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Why First Impressions Matter

When I was little, my parents always made me introduce myself to their adult friends or guests whenever I was with them. I never quite understood why.  Afterwards, they would give me feedback on how I had handled the introduction.  I usually received comments such as “you didn’t shake hands”, “don’t look down, look them in the eye”, “smile when you greet them”, and “don’t’ say huh, say excuse me.”  This was a routine that would become common practice through my teen years.  Eventually, it became my mode of operation. So much so, that when I had my own children, I did what many of us do, I kidnapped my parent’s practices and made them my own.  To this day, I always remind my children to introduce themselves and then proceed to tell them what to do and what not to do when meeting someone for the first time.  However, no longer does it seem like a chore to me or even routine.  I finally figured out what my parents were trying to instill in me; that you get one chance to make a first impression so make it count.  Over the years I watched my parents go out of their way time and time again to make their guests feel appreciated and treat them as though they were the most important people in the world. To this day, I do my best to live up to that standard.
Each spring, I look forward to the hiring process.  Although some administrators might prefer to bypass the work involved in hiring new teachers, it is something I genuinely look forward to.  Here are a few examples of our best and next practices in the hiring process.
1.       I often make the initial contact with an applicant over the phone. This is intentional because I want the candidate to hear the passion and enthusiasm in my voice when I call. I want the opportunity to listen to what the applicant has to say and hopefully I make a lasting impression with the individual. Mindset: I want to send the message that the principal is passionate about his work and that he is willing to do front line work.

2.       We work to be flexible in scheduling the interview. Rather than tie candidates into a specific day or timeslot, we give them some choices.  If the candidates express the times available do not work, we make sure we find a time that does work for themMindset:  We aim to be flexible. This sends a message that it is not about us, it is about them, the guest/customer.

3.       Once the interview is scheduled, we provide as much information as possible.  This includes who will be involved in the interview, the length of the interview, what the interview will entail, what to bring to the interview, logistics; where to park, where to report, etc.  Mindset:  we are intentional in our approach to put the candidates at ease so we can eliminate any worries about things that really don’t matter in the end. 

4.       Once the interview begins, we always ask candidates the same first question – tell us your story, why did you become a teacher and what led you to apply for this position.  We want to know the candidate, their core, their passion, why they do what they do.  This is designed to help us get to know the candidate on a more personal level. Mindset: We want to get to know who the candidates are as people, listen to their story, and take another step in building a relationship with the candidate.

5.       One expectation we have for our candidates is that they teach a lesson.  We connect them with the department team leader and the classroom teacher to provide any necessary information that will help them prepare a quality lesson that will be relevant to our students.  We focus on how they interact with the students.  Are they able to connect with students in a short amount of time and make a positive first impression?  In other words, we maintain the same high level of expectations of the candidates that we have of ourselves in establishing a climate whereby the students feel welcomed and valued. Mindset:  Demonstrates you want the candidate to be successful by providing them the necessary support to excel in the classroom and helps us determine if they have a Student’s 1stmindset.

6.       We do reference checks on all of our candidates.  If they took the time to drive to an interview, get dressed up, etc. then at the very least out of courtesy, they deserve for us to call at least one reference and ask a few questionsMindset: You model the importance of treating every candidate with the respectthey deserve.

7.       We call all non-hire candidates back.  No letters, no non-calls.  Non-offer candidates fall into two categories.
a.       Not ready for hire – we will call the candidate back and offer suggestions on what areas they can improve on in order to help them for their next interview.
b.      Ready for hire – we call the candidate back and tell them although they are not being offered a position they belong in a classroom somewhere. We then offer to serve as a reference and help them network and/or make contacts for them to help them get an interview.
Mindset:  Not ready for hire – want to point out strengths and stretches so we can help them grow as potential new hires.
Mindset: Ready for Hire: Sometimes, it is so close that it comes down to fit. Our profession needs good teachers in the classroom working with our children. It is our responsibility as principals to advocate for candidates that have potential.

We approach the application process with the intention of establishing a meaningful relationship and an emphasis on making a positive first impression.  As an organization that expects excellence in everything we do, it is critical that we reach out to our candidates as though they are the most important guests that ever walked through our school doors.  Our mindset is simple; we want every candidate we interview regardless if they are offered a position or not, to reflect back on their experience with us and say, “I wish I could work for that organization. They are first class!”

As leaders, we must be purposeful in modeling the behaviors we expect of our employees and set the standard for how we do business in our schools from the very first introductions. By doing so, our students and parents will benefit from the same positive experience when they walk through the classroom door.
Ask yourself, how do you greet your guests and what are they saying about you and/or your organization as they leave your building?
February 21, 2013
  • AllieHolland
    5 years ago

    This is a really refreshing post, Jimmy! You don’t really hear too many principals emphasis the importance of their impression. The focus is usually on the impression the person being interviewed gives. Going through the interview process is so stressful and emotionally draining for the interviewee. I went through that process this past summer and I can remember becoming physically ill because I was so nervous! When I walked in for the second interview, the assistant principal was playing music and very relaxed which in turn relaxed me. It’s so important to make the interviewee comfortable and I love how you’ve emphasized that in this post. Sometimes people can feel tricked in their interviews and honestly a lot of leaders intentionally try to stump their interviewees. This is how ALL schools should be handling their interview process!

    Really loved this post! 🙂

    Future Principal,

  • Jason Taylor
    5 years ago

    Mr. Casas,

    Thank you again for your excellent words on hiring. Didn’t actually see this until last night’s #iledchat. Every educational leadership book I read always mentions that hiring/interviewing is the most important piece in a quality school/district. In my experience with interviews; the candidates are stressed, nervous, and are unsure of the process. Everything your district does helps to put the candidate at ease, which in turn, brings out the best in them.

    Thanks again!

  • Dwight Carter
    5 years ago


    This is excellent! You have a great plan to ensure you add the right people to your team. I like the “mindset” component of your post. Thanks for sharing!

    Be Great,


  • Alicia
    4 years ago

    Excellent post. It’s inspiring to me, as someone looking to get into administration, that it’s possible to be like this– that the enthusiasm I feel for being this sort of positive administrator really IS possible! Thanks, Jimmy, for making positivity and respect for all– even for hiring candidates– look so good!

    • Jimmy Casas
      4 years ago

      Thank you Alicia! I sincerely love going through the hiring process each year. It energizes me and gives me hope for the future & gives me the platform from which to encourage & support young educators. We need to remember how blessed we are each day to have the opportunity to have a tremendous impact on both students & other educators. It is an honor & a privilege to serve in that capacity. Thank you for taking the time to read my post & to comment. -jimmy

  • Anonymous
    3 years ago

    I think your post also helps remind the classroom teacher new & returning, that the impression they give to their students is as important as the impression the students give of themselves. Everyone has to think about their guest/audience/customer…everyone!

    Thank you!

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