Revealing conversations

What the strongest candidates say at leadership interviews

Aaron Ashton of RSAcademics, sheds light on what the strongest candidates reveal at interview for international school headship roles.

Having been involved in the appointment of candidates to top leadership roles for over ten years, I have had an insight into what the strongest candidates reveal at interview for leadership positions in international schools. Just what are school boards looking for?

These are my “top five” areas that all the best candidates talk about convincingly:

1. Philosophy

“Philosophy” makes the top of the list for two reasons. Firstly, the presence of a strong educational philosophy is often a defining factor in deciding which candidate to appoint. Secondly, the absence of well-defined personal beliefs can rule out an otherwise credible candidate.

In preparation for an interview it is worth considering who or what has shaped your philosophy. How will your ethos be felt throughout the school? The leader’s philosophy will challenge or augment a school’s culture so understanding how your philosophy and values fit with the school is key.


2. Pedagogy

It should come as no surprise to see the core business of a school on this list. Successful answers by candidates in this crucial area typically resonate with panel members if they are: Inspiring, ambitious, grounded in recent research and relevant to the school context. Panel members are often looking for assurance that the candidate’s approach will be underpinned by solid quality assurance, sophisticated use of data and bespoke CPD. The discussion around Teaching and Learning is an area where a rising star can enjoy an advantage over an experienced leader.

3. Non-academic development

Successful candidates describe student outcomes above and beyond attaining excellent examination results.  Providing opportunities for students to develop empathy and understand their world through being of service to the local community, building character, and understanding and ensuring strong systems of pastoral care are all common features of a strong answer. ‘We are preparing children for jobs that don’t exist yet’ is an often-quoted phrase. What do strong leaders do as a result? Build resilience, tap in to creativity, create independent learners, develop skills of critical analysis, encourage risk-taking and a tolerance of ambiguity are all elements of answers that tend to be well received.

4. Leadership

To quote the title of the excellent book by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones, ‘Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?’ It is permissible to be new to leadership; however, in the absence of headship experience, panels will want to be confident that an aspiring leader understands leadership.

In particular, it is important that you understand the type of leader you are in order to seem authentic at interview. After all, if the panel doesn’t want the type of leadership you offer, it isn’t the job for you.



5. Commercial management

Most new international schools operate on a for-profit basis and represent a significant investment. Panels want to be sure that you can deliver your educational imperatives whilst keeping a steady hand on the financial tiller. If EBITDA (a measure of a school or company’s operating performance) is unfamiliar terminology, you might find that you’re not talking the same language as some members of the panel.

Time spent considering your views and approach to these key areas is time well spent and does not impinge on individuality or originality. It will provide greater clarity and help you articulate your thoughts.


Aaron Ashton

Aaron is Head of International Leadership Appointments at RSAcademics and a former TES Recruitment Director.

He has over ten years’ experience in executive search and has helped appoint to over 100 top tier roles across the education sector.

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