School superintendents have a great deal of responsibility, so interviewers look for experienced, articulate and insightful responses to questions asked during the hiring process. Being asked to highlight strengths and weaknesses is a common interview question for many types of jobs, but superintendents will be expected to provide responses that speak to their accomplishments and missteps in top leadership roles. Don’t try to soft-pedal your weaknesses; members of the public could interpret coy responses as side-stepping or avoiding the question. Be honest about your self-assessment and name ways that you’re working to transform your weakness into a strength.
Spotlight Desirable Strengths
When discussing your strengths, highlight the ones most valued for school superintendents. For example, top superintendents often have strong leadership, communication and interpersonal skills, according to the National School Public Relations Association. Skills that are considered less valuable include a sense of humor and being intuitive. Although you might mention these abilities in passing, your overall response to a “greatest strength” question should focus on a character trait that is highly valuable for school districts. Be prepared to cite specific examples to back up your claim.
Consider Weaknesses Carefully
Although you don’t want to bunt on a “greatest weakness” question, don’t dwell on your weaknesses. For example, saying that you lack leadership qualities will all but ensure that you’re passed over as a candidate. Draw upon your past for a previous mistake that you were able to correct, learn from and expand upon for a more compelling response. For example, you might state that your emphasis on achieving consensus sometimes slows down the decision-making process. Point to an example in the past where interdistrict dialogues were slowed because of extended dialogue and discussion. Then, state that you learned to streamline processes by carefully selecting leaders who represent larger groups and relying on their counsel to accurately reflect their needs.
Make Strengths and Weaknesses Site-Specific
School districts don’t just want an effective superintendent -- they want to hire a superintendent who understands and responds to their specific needs. Whenever possible, link your strengths and weaknesses to current situations happening in area schools. Cite accomplishments you admire or problems that you'd love to tackle. For example, you could commend school leaders who share your strengths, or describe ways that you plan to develop any weaknesses into strengths in order to help create better schools.
Expect Public Disclosure
Expect your responses to interview questions to become available to the public. Although interviews might not be public, statements could be released to the press or public. In discussing your weaknesses, be careful not to blame others or make negative comments about school districts. For example, if you state that your strength is transforming underperforming schools, don’t blame teachers or current administrators for low test scores or high dropout rates. Instead, state that school performance is a complicated, nuanced concept reflecting many factors, and commend teachers, parents and students for their hard work.
- KPBS.org: Superintendent Finalist Has Strengths, Weaknesses
- National School Public Relations Association: Characteristics of Effective Superintendents
- Pleasant Local School Board of Education: Superintendent Evaluation
- Ohio Educator Standards Board: Ohio Standards for Superintendents
- U.S. News and World Report: How to Talk About Your Weaknesses in a Job Interview
- The Palm Beach Post: Comparing Interview Responses of the Superintendent Candidates
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