We are approaching the season in the academic year where job adverts are becoming more frequent, teachers may be seeking promotions, and NQTs set out to get that all important first job.
This is a busy time for both the professionals who are applying for posts and for the organisations recruiting, and as educators we are operating in rapidly changing times.
School leaders are mapping out the strategic plans for the next three to five years, constructing timetables for the forthcoming year, and school business managers are trying to balance the books.
All of these processes are driven by staffing, so it is critical to get recruitment processes right. Staffing structures within schools today are most likely to be as lean as they have ever been as the teaching profession becomes ever more challenging.
What does remain constant though, is the age-old saying: “You live and die by your appointments.” The quality of provision in any educational institution is dependent on the standard of teaching, and consequently the processes schools employ during recruitment need to be “water-tight” in order to fairly appoint the best candidate. Here is my guide to ensuring your recruitment process is fair, challenging but also enjoyable for everyone involved, regardless of which side of the table you are on.
Setting the date
This might sound obvious, but every aspect of the process is dependent on the date for the interview being set. Ensure that it doesn’t clash with any major event already in the school calendar as you will most likely be taking staff off timetable during the process and at this busy time of year you do not want to be adding to the cover/supply budget. Once a date has been set, work backwards in order of the components of the process that need to take place.
When will candidates be informed of their selection for interview?
Who will give them the instructions?
When will shortlisting occur and who will be involved?
What is the deadline for applications?
Will you set a specific time and date for candidates to tour the school?
When will the advert be released? Does the timeframe give candidates enough time to complete an application?
Wherever you choose to advertise, there are several aspects of the advert that you need to get right. First, the basic details need to be accurate. Dates, times, phone numbers, email and website addresses all need to be checked, double-checked and checked again. Publishing inaccurate details creates a poor impression with potential candidates, so be meticulous!
The advert needs to be visually appealing and ideally follow the “house style” that your school uses in the prospectus and on the website. Crucially, ensure that all the details and documents are on your website when the advert is released, and that these are accurate and follow the consistent style adopted in school correspondence.
Behind the scenes...
Successful recruitment involves lots of different personnel, but to avoid confusion and duplication of work, ideally only one person should co-ordinate the process.
If you are that person, be sure to give clear instructions to those who are contributing and ensure that they know what is required in terms of your high expectations and standards. The little things can make a huge difference so make these staff aware that their contribution is significant.
There are logistical aspects that are crucial in ensuring the process runs smoothly. You will need to co-ordinate the refreshments and dietary requirements for candidates, the car parking spaces available to them, name badges, itineraries and schedules, and all of this is before you start talking to your staff and students about what their role is during the interview day (where they will need to be and at what time, etc).
You will need to ensure that cover is organised for the staff involved, that rooms are booked for the various tasks candidates will complete, and you will need to have somewhere where they can keep their belongings safe too.
Keep ‘em busy!
It is frustrating for candidates to experience large amounts of “dead time” during interview processes, so make sure that the schedule you put together makes for a day of relentless challenge. You will also want the successful candidate to be able to operate effectively under pressure and be flexible and resourceful enough to think on their feet, so having an action-packed day can be a good measure of whether someone can cope with a busy, challenging day at your school.
Make the tasks relevant
Some interview processes are clearly a product of tradition (because “that’s the way we do it here”). However, if you want to recruit the best individual then the process needs to assess the candidates’ abilities in the aspects of the job description that are most crucial.
Consequently the tasks candidates are ask to complete should differ depending on the position they are applying for.
Schools have never recruited for such a diverse range of positions as we do currently. We don’t just employ teachers, so make the process suit the post.
Additionally, candidates can become well-versed in meeting the requirements of certain processes if they have been on a lot of interviews, so some variety can help to level the playing field.
Overall, it is important that the processes in place on the interview day are rigorous, diverse and use a consistent scoring system.
Recruitment processes generate a huge amount of paperwork and it is important that a member of the admin team collates this securely and confidentially.
In order for the appointment to be fair, and for the unsuccessful candidates to be provided with constructive and accurate feedback, getting the paperwork right is pivotal.
A skills matrix should be constructed at the beginning of the recruitment process, before the advert is published. This ensures that the recruitment drive focuses on the skill-set and experiences required to perform the role effectively. There should be consistent documentation for staff to use during the shortlisting process and on the interview day. The skills identified should feature prominently on the job description and these should be listed on the matrix against the various processes that candidates will be put through during the interview day(s).
A consistent scoring system should be used (Ofsted 1 to 4 is easier than a standard 1 to 10 as it is “teacher-speak” and has less margin for error) and the tables and matrices used by staff during the process should give sufficient space for written comments as well as scores.
This is an important aspect, as the feedback to candidates is based upon these judgements. All documentation produced as part of the recruitment process must be kept for all candidates and stored securely.
Feedback to candidates who are unsuccessful is tremendously important. Compiling an application and committing to a day or more of intense scrutiny requires huge amounts of time and effort (and so it should, as these people want a job at your school), so giving them accurate and constructive feedback will help them move on professionally and may assist them in being successful in their next application.
It also reflects well on an institution when they can give feedback that not only improves an individual’s style and technique on interviews days, but also may improve their classroom practice too.
When and where this feedback takes place is important to get right. It needs to be done individually, so a quiet office is ideal. However, sometimes there is not sufficient time on the day to do this, and the unsuccessful candidates may just have to be told that on this occasion they have not got the job.
When this happens, they should be offered an opportunity to schedule a phone call with the lead member of staff, during which comprehensive feedback can be given on each aspect of the process.
Often, waiting until the next day and speaking to the unsuccessful candidates on the phone can be more effective as it gives the person giving the feedback time to collate the various pieces of paperwork and plan carefully what they are going to say. It also allows both parties time to reflect.
The feedback itself should be based on how they performed during each task (which is measured against the skills matrix) and should be accurate, positively framed, and provide suggestions on how they can improve. Importantly, you should never forget to thank them for taking the time and effort to apply for the post.
Right person, right job
Recruitment processes are lengthy, comprehensive and exhausting. Every aspect should be rigorous and the staff involved need to be meticulous in order to select the right person.
However, the best candidate is not always the right person. Experienced interviewees can become “experts” at completing the standard interviews and may score highly in many of the tasks they are put through.
The hardest thing to do at the end of a long interview day is to not appoint. However, if the panel is not certain that an individual is the right person, then not appointing should be the default position. It is better to go through the entire process again than to appoint someone who you have reservations about.
After all, it is the quality of provision for your students that you are recruiting for, and they deserve the very best.
Ben Solly is vice-principal at Long Field Academy in Melton Mowbray. Follow him on Twitter @ben_solly