Independent schools are succeeding more than ever before at juxterposing as both learning hubs as well as businesses, operating within competitive markets. We now see schools operating as lean and efficient organisations, using innovative marketing strategies to appeal to new markets, managing their operations more cost effectively and and creating new revenue streams to supplement fee income. As a result of this, a new type of school leader is emerging, and there are many good reasons to use search consultants to help find them...

Hiring the services of a search company was traditionally the approach used by corporate businesses, but it is becoming increasingly recognised as the most promising method for finding and securing top leaders in other sectors, including Education.

What can an Education Search Consultancy offer?

Whether it’s because of a retirement, a promotion or a relocation, those at the top need to be prepared for that inevitable day when they are faced with the need to replace a senior leader. This does not happen with too much regularity, however the challenge often facing those who are responsible for finding the replacement, is lack of recent experience of the process.

Should your school find itself needing new leadership I hope that the following 7 secrets will prove helpful in managing a successful recruitment campaign.

  1. Experience and perspective

There are few people as well connected within the marketplace, well resourced to carry out the process and well qualified to see emerging business trends unfold as the most influential executive recruiters. Take into consideration the experience and perspective they will have gained from working with a variety of clients to scope the competitive landscape and court exceptional leaders.

  1. Understand your school’s real requirements

It helps to get a fresh pair of eyes. It is important to consider what type of leader your school is looking for, for the future.  Different qualities and skills, for instance, will be needed for a leader who will take your school through a period of transactional development as opposed to someone who will be expected to manage a period of transformational change.  

Perhaps consider whether the current person in the role has the same leadership style and traits as his or her predecessor and you are likely to find that they were different in many respects. Now look forward and consider how differences in leadership for the future might also be of benefit to your school.

What sort of person does the current environment of your school suit and what internal and external environmental changes do you foresee in the future which might influence the type of leader needed?

Often schools have been so pleased with the performance of their current leader, that they can see no better option that someone very similar to take over the role. Is this wise? It could be de-motivating for the new leader to be constantly compared to their predecessor, so you need to ensure that they are hired upon their own merits and introduced to the school community with these in mind.

The school’s Governing Body should have a profile of what they consider an effective leader. Think who else within the school community might be worth asking about the type of leadership they would like to see. Where appropriate, you could conduct some research with community groups such as pupils, staff or parents to gather their views about leadership.

Look at other examples of best practice within your local competitive field and identify the types of leaders who have made significant impact. Do you have specific, measurable performance objectives in place for your current leader and how might these change for the next leader?

A search consultant will spend time in detailed discussion with the Governors to uncover the real needs of the school. By aligning desired leadership qualities with future plans and ambitions for your school, you can build an accurate profile as to the type of leader that will take your school to the next level of its development. 

As part of the interview process consider using profiling assessments to explore the ways your candidates behave in certain circumstances, to understand their preferences, motivations, interests, values, attitudes and ways of working with other people. Ultimately you are not just looking for a skill set; you are looking for a person who will work well and fit into your school environment. Profiling can reveal traits and behaviours that may not be discovered through interviews alone.

  1. Ensure you attract the best

Engaging a search consultant is not an insignificant expense, but most successful organisations deem it to be a very worthwhile investment to ensure that they will identify a good pool of candidates and recruit the best. The cost and disruption caused to a business through hiring the wrong leader can far outweigh the cost of a thorough recruitment campaign.

Unless you already know the exact person you want to recruit, the likelihood is that you will benefit from having a wide pool of strong candidates.  Effective advertising may generate some good candidates, but if you want to guarantee a really top quality longlist, to find the perfect person then you’ll need to look further. Search consultancies have a broad reach and methodologies for finding even the most difficult to find leaders. To begin with, the strength of their database and their relationships within the sector give them a head-start on even the best advert. Headhunters will often start the search process in advance of advertising and continue after the advert has been placed. This not only widens the timeframe for finding the perfect candidate than you will get from simply placing an advert and waiting the four or so weeks until the application deadline, but it also helps to find and alert those potential candidates who might not have seen the advert.

The trouble is, quite often the best leaders are not looking for a new job. They have to be sought out and persuaded. They are most probably happy and settled in their present role and doing well. The consultant’s job is to encourage them to become open-minded to a career change based on their achievements and accomplishments. Even if people approached are not interested, they can prove to be a rich source of recommendations. In addition, most savvy leaders are open to hearing about opportunities.

  1. Promote your school as well as the job

Your school undoubtedly has some very special attributes of which, most likely, you and your community are very proud. These need to be communicated clearly and effectively to entice applications. Consider what will motivate the right person to join your school. What motivated you?

Promoting your school within the confines of a small advert is very difficult, but search consultants take the time when contacting candidates, or responding to advert enquiries, to promote these benefits and they will be highly skilled in career development discussions and overcoming candidates’ concerns and objections. As a third party, they are also non-biased.    

Without taking the time to sell the benefits, you are potentially missing out on some of the most highly accomplished and productive talent in the marketplace.

The candidate pack is a vital tool for encouraging applications. You need a well put-together pack to promote a high quality job. A good search consultant should be able to support you with this and ensure that the pack is not only an enticing read but also complies with all employment regulations.

  1. Nurture good candidates to apply

Statistically, the number of ‘expressions of interest’ to a job advert are significantly higher than the number of actual applications, which again are much higher than the number of candidates potentially suitable for short-listing. You therefore need to maximise the number of candidates who progress through the first stages of application.

Candidates may be put off applying for a job for a number of reasons. For instance, a successful leader with a heavy workload, who is not overly interested in job seeking, is unlikely to prioritise filling in your school’s application form. Unless your school benefits from such an outstanding reputation that will draw the best leaders from afar, think about how you will encourage candidates to make that effort. Search consultants will be proactive in contacting them, talking things through and encouraging them to apply.

  1. Look out for red flags

To avoid a failed offer or the wrong appointment, it’s vital to know how to spot the ‘red flags’ along the way. It is often the candidates with the most checkered pasts who know how to write a great CV and present themselves well at interview. Similarly, identifying whether a candidate wants your job offer purely as ammunition to achieve a counter-offer from their current employer is difficult.

Although no system can be bullet-proof to guard against these issues, a certain amount can be done to weed-out those candidates who shouldn’t make it to the shortlist. For the search consultant, this is achieved through candidate nurturing, establishing regular contact with them and getting to know them. When the consultant gets a whiff of suspicion, they will dig deeper and alert you of the concern and discount the candidate from the process if necessary.

  1. Negotiate and get the right result

Once you’ve interviewed and chosen the right leader for your role, you will want to ensure that they accept the job. The terms of offer obviously need to be acceptable to you, but most importantly the incoming person needs to feel valued and motivated.  

Negotiating an offer is never the most comfortable job, and the search consultant can play the intermediary role to overcome this. School staff will not have the same credibility with a candidate that his ally, the outside recruiter, has. A handshake can be achieved and egos can be saved in the process.