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The Recruiter Dance, aka “Dancing to Find a Star”

By Jeff Smith
The Recruiter Dance, aka “Dancing to Find a Star”

I spent the weekend writing emails. Not to family and friends but total strangers. Well, not total strangers—at least I had their resumes in front of me. I was trying to entice them.
It’s that time of year. The dance begins and recruiting is in full throttle. Searching the databases from SEARCH, TIE online, COIS, etc., writing emails to folks to see if they are interested in moving to our particular beat. It’s time-consuming and challenging. But the time has come for me to put on my dancing shoes and Happy Feet!
From an administrator’s perspective, it’s one of the most important tasks of the year. Finding the right teachers for your students is critical, and a daunting responsibility. The challenge for a moderately sized school in West Africa is that not everyone seems to want to dance to the beat of West Africa.
I remember my first recruiting fair with ISS in New York City in 1985. We walked into the room and behind a row of desks were the recruiters—the “Heads in Suits,” also known as “Guys with da Ties.” I remember the adrenalin of moving around and setting up interviews, fantasizing, with my wife, about each exotic locale and possibility. I remember the long lines for European schools; everyone, it seemed, wanted to go to Madrid (was it the flamenco dancing?)
I remember the anticipation, the intensity, the scramble to sign up. It was a thrill and it was exhausting. Our three days of interviews and multiple job offers led us to take jobs in India. We danced out of the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan, down 42nd Street, and back to our bus to suburban New Jersey, beaming and ready to immerse ourselves in South Asia. That’s the romantic side of our first job fair.
That was before email, websites, Skype, even before fax machines. But somehow we managed to communicate in the following months. It took weeks before a contract arrived at our idyllic little farmhouse in northern Vermont, but it got there.
I’ve been to multiple job fairs in 30 years. I’ve been a candidate. I’ve been a recruiter. It’s an emotional drain on both sides of the dance floor. You can leave the dance brokenhearted, disappointed, or aligned with your “star candidate” who is ready for “the time of their life” (à la Patrick Swayze).
Obviously, the face of recruiting has evolved, even over the past five years, let alone 30. More agencies involved in the profitable recruiting business, more “dance floors” (recruiting fairs), more international candidates, more international schools, an extended recruiting season that lasts at least 10 months, more Skype interviews, more pressure to fill positions with qualified candidates. Nimble feet are required at this party!
In a couple weeks’ time, I will attend a recruiting fair in London to interview candidates. I’ll seek to imagine myself with the smoothness of a Fred Astaire as I prep for the big dance. I’ll scour the candidate database ahead of time, seeking a Ginger Rogers. I’ll head down to the sign ups at the outset of the fair wearing my best suit and dancing shoes. I might even slick back my hair, hoping for a bit of that Kevin Bacon (Footloose) charm. I’ll identify my ideal partner and court them with an email, knowing they are being enticed by others, and hopefully we’ll waltz (or disco) our way through a full-on interview.
I’ll pitch the school, query their interests, and understand their experience, all the while hoping for a match. First impressions in that initial face-to-face encounter matter. Maybe, just maybe, a diamond in the rough (à la Billy Elliot) will jump out and scream – “I’m the one, take me to Accra!”
Recruiting is a challenging dance! One to approach with humor, perspective, professionalism, and a sense of open-ended wonder.
A version of this piece first appeared on Jeff Smith’s blog:

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