Nailing the Video Interview

After sitting in on dozens of video interviews with head of school candidates, I am amazed that only one or two have been stellar and most have been somewhere between awful and horrendous. The common problem derives from the fact that video interviewing using Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting, or any other platform is very different from doing so in person.

Setting matters a lot! Give thought to what will be in your background. Family members wandering in and out of the bathroom or a romantic partner suddenly sitting up in bed behind you mid-interview telegraphs the wrong message (yes, both of those things have happened).

Camera angle matters a lot! The usual position of a laptop aims the camera up your nose or forces you to be in an awkward position looking down for the whole time. Set the computer on a stack of books to position your camera straight on with your face. Likewise, cameras mounted on top of video screens on the wall sometimes give the appearance of a videotaped police interview on “Dateline” (you know the downward looking view I am talking about).

Where you look matters a lot! Simply put, make eye contact with the camera lens. I know that it is more natural to look at the people on the screen, but eye contact is important and only happens when you look straight into the lens. Put something near the lens opening to remind you to look there instead. Above all, don’t forget the camera is there and start gazing off into space. That just looks weird after a while.

Distractions matter a lot! Mute your mobile phone. Turn off your television. Put the dog in another room, unless it is extraordinarily telegenic and cute. A dog running around in the background (or barking off-camera) pulls attention away from you.

Sound quality matters a lot! Most laptop mics are too weak to pick up quality sound at more than a four or five foot range. Best to invest in an external USB mic if you plan on sitting back in your chair or more than three or four feet from the computer.

Your acting skills matter a lot! Stage actors must exaggerate their motions because of the distance between them and the audience. Film actors under-act because the camera magnifies everything. Keep in mind that you are on close-up throughout the interview. Small movements show up big time.

How much you say matters even more! By far, the most common error is with excessive verbosity. The winner is rarely the one who says the most words in an interview; rather, it is the profundity of what you say that lingers with interviewers. Rehearse tight, seemingly spare answers to predictable questions. Less is more when it comes to video.

Candidates for almost any job in a school, not just headship, should expect to have at least one round of video interviewing. The good news is that each of the things that matter above can be corrected or avoided via forethought and preparation. Download and set up the free versions of Skype or Zoom and practice, practice, practice. You can even record yourself and ask trusted colleagues to critique your video.

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Why It Is Hard for a School to Become a Hot Brand (and what might be a better goal)

Ad Age is out with an updated list of “America’s Hottest Brands,” and the 2019 set (the last list appeared in 2011) is instructive in multiple ways. Not the least of the ways is how new the brands are—only two or three are legacy companies, say, those with decades of  experience in front of customers. Just as there are no sustainable competitive advantages (copying is just too easy), being “hot” as a brand is both fragile and ephemeral. The shiny new toy gets more play.

Instead of being a hot school—one that attracts students just because it is so hot—maybe a better aspiration is to be loved. Being loved is a stronger glue than heat, one with bonds that transcend momentary circumstances. Hot brands have mass appeal, while loved brands have smaller, more loyal followings.

Heat happens quickly, while love takes a series of emotionally evocative experiences to emerge. Too many marking initiatives aim at temperature and not enough at cultivating love.

 

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Social Purpose, Woke-Washing, and Your School

The recent Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for the the advertising, media and communications fields was notable in a number of ways, but perhaps the most salient was the earnestness and seriousness of the Grand Prix awards. Missing, according to this piece by I-Hsien Sherwood and Ann-Christine Diaz in the June 21 AdAge, was any hint of humor, long a staple of the advertising world.

Also notable, and a harbinger of a new sensibility among those in leadership roles, was the speech by Unilever CEO Alan Jope. Jope said that Unilever brands (Unilever is a giant British conglomerate, for those who don’t know) must show social or sustainable meaning and purpose or risk divestment. Going even further, Jope chastised his peers for “woke-washing“–where a company or institution claims to be engaging in specific action to make the world a better place but, in reality, is carrying on as before–saying that the practice is polluting the purpose category.

Jope’s remarks about social purpose and woke-washing prompted me to remember Al Adams’ Independent School article about the public purpose of private education. As holders of 501 (c)(3) tax exempt status, it seems that private, independent schools have a “higher calling” to demonstrate public purpose, else we risk being justifiably painted as schools for the children of rich parents. If called to account for your school’s public purpose, what would you say?

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Propellants and Solvents and You

Only the very largest schools can be many things for many people. Smaller schools face constant strategic choices about what they are not going to do.

The smart objective for a smaller school isn’t just to find a way to do more; rather, it is to make it very hard for students and parents to leave. In other words, leverage the emotional bond that attaches students to the school—a bond that exists outside purely rational thought.

Unless you are the biggest with the most, there will always be someone else that will win the rational competition game. But, that is a transactional win—literally what-have-you-done-for-me-lately—while winning the emotional game laminates students to you for decades.

Once laminated, the trick is to avoid the propellants and solvents that de-laminate students and their families from schools. We will write more about these in a future post.

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The Sweet Spot

The decision-making sweet spot for private schools is at the intersection of (1) what parents and students want, (2) what parents are willing and able to pay for, and (3) what the school can actually provide. This is the demand-willingness-capability trifecta. Too much of what we see schools spending resources on match their capabilities (“what can we do?”), but not demand and willingness. Of the three, willingness to pay is the most important and usually the least considered before embarking on a new initiative.

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Markets in Everything: Bluetooth-Enabled Diapers

Sentient spaces is a trend we are watching closely for its security applications and possible utility in improving teaching and learning. As an illustration of how quickly (and deeply) technology is moving into almost everything is this story about sentient Huggies diapers in Korea. Sentient stuff is the future.

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