This is the eighth in a series of posts on IT management for K-12 schools. Before we get to the logistics of how to approach the on-campus (in person or virtual) interview of job candidates it is important to consider the questions that are to be asked, who is going to ask them, and follow-up questions to candidates’ responses. In my career I have been interviewed dozens of times, and been in interviews with candidates hundreds of time, and it has been my experience that on both sides of the table you can tell when interviewers are prepared and who are simply flying by the seat of their pants. The latter are likely to start with questions such as these:
- Refresh my memory on the highlights of your career experience.
- Tell me a little bit about yourself.
- What makes you think that you’d be a good fit for this job?
- What is your greatest strength? Your greatest weakness?
- How would you describe yourself?
- Are you a team player?
- What do you like most about [fill in the blank].
One of these question at the start of the interview is fine as an icebreaker, but if these are the only types of questions that are asked throughout the entire interview, you will have wasted the time of everyone in the room.
Behavioral and Situational Questions
A much better approach to interviewing is to ask questions that require the candidates to state what they have done in a particular circumstance in their past (behavioral questions) or to ask what they would do if confronted with a particular circumstance in the future (situational questions). Behavioral questions “are past-oriented in that they ask respondents to relate what they did in past jobs or life situations that are relevant to the particular job relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities required for success. The idea is that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance in similar situations. By asking questions about how job applicants have handled situations in the past that are similar to those they will face on the job, employers can gauge how they might perform in future situations.”1 Behavioral questions may work better with more experienced candidates whereas situational questions may work better for entry-level applicants with less job or life experience to draw upon. Behavioral questions usually start something like this:
- Give me an example of…
- Tell me about a time that…
- Describe a situation in which…
- Have you been in a circumstance when…
- What did you do when…
Each behavioral question is designed to elicit a description of past behaviors on the part of the candidates. Some candidates may not be used to behavioral questions, and therefore I suggest that you (a) give them time to think about an example, (b) be comfortable with silence, and (c) be ready with follow-up questions to probe their responses for clarification, questions such as:
- Walk me through your decision-making process.
- What was your reaction?
- How did it all work out?
- What alternatives did you consider?
- As you think back on this, what are your major take-aways?
Keep the candidates on point. If they start to answer in generalities redirect them to the question, letting them know that you are asking for a specific situation and not generalizations.
Situational questions are much like behavioral questions, simply set in the future.
- What would you do if…
- Let me give you a situation and you tell me how you would go about solving it…
- Here’s a hypothetical problem. Let’s say that…
Be ready with situational follow-up queries to probe the candidates’ thinking, such as:
- How did you come to this decision?
- What alternatives are there if your response doesn’t work out?
- How is your response better for the end user? The school?
- Are you comfortable with your response as a precedent for similar situations in the future?
Sample Questions by Position
Below are some possible questions for use with several typical positions you would find in a school IT department: Director of Technology, Network Manager, Webmaster, Academic Technology Coordinator, and Help Desk. Questions are behavioral unless otherwise indicated. Some specific follow-ups are suggested, but you can also use any of the general follow-up questions listed above. You may find that some questions are appropriate for several positions.
Director of Technology
- Prioritization. Give me an example of a time in which you needed to choose between two or more important priorities in making budget decisions wherein the organization could only fund one of them. Follow-ups: With who did you consult? What “tipped the scale” for you in making your decision? How did the decision affect the organization?
- Employee performance. Tell me about a time when you had to work with someone you were managing who was not performing to standard? Follow-ups: How did the situation work out? Describe your experience with performance plans. Describe your experience in terminating or laying-off employees.
- Negotiations. Tell me about a time when you needed to negotiate something. It could be costs for equipment or software, salaries, or even a conflict between two people. Follow-ups: Would you describe the outcome as having a “winner” and a “loser?” Did the outcome affect any subsequent relations with the persons involved? What was your emotional state during the negotiations?
