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  • Writer's pictureMike Vachow

The Candidate's View

Updated: Apr 2

I've written about faculty and staff recruitment frequently on this blog but never from the candidate's point of view, so I'm remedying that omission here. I'll preface it with a reminder that some of this counsel is time bound. That is, the market for independent school faculty and administrators right now is at a major inflection point. Schools are becoming more adept at searching year round, using digital recruitment tools and employing a multi-pronged approach, particuarly with difficult-to-find positions. Likewise, the consulting industry that supports schools in employee searches is changing radically with very targeted, lower cost, limited retainer approaches. Most importantly, because of their fewness, candidates are in the driver seat and likely will be for the next several years.

So, let's imagine that you are a candidate with 3 years experience teaching middle school English in an independent school, strong references, eager to continue teaching, and let's imagine further that you are relocating because of your partner's career to a city with a substantial number of independent schools --say, Houston, or Philadelphia, or St. Louis. What should you be thinking?

  1. You are hot. First and foremost, you should recognize that you are a rare commodity. With even modest experience in an independent school, and with a singular destination, you should expect your resume to be near the top of the yes pile, and you should expect schools to act with alacrity on your candidacy.

  2. Be assertive: a direct outcome of the above. Reach out directly to the person identified as the search team lead or whom you would imagine being the lead, or the consultant, or all of the above. Try to move beyond the online application resource or, in some large schools, the first-touch HR person. Put under-responsive schools on the deep back burner and double down on the schools that are getting back to you. Any school, even the most prestigious, that conducts sluggish searches and leaves candidates hanging is indulging in a very dangerous delusion, and as a candidate, you'd be justified in wondering if that delusion extends to other elements of the school's operations. Finally, use the traction you gain in one search to gain leverage in others. Find the right moment to mention that you are in two other searches, or making a finalist visit next week at another school.

  3. Get local intel. Play the six degrees of separation game. Ask your current head, division director, colleagues whom they know in your new city, and ask them to make a call. For me as a head, there was no more influential reference than a peer head or a division director calling to say she was devastated to be losing this teacher and wanted to help them find a great school in their new city. Focus on the schools' career pages--they're much more on top of updates than they might have been 5 years ago, and if the area has a sub-regional association, bookmark their careers page as well. Don't rely on consultants to make you aware of opportunities. They don't have the most up-to-date information, and they'll never be as invested in your future as you are.

  4. Know the money. Independent schools are joining a trend that began years ago in other industries by either publishing salary range in the position posting or making compensation a part of the early conversation. If you don't hear about compensation range and benefits in the early going, ask about it.

  5. Be prepared. This is the most timeless advice. Read and reflect on anything the school says about itself. Asking questions in an interview that are clearly answered on the school's website or otherwise demonstrating ignorance about the mission, the scale of the institution, the org chart, the curricular and pedagogical underpinnings of the program, the co-curricular offerings, all are justifiably interpreted by interviewers as laziness, or worse, arrogance. Understand and be responsive to the school's culture. Don't show up in blue jeans for an interview at a school where every web page photo features kids in uniforms (true story) or write a cover letter touting your educational pedigree to a school whose faculty bios mention none of that (also true). Finally, prepare your own questions based on your aspirations and expectations and what you have to offer.

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