Hiring as Networking
Updated: Feb 26
The impact of the pandemic on employment and hiring in independent schools has arrived. I've been presenting on this topic for regional associations this winter and polling participants in advance. Over 150 heads and senior administrators from three regional associations (ISAS, SAIS and ISACS), said that they have encountered far fewer qualified candidates in searches so far this school year, a troubling omen in light of the fact that they were expecting more openings for the 2022- 2023 school year. In a conversation with SAIS President, Debra Wilson, I learned that the SAIS career page had received a record number of job postings in January and February. And in my own experience in supporting schools with searches this fall, I found schools with strong brands, schools for whom the challenge had previously been managing the deluge of resumes, frustrated with the fewness of high-quality candidates.
Schools who take a year round networking approach to recruitment, even in a season of tall cotton, are approaching this seller's market with measured confidence. Schools who use a passive, Groundhog Day approach to hiring, on the other hand--posting positions, sending out for resumes from placement firms and taking what they get--are panicking, wondering what one does when no one applies. What does a year round, networking approach to recruitment look like?
Starts at the top
Regardless of school size, institutional engagement with employee recruitment must start with the head. Filling the school with talented, engaging professionals is arguably the head's most important responsibility, and ensuring that the hiring team understands the essential elements of a year round networking approach is only possible if the head is advocating for it in word and deed. Heads must mentor leaders in the work and embed expectations in job descriptions and evaluation.
All About Culture
A collaborative faculty and staff culture in which all employees feel authentically engaged not only with their own professional growth but also with the future of the school underlies every operational strength of the school. In terms of hiring, it results in:
employees viewing their supervisors as partners in their professional growth, to include promptly informing their supervisors when their aspirations and plans might take them away from the school
employees invested in the process that brings in future colleagues, including promoting openings with their friends and acquaintances
prospective employees who are attracted to work at the school because the school's culture has a strong reputation and is authentically evident when candidates visit
In precisely the same way one stewards donors, independent school leaders must build and maintain productive relationships with a wide range of constituents and community leaders who might, over the years, refer great candidates to the school, connect you to their networks, and can likewise rely on you to return the favor. Most of these relationships are not exclusively about employee recruitment; that is, stewardship of these relationships accomplishes multiple ends.
Internal networks: current faculty (as noted above); current and past parents, especially educators, and those who are responsible for hiring in their own professions, who might encounter trailing partners in their recruitment efforts who could be candidates at your school; retired faculty, alumni (especially through social media)
External educator networks: other K-12 school leaders in your community and beyond, public and private; higher education leaders, particularly in schools of education, college and university career centers; museum, arts and parks program directors
Community connectors: organizations in your city that are expressly devoted to professional networking or for which this is a secondary value, especially those that might connect you to candidates who come from communities underrepresented at your school, like Urban League, Jack and Jill, Black fraternities and sororities, and other business diversity initiatives. St. Louis, for instance has Hispanic and Asian Chambers of Commerce; Kansas City has Black and Latinx teacher organizations.
Sources you might not expect: as a head in St. Louis, I chanced upon Washington University's very active House Staff Auxiliary, a mutual aid organization comprised of trailing partners of medical school students. In ten years, I found two great employees through the House Staff Auxiliary and a handful of excellent long-term subs.
A Year-Round Stance
School leaders elevate recruitment to a top priority year round instead of segregating it to a portion of the school year.
engage high quality candidates as soon as you encounter them, regardless of openings or time of year; bring them in for a brief tour and conversation and set calendar reminders to stay in touch
purposeful stewardship of aforementioned networks
Organized, Disciplined Filtering
Each element of your hiring process should reflect the values of your school and the "must have" skills and dispositions you're looking for in the position. This might seem like a Captain Obvious utterance, but too often schools don't infuse this defining element of hiring throughout their screening processes leaving the door open for them to be corrupted by common logic biases. This matter is made more complex at larger schools where hiring responsibilities might be shared by many busy people at different levels in the org chart. How screeners read resumes, what interview and reference questions they ask, what other means the group uses to understand candidates' skills and dispositions are too often left up to improvisation. Likewise, the concrete matters of organizing and observing search calendars and communicating with candidates has an extraordinary impact on hiring and on the reputation of the school. Schools that have gotten away with poor communication with candidates in the past will find themselves left behind in this sellers' market, and I would argue that even in sunnier hiring times, schools that struggled to create crisp processes would find, in an honest retrospective, a trail of lost candidates and an impossible-to-measure loss of reputation from frustrated candidates sharing with friends the confusing, disrespectful-feeling mess they encountered at your school.