- Communications. Managers often have to communicate with different groups within an organization. Aside from the people they manage, K-12 IT managers must relate with faculty, staff, other administrators, parents, vendors, board members, and so on. Describe a situation in which you had to deliver the same basic message, but to different audiences. How did you tailor your remarks for each group? Follow-ups: How did you use different media to make your point? Did you prepare differently for each audience? How do you mix different communication forms (oral, written, multimedia) to get your message across?
- Organizational structure. There are a number of different organizational structures in which the K-12 IT function can operate, for example within business operations, faculty, the library, the principal’s or superintendent’s office. Describe the setup from one of your past positions and the pros and cons associated with it. Follow-ups: Where do you see IT best fitting in school organizations of the future? How might cloud computing and software as service (SAS) models affect the reporting relationship of IT departments within 21st century schools?
- Professional development. Professional development for faculty is usually the subject of intense interest and frequent in-service programs in schools. What have you done to address technology professional development of non-teaching staff: those in back-office positions such as accounting, human resources, fundraising, maintenance, transportation, and so on? Follow-ups: What was the outcome? Did the PD of staff and that of faculty have any common elements? What special needs did non-teaching staff have?
- Budgeting. Describe the system you have used to forecast and manage budgets. Follow-ups: From whom do you seek advice and input in creating a budget? How do you approach salaries? Describe the equipment replacement cycle that you have used. How far out do you forecast expenses? What have you done when actual expenses were going to exceed your budget?
- Hiring. What was the most successful hiring effort that you have led? Follow-ups: How did this process differ from others? What were you able to take from that to apply to other hiring situations? Where does hiring rank in the multiple priorities that confront managers?
- Strategic planning. Describe a time when you had to develop and present plans that anticipated new technologies not yet in use in your workplace. How did you go about researching them and creating a case for early experimentation and/or pilot programs? Follow-ups: What were the budget implications for the new technology? How did you convince others that something may be worth investigating? What happened as a result of your trial?
- Thought leadership. Who are the thought leaders in Information and Instructional Technology that you listen to and follow? Follow-ups: Describe your use of social media to discuss IT and educational technology and leadership issues with other professionals. What conferences do you like to attend? What makes them worth the time and expense?
- Troubleshooting. Describe a time when you experienced the failure of a mission-critical system in your networking or server environment. What were the steps you took in troubleshooting the issue, consulting with colleagues and/or vendors, communicating with system users, and restoring systems to their proper functioning? Follow-Ups: What did you learn from this problem? What steps did you take to minimize the chances of it recurring?
- Documentation. Describe a time when someone else had to rely on your documentation to address a technical issue? What happened? Follow-ups: Was the documentation on paper or online? Were they able to resolve the issue from the documentation alone or did they call or email you for clarification? What systems do you like to use to create your documentation? What technical systems do you believe are critical to be well documented? Was there a time when lack of documentation adversely affected your department’s operations? What was the result and follow-up?
- Systems integration. Describe a situation in which you had to rely on different systems communicating with one another through a common protocol or had to create your own mechanism for data exchange. Follow-ups: What directory standards have you used? Why did you choose that one? How have you used open-source software in your postion?
- Back-ups. Most system administrators are familiar with backup procedures and recognize their importance within an enterprise. End users are often less fastidious about backing up their data. Describe the approach you have taken in the past in working with end users to assure that their data is properly backed-up. Follow-ups: What policies, procedures, software or hardware solutions did you employ? What was the outcome when you had to restore end-user data? Describe a situation in which data was irretrievably lost.
- Security. Describe the elements that comprise a network, server, and end-user computer/device security system to maintain system integrity and information confidentiality including physical security, hardware, software, and human factors. Follow-ups: Talk about a security breach, large or small, that you had a role in resolving. What was the situation? How did it happen? What steps were taken to mitigate the damage?
- Ease of use. Describe a time when you had to balance the need for security and ease-of-use for your end-users. What was the issue and how was it resolved? Follow-ups: How do you work with employees and students to enlist them in your efforts to maintain a secure computing environment? Should employees have administrator access to their computers? What about students?
- Cloud-based services. (situational) How do you see the mix of site-based services and cloud-based services changing over the next five years? Follow-ups: What are the pros and cons of site-based versus cloud-based services for the IT professional? For end-users? How might cloud-based services impact networking needs in a school?
