Executive Hiring

Use the Longest Runway Possible for the Search
Sep 13, 2018
by Gabriel Lucas

The helicopter is an engineering marvel.  It can take off from the smallest of launch pads and head straight up.  Executive hiring, on the other hand, is like a jumbo jet.  Without a long runway, it will never build up enough momentum to get off the ground.

Unfortunately, many school leadership teams do not allow sufficient time to hire for senior cabinet positions, especially ones involving challenging areas like technology and innovation.  By far, the best time to hire senior school administrators is in the fall via a thoughtful process lasting several months — for a July start date.  Doing so not only increases the chances of finding top candidates on an upward career trajectory, but it also reduces the competition: springtime is a candidate’s market, not an employer’s market.  Thus…

  • If you have a senior administrator opening right now, resist the urge to either fill it immediately or wait until spring to begin hiring.Rather, run a search later this fall for the following July, and find an interim solution to get you through the rest of this school year.
  • If there’s even a chance an administrator might leave at the end of the school year, keep communication channels open.The worst approach is to isolate that administrator and then receive a surprise resignation notice in May.

If a school knows that an executive position will be open the following summer, then early fall is a great time to conduct a thorough needs assessment.  One common outcome is a restructuring — either through minor or major adjustments, such as:

  • Expanding responsibilities to align with strategic needs (e.g., migrating from a director of IT to a director of educational technology)
  • Combining two positions (e.g., merging an academic dean with an educational technology coordinator into a new director of innovation)
  • Elevating a position (e.g., moving from a director to a C-level executive)

Once a position has been properly defined to reflect current needs, the real work begins: running a comprehensive hiring process.  Process is the key word: don’t just fill an opening, but design a process that is inclusive, exhaustive, and intentional.

  • A robust hiring process is one where senior administrators…
  • Gather input from key stakeholders
  • Form one or more advisory and/or decision-making committees
  • Create a well-defined timeline with firm deadlines and announcement dates
  • Wrap a job description inside a forward-thinking opportunity statement
  • Advertise the position broadly to seek a diverse candidate pool
  • Screen candidates and call references well ahead of the final round
  • Keep early applicants enthusiastic without preempting the schedule
  • Construct a rubric for the community to offer input on finalists
  • Design a final round involving a multitude of interactive evaluation scenarios
  • Bring in finalists back-to-back, to keep internal discussions fresh
  • Have patience and determination during the offer and negotiation phase
  • Understand the need for a backup plan, in case the top finalist falls through

Ed Tech Recruiting runs retained searches for senior executive positions overseeing technology, innovation, curriculum, and operations.  In the fall of 2016, we ran a search for The Thacher School in Ojai, CA to find an amazing technology and library leader after a yearlong partnership involving a staffing assessment, faculty workshops, and ongoing counsel to senior leadership.  In the fall of 2017, we ran similar international searches for technology leaders at both Keystone Academy, a K-12 international school in Beijing, and The Buckley School, a K-9 all-boys school in New York City.  As one administrator shared:

Working with Ed Tech Recruiting got us access to a diverse group of candidates with exactly the experience we were looking for. They helped us design a hiring process that was both rigorous and welcoming. Those who were on the search committee felt that the process itself was a learning experience and put us in a better place to recruit and retain great candidates.  Ed Tech Recruiting did a full analysis of our structure and needs in relation to technology and helped us design, and fill, a position that brought together all our needs.

This fall, we will be running several similar retained searches, including one for a senior academic and innovation leadership position at Pomfret School, a distinguished New England boarding and preparatory school.

Searches like these — ones that begin in the fall in advance of a July start date — are more about process and design.  The actual hiring is but one small part of a larger journey that brings the community together and builds political capital.  In some ways, a well-designed executive search is like chartering your own plane for your entire organization.  You arrive at the same destination, but the experience is more inclusive, personalized, and revitalizing for everyone involved.  When it comes to your most precious resource — human — what kind of journey would you prefer?

Gabriel Lucas is principal of Ed Tech Recruiting (www.EdTechRecruiting.com), an international firm helping educational organizations hire for senior technology administrators. He is a former educator and director of technology.