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  • Writer's pictureMike Vachow

Ready to Climb: Hiring

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

Employee retention and hiring will be the front-burner operational challenges for independent schools in the New Year. I'll focus on hiring in this blog piece. The harbingers are clear:

  • a 2021 - 2022 hiring season that featured, according to NAIS, slightly greater attrition than average and stretched deep into the summer

  • the greater number and complexity of head and senior administrator searches this fall

  • the difficulty schools have experienced this fall in finding auxiliary staff to support the needs of kids and teachers returning from remote schooling

  • the impact of the pandemic on women, who make up 68% of the independent school workforce

  • and the Great Resignation news we hear from other industries

As a consultant to independent schools, I can attest personally to the complexity of this fall's leadership searches. There have been a fewness of high quality candidates for a great number of openings. Many candidates have approached opportunities tenuously, often bowing out of searches (or simply disappearing) deep into the process. I've been hired several times this year to kick start searches that, in pre-pandemic times, would have garnered a flood of interest with little effort beyond posting the position on industry sites and ringing up Carney Sandoe for a stack of resumes. It's truly a candidates' market, with many of the players--especially mothers--sitting cautiously on the sidelines until children are no longer sent home randomly on quarantine or left waiting futilely at bus stops. Despite gains in equity in gender roles in household work, American women have picked up most of the household slack during the pandemic.

I've written several pieces about hiring for this blog. It's something that, on average, independent schools don't do a particularly good job with regardless of individual school resources, which makes us like most other industries. In fact, I attribute the flaky/unprofessional end of the "tenuous" candidate continuum to karmic justice. Why would a candidate hesitate to ghost a school mid-process? After all, anyone who's been in more than a few searches has, according to this report on hiring by NAIS, been unlikely to receive so much as a stock email acknowledging receipt of materials much less any communication about where they stand in the process. For an excellent take on how to turn around attitudes to hiring at your school, I highly recommend this piece by Greg Martin, who argues that the hiring process at your school should observe the same precepts as your admission process. Even the least qualified candidate should experience a process that is transparent and feels like it has been carried out by ethical, caring people.

School leaders should prepare for a very different hiring season by working proactively.

  • Encourage faculty and staff now to let you know if they are considering a change, and be transparent about why: by knowing early, we can help you with networking and references, and you help us by giving us lead time to identify a replacement.

  • Confront rumors. People are more anxious than ever and likely to be stuck, reluctant to move forward. In this season, most employees will be grateful if you break the ice: "hey, I'm hearing on the grapevine that you're thinking about not returning next year. Can we talk about that?"

  • Activate your network, or start it if you don't have one. Hiring is a year-round effort and a huge part of that effort should be the stewardship of community partners (for a starter list see Groundhog Day), serendipitous, off-season candidates, and promising candidates you've encountered in searches over the last few years. This level of leadership work should be an expectation for Directors of HR at larger schools, where too often these people are cast as managers.

  • Build the rest of your second semester around the expectation that hiring will take up more institutional bandwidth and run longer than it has in the past. Layer on another 25% beyond expectations just to be safe and remember that hiring is the most important thing that you do as a school leader.

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