute where you can, oh and try to be memorable, in a good way.

Don’t give up if you are not appointed this time and make sure you ask for feedback, what went well and what could have been better. School leaders expect you to ask for feedback (remember teaching and learning is their thing) and you’ll learn how to improve the next interview. I wish you every success in your future career.

You’ve got this.

Anna

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