- Trade-offs. A commonly cited conundrum in information technology is that when it comes to installing new systems you can: get it fast, get it cheap, or get it really high quality. Describe a time when you were involved in choosing a new technology system. Did you find this old adage to be true? What were the trade-offs, if any, that you had to make? Follow-ups: Is it ever possible to satisfy all three? Most schools have limited funding, does this mean that high quality will always be difficult to achieve?
- Software releases. Describe the approach to installing, testing, and releasing major network patches and upgrades. Follow-ups: Talk about a time when you had to regress to an earlier version. What happened? What are your pre-release testing procedures? What criteria do you use in determining that an upgrade is worth the time and effort to roll out?
- Schools vs. businesses. (situational) Describe what is (or might be) different and what is the same between IT in a business setting and IT in a school setting. Follow-ups: How do the missions of schools and businesses differ? Are “best practices” situation dependent or universal?
- Websites and web applications. Describe the websites and web applications that you have worked with, including any interoperability. Follow-ups: Which systems were hosted in-house and which systems were cloud-based? How did the systems communicate with one another? Who was responsible for the “big picture” of all of these various systems?
- Content and content management. Describe your role in creating and managing the content of your web site(s). Follow-ups: What content management system did you use? What were the pluses and minuses of this system? Who else was responsible for content? How did you deal with multiple content authors?
- Social media. Describe your role in working with work-related social media. Follow-ups: What was your role in creating and pushing content to social media outlets? Describe how you responded to social media messages. Give an example of how you deal with any social media “attacks” or negative messaging about your organization.
- Design. Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision about web site design. What were the issues and trade-offs, and how did you determine what to do? Follow-ups: Who else was consulted in making the decision? How did the design work out? What changes were made as a result of end-user feedback?
- Metrics. Describe how you gather feedback about the site using site metrics. What metrics do you consider to be the most important? Follow-ups: How have you made changes to a web site based on metrics? Which metrics, if any, are irrelevant in a school setting?
- Maintenance. Talk about how you maintain a website to assure that the content remains fresh and accurate. Follow-ups: What tools do you use to check for dead links? How do you create pages that self-expire on a given date?
- Multimedia. Describe how you have incorporate multi-media into web sites, including the types of media and means used to present it to users. Follow-ups: What alternatives did you consider for video content and what did you choose to use? How did this work out? Did you promote your organization’s multimedia content on other web or social media sites?
- Usability. How did you go about determining the usability of your web site? Follow-ups: Describe any usability studies you conducted. Tell me about the experiences that web site visitors with limited vision or other physical impairments had with your web site. What web standards guides your work?
- Security. Tell me about a time when you had to work with internal or external resources to address security concerns associated with your work. What was the issue, and how do you go about resolving it? Follow-ups: What are the security considerations for software or practices such as Java plugins, Adobe Flash, passwords, single sign-on (SSO), and https. What do you consider to be the greatest threat to web security? What steps did you take the ensure the privacy of end-user data?
- Reliability. Describe how you measure reliability of your web site and services. Follow-ups: What automated systems did you use to alert you to possible problems? How did you work with other IT staff to make sure that Internet connectivity and internal web site servers were up to industry standards? What level of service agreements did you insist upon for external vendors?
Academic Technology Coordinator
- Technology integration. Describe a successful technology integration project that you are especially proud of. Follow-ups: What was the “secret sauce” that made this project turn out so well? What lessons did you take away from this regarding other technology integration projects? Describe a time when a project did not go so well.
- Leadership and vision. (situational) Imagine that you are ten years into the future in a technology-rich American school. How would this school look different from a typical classroom of today? Follow-ups: What led you to this particular vision? What pre-conditions would be necessary for this vision to come to pass? What could be done today to start on the path towards this vision?
- Educational applications. Provide an example from your past when you were able to recommend a focused educational application or web site that was superior to general desktop tools that contributed significantly to teaching and learning. Follow-ups: Describe how you have used educational gaming, science probeware, GPS mapping, or robotics in teaching and learning.
