Dean of Students Interview Questions & Answers

Dean of Students is a slightly mysterious job title. What exactly you will do in the job–and what will happen in your interview, depends on your future place of work. At university education level, dean is a leadership figure, typically responsible for overseeing all services provided to students including financial aid, housing, health services, and extracurricular projects. At high school education level, job of a dean typically combines duties of an assistant principal and guidance counselor. Regardless of the level of education, dean of students s is a prestigious job title with a lot of authority, and you cannot expect an easy interview.

The core of the interviews will consist in discussing your previous working experience. What you’ve done and achieved in your previous roles in education and education administration. Challenges you faced, institutions you’ve worked at, and the impact you had from your roles. Forget about getting this job without previous working experience in education or education administration… But you won’t take only about the past. Members of the interviewing panel will inquire also about the future–your vision for their school/university, or particular department you will preside as a dean, the goals you will set for yourself in this job, etc. Let’s have a look at 13 questions you mat face while trying to get this job which often pays six figure annual salary.


Why do you want to work as a Dean of Students?

Just do not say that you deserve the job. I’ve heard such an answer a couple of times, and though the applicants might have a point–they’ve achieved a lot and worked long years in education, saying that you “deserve something” just isn’t the right attitude to show in the interviews. You should focus on something else.

First and foremost, the positive difference you want to make at the college/high school. You understand the impact a great dean can have on the life of the students, as well as on the reputation of the school. It motivates you, and perhaps you even have particular ideas on what you’d like to do better (more on this subject later on).

And secondly, your skills and experience that, in your opinion, makes from you a great candidate for this leadership position. After everything you’ve been though in your career, and every challenge you tackled, you believe to have what it takes to lead a department at the university and make sure that students thrive while trying to reach their educational goals.

Can you walk us through your resume? (Please tell us something about yourself.)

In some cases, your answer to this question, and an eventual discussion following it, can take up to thirty minutes or more. Because at this level, it really is about your experience. Try to talk about it in a meaningful way, but do not merely list the jobs you had and for how long you had them.

On the contrary, you should always explain the principal challenges you faced (or the school faced), and of course your achievements–what you have done for the school and the students while having the role. Try to be specific, and use numbers and dates. Let me give you an example.

Maybe a school had a dropout rate of 5% before you came onboard. Then they hired you for a role of guidance counselor (or academic advisor). You implemented X and Y changes, and eventually the dropout rate dropped to 2.5%, which means a 50% decrease. Of course, this is just an example and what you could achieve depends also on the roles you’ve had, and places where you taught. But think about it for a while, and try to come up with some achievements.


How do you imagine a typical day while working as a Dean of Students here?

As I explained at the beginning of the article, the job title is a bit mysterious. You have to read the job description carefully to know what exactly they expect from their new dean (unless the job description also happens to be mysterious, or misleading). As a rule of a thumb, at high school level, you will have more daily contact with the students. You may suggest spending time in the classes, counseling students on their academic goals, substituting for the principal when needed, and so on.

On higher education level your role changes. You should still be accessible to the students as their dean. They should know where your office is, and shouldn’t be afraid to knock on your door whenever they need help. The core of your job won’t consist in talking to individual students, however. You will be in touch mostly with the representatives of various bodies that advocate for the students and their needs, such as student council, academic affairs, head of the dormitory, and so on.

You will also participate in events, hold speeches for the students, and sometimes even represent the department in front of press. In some places you may also teach a couple of hours each week, but this really depends on your place of work. In any case, you should show proactive approach to your work, and ensure the hiring committee that you do not plan to sit in your comfy office waiting for a phone call, or for a knock on the door. On the contrary, you want to be present among the students, making sure they are aware of your office and role, and know that they can approach you at any time, with any issue.


What is your opinion on teaching? Should a dean of students teach, at least for a few hours a week?

This question doesn’t really have a bad answer. As long as you explain your reasoning, you are good to go. And it is the case with more questions in dean of students interview, so I definitely advice you to think out loud, and to avoid short answers, such as “Dean should not teach”. Let’s have a look at both alternatives with this question.

Teaching–even just two or three hours a week, you have a type of contact with the students that cannot really be replicated behind the closed door of your office. You face them as a group, you can observe their reactions, evaluate their motivation, hear their complaints, feel the atmosphere in the classes. That’s a huge benefit, and perhaps worth the sacrifice. At least you can say so in the interviews.

On the other hand, if you lead a big department facing many challenges (in both positive and negative terms), teaching may divert your attention away from the core of your job. Because teaching doesn’t mean only spending 4-6 hours a week in front of the students. You want to teach well, hence you need to prepare for the lessons, and then of course students take exams and you have to evaluate them, and so on, and so forth. Hence you prefer not to teach. You feel it would interfere with the core of your work, and you do not want it to happen.


What is your vision for our school/college/department? What goals will you set for yourself?

You will almost always get this question, and I can assure you it is one of the most important questions you will face (if not the most important one). Unless you can come up with some vision and goals, they won’t hire you…

Start with a throughout research of their place. Check as many statistics as you can about the school. Read what the social media have to say, local press. Look up the speeches of the provost, and other leadership figures. Try to identify some challenges they face, or at least some direction the school aims to take. Once you know where they are standing, and where they want to go (or goals they should aim for from their position), you should be able to come up with some vision and goals for your work.

In an ideal case scenario, you should come up with some tangible goals, related to students. Perhaps you want to introduce this and that extracurricular project, or make the housing more affordable, or the scholarship structure more transparent and attractive for the applicants. These are just some ideas, of course. Another alternative is comparison. Perhaps a competing university in the area achieves X and Y with their students, and your vision is to beat their numbers.

In any case, you have to do your research to be able to tell, so I cannot help you more at this point. Just don’t forget to show enthusiasm for your vision and for what you want to achieve as a their new dean…


Other questions you may face in your Dean of Students job interview

  • Why do you want to work as a dean here, and not at some other place?
  • In your opinion, what can we do better for our students?
  • What strategies have you used in the past to confront and manage bullying?
  • Tell us about your experience working with students with special needs.
  • Describe a situation when you demonstrated leadership.
  • What motivates you the most in this job?
  • What do you expect from other leadership figures at this university?
  • In your opinion, what is the most challenging aspect of working as a dean?


Final thoughts

Interview for a job of a Dean of Students belongs to difficult interviews. Prepare for a lengthy (though not necessarily unpleasant) discussion of your working experience, what you did, achieved, and failed to achieve.

They will also ask you about your vision for their place and for your new job, and you should be able to come up with some realistic plans and tangible goals. And while you typically won’t compete with many other people for the position, it doesn’t make your situation much easier. Because they can always decide not to hire anyone, and proceed with a completely new round of applicants

In any case, I hope you will prepare for your interview (with the help of my advice), and will succeed. Good luck!


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Glen Hughins
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