Five Things You Must Do to Hire the Best

Attracting and hiring top talent is getting harder and harder for charter schools every year. The nearly explosive growth of the industry (not just number of schools but the expansion of existing schools as well) is fueling competition for teachers and other school professionals in many cities across the country. The situation will only get worse in coming years as state budgets recover and traditional public school systems end the hiring freezes and cut-backs we have seen since the recession hit in 2008. In order to build the team that is going to realize the mission and goals of your school, there are 5 key things you must do to have a chance at attracting and hiring top talent.

1) Assess and Predict Hiring Needs

The first step is to assess your hiring needs for next school-year. For very small, startup schools this step is generally pretty simple. Once you solidify your staffing plan, you’re basically done. For larger, established schools and expanding networks, it can be significantly more involved and complicated.

In addition to known hiring needs, you must also grapple with retention issues. Life-changes, perceived lack of advancement opportunities, unhappiness with leadership and poor performance are but a few of the many reasons staff either choose to leave or are terminated. The bottom line is that most schools are going to lose some employees every year. So, you have to plan for it realistically and integrate attrition-generated vacancies into your assessment of hiring needs. A thorough analysis of retention at your school should include:

  1. Analysis of historical retention data
  2. Identification of current staff that are underperforming and not likely to have their contracts renewed at the end of the school year
  3. Assessment of staff sentiment through surveys, focus groups, and qualitative analysis conducted by school leadership

Armed with a good estimate of your attrition rate for the current school-year, you can then make an informed projection of hiring needs for next year.

2) Develop Detailed Ideal Candidate Profiles

Before you even begin to spend resources on staff recruitment, it is imperative that school leadership develop detailed profiles of the ideal candidate for each job opening. While there certainly are some personality traits and credentials that pretty much every employer would like to see in a candidate, the best employee for your school is a unique individual and should be treated/recruited as such. The question here is who is the best fit for this position and our school organization? One of the biggest mistakes we often see in our work is school leaders who do not spend enough time and effort really detailing who it is that is the very best fit for the position. This mistake leads to ineffective (and often expensive) candidate marketing efforts that do not attract the best, uniquely-qualified candidates.

3) Create a Core Marketing Message for Each Ideal Candidate Profile

Once you have developed detailed ideal candidate profiles for each open job opportunity, it’s time to develop a core marketing message. This is akin to the “elevator pitch” in the venture capital business. It is a short (you should be able to deliver it in 30 seconds or less), highly targeted, emotionally-engaging appeal to why the ideal candidate would want this job at your school. In fact, the reason we stress the importance of really spending time and effort creating an ideal candidate profile is to develop this short, but powerful, appeal to the very best-fit candidate for your unique career opportunity. Otherwise, you will invariably end up with a very generic, ineffective marketing message in all the recruitment materials and advertisements you develop. Predictably, the type of candidates you attract through such an unfocused approach will be less than ideal. You’ll waste time, effort, and money attracting and processing a lot of candidates that are not a good fit for the position and your school.

4) Create an Advertisement and Outreach Plan

With a solid, emotionally appealing core marketing message in hand, you can now begin to develop job descriptions that truly speak to the ideal candidates and dissuade others from gumming up your recruitment process with junk resumes from junk candidates. If you have really done your homework above, you should have a detailed idea of who you want. For example:

  1. Lives and currently works within 5 miles of the school
  2. Participates in triathlons
  3. Is a thrill-seeker/risk-taker
  4. Listens to NPR in the morning
  5. Is currently working at top-performing traditional public school within 5 miles of our school
  6. Is really into classical music
  7. Has been formally trained in Teachers College Reading Workshop
  8. Actively engages in online forums related to early literacy
  9. Is politically active in the school choice/reform movement
  10. Is technologically and social media savvy

This is of course just a made up example, but you get the point. If you have a really detailed idea of whom you want (not just degrees, work experience and certification), you are better able to design a recruitment advertising and outreach plan that will generate a lower overall volume of candidates, but a higher number of truly hirable candidates that are likely to build long, prosperous careers at your school.

For example, with the profile above, we could really focus our efforts by targeting our Google Adwords with keywords relating to Teachers College Reading Workshop, triathlons, and early literacy. We could use guerilla marketing techniques like leaving flyers in local restaurants that teachers from other high-performing schools in the area frequent for lunch or advertising on location-based websites like Foursquare around those same restaurants’ profiles. Even our mass marketing ads on job boards like Craigslist could be crafted in such a way that candidates who aren’t a good fit would be dissuaded from applying, because they don’t fit the very specific profile described in our ads and job descriptions. In marketing terminology, this type of focused outreach is called Segmentation. Using a combination of demographic and psychographic profiling, we can zero in on just the right candidates with a message tailored to speak directly to them in an emotionally connect way through marketing channels that are highly likely to reach them.

5) Develop a Professional Hiring System

Let’s be honest, most employers (including charter schools) don’t do a great job of managing their relationship with candidates. Many candidates apply and never hear anything back from the school. The “process” of managing candidate applications is often disorganized, inefficient and extremely time-consuming for staff tasked with recruitment advertising, screening, interviewing and making hiring decisions. Often highly promising candidates get overlooked or delayed in the hiring process while too much time is wasted candidates who are very unlikely to ever be hired. The solution to these problems is to spend the time and money necessary to build a professional, efficient candidate screening, tracking and communication system that:

  1. Screens unqualified candidates out before they begin the formal application process
  2. Identifies promising candidates quickly so that real human contact can be made with the candidate immediately
  3. Uses automated software-as-a-service to manage candidate tracking and communication such that candidates are always informed about where they are in the process and recruitment managers’ time is freed up to personally engage with the most promising candidates.
  4. Allows school leadership and other staff involved in recruitment and hiring to participate and communicate in a seamless and time-efficient manner with the ultimate goal of reducing time-to-hire

In a nutshell, you must have a professional-quality hiring system in order to effectively and efficiently hire top-notch applicants. A haphazard, slow and disorganized hiring process is almost guaranteed to yield poor results. Many applicants will simply drop out of the process altogether and you can be sure that some of those folks who drop out are ideal candidates whom you would have hired if your processes hadn’t turned them off.

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