- STEM. Describe a cross-curricular, multi-disciplinary STEM project that you initiated or assisted with. Follow-ups: What was your exact role? How did the curriculum planning process work? What were the take-aways? Did the project spur interest in similar efforts?
- Assessment. Tell me about a time when you helped a teacher use technology as part student assessment, something beyond the simple use of grade book software. Follow-ups: Was this individual or group assessment? Was the technology component assessed separately from the project content? What was your role in designing the assessment rubric?
- Student co-curricular activities. Provide an example of a student club or co-curricular activity you were involved with that went particularly well. Follow-ups: What was the extend of your involvement? What other adults were involved? What could have gone wrong but didn’t? How did you maintain student engagement?
- Standards. Tell me about a time when you used standards such as ISTE NETS, P21, or other technology standards in designing professional development activities for educators. Follow-ups: Which standards did you use? What led you to make this choice? Who else was involved in making this decision? What was the outcome?
- Change. Describe a situation in which you were able to change a negative opinion of educational technology to a more positive one. Follow-ups: How do you determine what might be the right approach to use with a teacher? Tell me about a situation where you have failed to influence someone in the desired direction. How do you approach working with change-resitant users?
- Acceptable use. Handheld portable devices are increasingly being used in schools in both official and unofficial capacities, creating IT and classroom management challenges. Describe a time when you had to deal with inappropriate use of a portable device by one or more students. Follow-ups: How do you approach the subject of “acceptable use” policies? How might the definition of acceptable use be changing? What role should students and parents play in determining acceptable use?
- Online learning. Describe an outstanding online experience you have had, either as a student or as a leader. Follow-ups: What are the hallmarks of a great online experience? What makes an online experience fail? At what age should students make use of online instruction? What is the role of online learning in K-12 schools?
- Diagnose and solve technical issues. Tell me about a time when you were presented with a technical glitch (hardware or software) that was difficult to diagnose. What did you do when normal diagnostic procedures failed to yield the expected result? Follow-ups: With whom did you consult? How did you keep the user(s) informed of progress on resolving the issue? What was the outcome? How did you document the problem?
- Hardware repair. Describe your experience in making simple hardware repairs. What components have you replaced or fixed in laptops, computers, printers, copiers, or other devices? Follow-ups: How did you acquire these skills? What tools do you use to diagnose hardware failure? What resources do you rely upon that guide you in making repairs?
- Inventory. Tell me about your experiences in receiving, tagging, inventorying, and tracking new equipment in an organization. Follow-ups: Describe a time when equipment appeared to be missing. What was the outcome? How did you use bar-codes in your inventory process? How were assets tracked in your organization?
- Disk images. Describe a time when you found an error in a disk image. Follow-ups: How do you perform quality assurance on disk images? Describe the step-by-step process you use in creating a new disk image. What disk image and management tools have you used? How do you deal with different drivers and operating systems?
- Preventive maintenance. Describe a time when preventive maintenance processes you had in place warned you of an imminent hardware failure before it could become a serious problem. Follow-ups: What systems do you like to use for preventive maintenance? What do you recommend to end-users to enlist their assistance in preventive maintenance? When a computer comes for repair or other problems, what other work do you routinely perform before putting it back into service?
- AV support. Tell me about a time when you were providing technical support for an event and there was an equipment failure of some sort. What happened and how did you address it? Follow-ups: How do create contingency plans in case of equipment or connectivity failures? How do you check that all AV systems for a presentation are in place and functioning correctly? How do you prepare for outside presenters who bring their own equipment and/or content for use?
- Help desk software. Tell me about your practices with help desk software systems. What were its primary functions and how did you make us of it? Talk about a specific feature that made your job considerably easier (or harder). Follow-ups: How did end-users interact with the system? How did the system interact inventory, preventive maintenance, disk imaging, or other help desk tasks? Did you manage the help desk queue or were tasks assigned to you by someone else?
- Computer labs, carts, and loaners. Provide an example of how you worked with a teacher to support a group of students in a computer lab or in a classroom using a laptop cart. Follow-ups: How did you deal with problems the students may encountered that required your intervention? What systems did you have in place to make sure that the lab was ready for students to use? Where did students store their files, and what were the pros and cons of that system? What systems did you have in place to make sure that labs would not serve as entry-points for computer malware?
