Interviewing Potential Student Leaders

| February 5, 2007 | 0 Comments

If your student leader selection process involves an audition, an interview can be a great way to get valuable insight into your captain candidates, how they would handle potential situations, their maturity and their thoughts on leadership. It is also a way to give high school students experience with the interview process, a valuable skill they will use throughout their lives.

It is important to remember that for some of your students, this may be the first time they have ever been in an interview situation. Even if it is not, it can still be a really scary situation. Imagine (or try to remember) being a 16 year old hoping with all you have that you will be named the next team captain. You have your hopes up and in your 16-year-old world this is the most important thing you can think of right now…and the biggest risk you may have taken to date. The thought of “losing” is unimaginable so you’ve worked yourself up into a frenzy of nerves. Then, you walk into the band director’s office, sit in a chair and are faced by a panel of 3 to 5 people, including some of those you respect the most (the band director, the guard coach) and maybe a stranger or two. They begin asking you questions, and suddenly your mind is racing. “What do they want to hear?”  “What do I answer?”  “Wow…I’ve never thought of that one before.”  “Oh my GOSH! I am MESSING THIS UP!!!”  You leave the office to face the other candidates waiting their turn only to say a short prayer that they do as bad as you did. Then you go home and stress about it for the next few days until the decision is announced, sure they’d never, EVER pick you.

As their instructors, and presumably people who care about their well-being, we have a responsibility to make this as much of an educational experience as possible.  There are several things coaches can do to try to alleviate some of the stress and hopefully leave the candidate feeling that they learned something from the interview process even if the results don’t turn out the way they hope.  Nothing feels worse than knowing you could have done better and feeling like you made a bad impression in front of people you respect.  Educating your candidates throughout the process will also lead to more insightful and thoughtful answers that will better aid you in making the best decision for your team.

Prepare Your Candidates

First, let your students know what they will encounter during the interview process.  Be specifc.  Say, for example, “There will be three adults: myself, the band director and the guard coach from our neighboring high school.”  By doing this they won’t walk into a surprise which would set nerves a flutter!  Tell them what to expect such as approximately how many questions you will ask, whether people will be listening or whether they can expect people to be writing notes based on their responses.  Let them know how much weight their answers have in the overall decision.  Then reassure them that you understand they will be nervous and that you don’t expect them to be perfect.

Consider giving the candidates a list of two to four main questions they might be asked during the interview to look over while they are waiting.  Make sure they all have a fair amount of time to consider these questions (meaning…give the first interviewee some time to think about it before starting the interviews).  You may not want to give the questions earlier than a few minutes before the interview or you might end up with mom and dad’s answers rather than those of your future leaders.  However, by handing them some of the questions to contemplate before they come in, you will get more relaxed candidates and more thoughtful, better communicated answers.  They will also feel like at least they got a few of the answers “right” because they’ll have time to make sure they know what they want to say.  You may want to discourage them from talking to one another about the questions by letting them know that you are looking for the differences between their answers and that if everyone comes in with the same answers you won’t be able to make an informed decision.  Most of them probably wouldn’t even consider talking about the answers with fellow candidates anyways!  Then explain to them that they will face additional questions from the panel based on their own individual history, their application or their answers to these main questions.

Prepare The Interviewers

Talk to the panel of interviewers prior to beginning the interviews.  Explain the process you want for each interview.  Decide who will be asking which question.  Provide a time limit for each interview (or they could literally drag on FOREVER!).  Give the interviewers any pertinent information regarding your program and what you are hoping to find in a student leader so that they have a context within which to judge answers.  For example,  if you will be asking a question about how a student leader might handle a particular discipline problem and your organization already has established expectations for how this should occur (such as chain of command) let the panel know exactly what you are looking for as the perfect answer to that question.  Clarify reasoning for asking other questions as well if there are specific things you are looking for.

If the students have filled out applications or written essays, give the panel time to read each application and take notes in case they may have questions relative to those applications.

It may help to provide a form for note-taking.  On this form you can note each student’s name, their grade, their seasons of experience and a spot for ranking.  At the end of the interviews, rather than assigning a score, it’s often easiest to provide a section for comments and have panelists rank the candidates.  Scores can sometimes be ambiguous but panelists may be closer to agreeing on rankings instead.

Finally – remind the panel before you begin that the main goal is to make students feel comfortable and to make this stressful situation a positive experience for the candidates.  Remind them to smile and be supportive in what is definitely nerve-wracking for the students.


Discipline Questions

1.  What is the Captain’s Role in Discipline?

2.  How would you handle a situation where a student was not listening or was talking during rehearsal?

3.  How would you handle a situation where another member confronted you in front of the group?

Motivation Questions

1.  Why do you want to be captain?

2.  Why do you think you would make a good captain?

3.  What is the most important job of the captain?

4.  Describe what you think are the duties of the captain.

5.  Through what actions have you shown leadership as a regular member of this team?

Team Dynamics

1.  If you are chosen as captain, how will you deal with those people who were not chosen, considering they will be disappointed because they also wanted to be captain?

2.  If you are not chosen as captain, and you feel that you are better than the person chosen, how will you deal with this situation?

3.  If you are not chosen as captain, how will you work to support the person that was chosen?

4.  If you hear two of your teammates talking negatively about a third teammate, what would you do?

5.  What would you do if you noticed that a particular teammate seemed to sit off by herself relatively often?


1.  How would you help a student who was trying very hard but just wasn’t getting the routines as fast as the rest of the team?

Innovation and Creativity

1.  What is something from past seasons that you would like to improve upon or change and how would you do that?

2.  Name one new thing that you would bring to the team as captain.  (This question might be best on an application where the student has a considerable time to think and come up with something good!).

Ultimately, you will have to decide what works best for your team in choosing how to select your student leaders.  There are many options and conducting an interview is only one of them (and certainly not mandatory!).  Some instructors simply choose based on past performance, some have an audition process and other have a team vote.  Some avoid the whole issue of naming a “captain” entirely.  This article is not meant to advocate one method over any other.  Instead, it is meant to create thought and discussion regarding the process of interviewing and to address the fact that, if you do interview, it can be a new experience for many potential candidates as well as a stressful one.  In approaching the interview situation you are bound to have more pleasant results if you approach it from an educational standpoint as well as a functional one.  Carefully consider the student’s emotions and feelings.  Go beyond the scope of this article and try to determine the best ways for dealing with the announcement of the student leader and how to cushion disappointment.  While they may be difficult situations to navigate – they are all part of the educational experience we craft for our students.  And presumably we want to make that experience as positive as possible.

If you have additional thoughts or experience regarding student interviews or if you’d like to add more ideas for interview questions please use the comments form below to share and discuss.  Thanks for sharing!




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Category: Recruitment/Auditions, Student Leadership, Team Management

About the Author (Author Profile)

Catina Anderson is the founder/editor of the Colorguard Educators blog. Color guard has been part of her life for almost 25 years. She began coaching in 1994 and worked with the Broad Run High School color guard in Northern VA from 1998 until 2010. She has also written for Halftime Magazine and served on the Executive Board of the Atlantic Indoor Association. A former teacher, she enjoys sharing what she has learned and hopes to encourage others to share as well. Together we can create even more positive experiences for performers and help to collectively strengthen marching arts activities worldwide.

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