One of the most common requests we get when doing our initial meetings with stakeholders at a school or district is, “I want to ask candidates what their 30, 60, and 90-day plans for our school/district is.”
The bad news for the hiring organization is that you’re unlikely to get a satisfying answer to this question. The good news is that there are some other questions you might ask in order to get some of the information you seek.
Why you won’t get a satisfying answer
There’s an urban legend about a CEO who takes job applicants out to dinner. If they salt their food before tasting it, the CEO won’t hire them. The legend doesn’t seem to be true, but the story remains a valuable lesson—
In the education world, new administrators are expected to spend up to a year on a listening tour before making any significant changes in people or programs. Making decisions about an organization you lead without learning first about the organization is seen as a type of immaturity, rashness to action, intellectual weakness, mistreatment of employees, and potentially a waste of money and time.
If a leadership candidate were to say, for example, “My 30-day plan is to fire the special education team and replace them with more-qualified people who have a better track record,” teachers and administrators would react poorly to that direct reply, even if the special education team is a known problem within the community, an issue that had been surfaced to the candidate through the interview process.
What you can do instead
The good news is there are questions you can ask that won’t
1: Ask about what the candidate did in the first 30, 60, and 90 days in their previous role in educational leadership
Asking about what the candidate did in the first 30, 60, and 90 days of their last job will give you some insights into how they will approach your first 30, 60, and 90 days. It might also tell you, depending on how they answer, about what if anything they learned from approaches that didn’t work out.
Behavioral interviewing focused on specific past behaviors has been shown to be the best predictor of job performance when compared with other types of interviewing techniques and the approach least likely to produce a biased hire, too.
2: Ask the candidate what opportunities they see based on the information they’ve already reviewed about your organization
Perhaps you’re trying to find out whether the candidate did their homework about your school or district. Did they read your 990 tax return forms or watch recorded videos of board meetings? Do they have any insight into what they’ve read? In that case, ask what opportunities they see based on the information they’ve already reviewed as well as the interviews and meetings they have had. It’s okay if they’re shy about commenting, but they may be able to comment more narrowly about reviewed documents and experiences than projecting into the future.
3: Ask about startup when you check references
Reference checking is often not done particularly carefully. If you are curious about a candidate’s approach to startup, ask references. They may not remember the details, but they’ll remember any major mis-steps that were made.