- Consumable supplies. Describe how you manage consumable supplies (such as paper, toner, batteries). Follow-ups: What systems do you use to alert you that certain consumables may need replacement soon? How do you track use of consumable supplies to help control costs? What procedures do you follow to make sure that e-waste is properly disposed of?
- Work and storage areas. It departments can often have an unkempt, even messy look to them. Describe how you have organized your work area so that tools, current projects and repairs, trouble tickets, and the like are maintained in an orderly fashion that allows you and others in your department quick and easy access to needed tools, equipment, and supplies without compromising physical security. Follow-ups: Describe the system you used for organizing spare parts and tools. Describe how you set-up staging areas for new equipment. Describe your practice for maintaining secure storage areas.
The behavioral questions provided above are in large measure designed to elicit responses for sets of job responsibilities. Equally important, and perhaps arguable as important in a school setting, are “soft skills,” what Wikipedia defines as ”relating to a person’s ‘EQ’ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people. Soft skills complement hard skills (part of a person’s IQ), which are the occupational requirements of a job and many other activities.”
Listed below, courtesy of my brilliant daughter and organizational management expert, are examples of soft skills questions that can and should be part of interviews for any position within your school.
- We’ve all had occasions when something that was our responsibility escaped our attention at work. Give me an example of when this happened to you and how you handled it.
- Give me an example of when you took initiative to improve a process or situation.
- Tell me about a time when you had to adjust quickly to a significant change in priorities. How did the change affect you? What did you do?
- Not all organizational changes are clearly explained and/or communicated. What have you done when you found out about an unexpected change or were confused by a change?
- Tell me about a time when you had to change your plans to help a peer at work. How did it affect you? What did you do?
- Sometimes we need to make changes when the way we’ve been doing things is no longer effective. Tell me about a time when you had to change your approach or method of work. What did you do? What were the results?
- Tell me about a time you had to climb a steep learning curve. How did you approach the new learning?
- Tell me about a time when you felt overwhelmed by a situation at work. How did you respond?
- Walk me through a situation in which you asked a lot of questions of several people to get the information you needed to make an effective decision. How did you know what to ask?
- Describe a situation in which you needed to analyze and interpret a situation in order to make a recommendation.
- Sometimes we have to make decisions very quickly. Tell me about a time when you made a decision TOO quickly – what happened?
- Give me an example of an idea you had to improve your organization’s processes. How did you come up with the idea? What happened?
- What strategies have you used to encourage others to challenge established assumptions?
- Tell me about the greatest lengths you’ve gone to in order to satisfy a user.
- Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a user who made unreasonable demands. What did you do?
- Tell me about a situation in which you had to understand the exact nature of user needs or problems. Walk me through the situation and what you said to draw out the information you needed.
- Tell me about a particular user and how you went about establishing a relationship of trust and respect.
- What have you done to understand a user’s point of view about a problem? Please give me an example.
- Tell me about the most memorable presentation you made in the last year.
- Tell me about how you have adjusted your presentations to different audiences. Give me a specific example.
- We’ve all made presentations in which something went wrong – tell me about a memorable time when something went wrong.
- Describe a time when you had to provide support for an end-user who was using a computer or device that you were less familiar with. Follow-ups: How did you approach the problem and what was its resolution?
- Describe a time when you had a major disagreement with a subordinate, co-worker, or your supervisor. What steps did you take to resolve the issue and what was the outcome.
- Describe a time when you have worked (or volunteered) with a mission-driven organization, such as a non-profit, volunteer organization, school, place of religious worship, etc. What brought you to that place? How important was the organization’s mission to your job or volunteer satisfaction?
- Describe the best boss you have ever had. What were the characteristics that made that person stand out?
Other posts in this series:
Space: The First Frontier
Writing Job Descriptions
Using Technology to Manage Hiring
Where to Post Jobs
What to Say in Job Postings
Screening Resumes and Letters of Application
Phone Screening Applicants