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Recruiting in the International School World

By Katherine Brewer

I believe in having a clear set of values and beliefs that guide how we operate in this world. Here are two of mine:
1. I believe that time is one of our greatest resources in this life. This means I try to waste very little of my own time or that of others.
2. I believe that successful partnerships, collaborations, and organizations are built on a foundation of trust. Because of this, I believe that when we state that we will keep information confidential, we should honor that promise.
One of the most important jobs I have as a head of school is to recruit new faculty. My job is to be the gatekeeper, determining who enters our school community and who has the vastly important responsibility of educating our students. It is not a job I take lightly. Recruiting in the field of international education can be an exhilarating process for both candidates and recruiters. Job fairs, while becoming increasingly less necessary in some respects, are full of the energy of potential and of new opportunities.
One thing that continues to amaze me, however, is the lack of reference checks when teachers working at my school move on to new organizations. This year, at two different recruitment fairs, I congratulated two teaching couples that were moving on from my school on the fantastic new job offers they received. And while I mentally made note of the fact that I had not been contacted for a reference check regarding these candidates, I was not concerned because these four teachers were genuinely great candidates. Weeks passed, and as I was working back at my school in Shanghai I received emails requesting references for the four teachers who had received job offers at the fairs. Both of the schools’ HR offices sent me lengthy written reference forms (one was three pages, the other four) to fill out for the teachers who had already received offers.
My first thought was to dismiss these requests, as I did not see the point of filling out reference requests after jobs were offered. Furthermore, neither of the forms asked for any information that could not be gleaned from the confidential reference form I had filled out for the recruiting agency. I knew that the recruiting schools both had access to these references because the teachers were hired at job fairs hosted by that particular agency. However, I did not want to jeopardize the teachers’ new positions in any way, so I wrote to both couples to clarify their offers. Had they signed contracts or letters of intent that specified stipulations? Both stated they had letters of intent that stated contracts would be offered after acceptable references were received.
Here is the first problem I have with this recruiting practice. Essentially, it destroys the idea of a confidential reference. I have no way of knowing what another school considers acceptable when I am filling out their form. And if my reference is deemed unacceptable and an employment offer withdrawn, whatever confidentiality is promised on the form is meaningless.
Second, because the recruiting schools clearly had access to the confidential reference I had already provided to the recruiting agency, filling out additional written requests seems to be an unproductive use of time. Several years ago there was a movement in our international education community to move away from open letters of reference, because they were valued so little by recruiters, which means the act of writing them became a colossal waste of time. We agreed collectively that we valued confidential references over open ones.
The past two schools where I have worked as an administrator have policies that clearly state we do not provide open letters of reference to teachers moving on to another international placement. Are we not replacing one bad practice with another when we ask referees to fill out additional paperwork as a condition of employment for teachers after an offer has already been made, conditional or otherwise? Setting aside the issue of confidentiality, is this practice not also a waste of someone else’s time considering the fact that the referee has already filled out one form for the recruiting agency with the same information?
I do not presume to know the best method for recruiting. And I certainly understand the challenges of recruiting in a high-pressure, time-sensitive environment. But I would argue that as recruiters we should strive to adhere to practices that align with a set of values upon which we can agree. Not wasting other people’s time and protecting confidentiality are two values that I would put forward to be on that list.
I will continue to conduct a verbal reference check before I offer a contract of employment or a letter of intent to any new candidate, because I continue to see the value in this practice. I wholeheartedly support the practice of conducting reference checks when hiring, but I believe we should do this in a way that values other people’s time and that protects confidentiality. l
Katherine Brewer serves as the Head of Shanghai Community International School in Shanghai, China.

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02/04/2018 - ohio_teacher
I have been out of the loop of applying for jobs for the past five years. Now that I am looking for a job in a new country, I am a bit taken aback about the system that's in place re: references.

Every recruitment service - CIS, ISS, TIE, Search, Schrole etc - they all want confidential references. And instead of making it easy for our referees by asking them to submit a letter confidentially (meaning that they could just copy and paste or upload the same letter/information repeatedly, saving lots of time), they have to fill out a different form in each system. If you want to work with more than one of these service to increase your exposure, you're asking your referees to fill out 4 or 5 different confidential forms.

And then, if you do find a school that you are interested in and start the process of interviewing, they often want to get some documentation from them again before they make an offer which you may or may not be accept. This process could be repeated five or more times before you find a placement you are happy with. It seems like such a waste of our colleagues' time and I feel really guilty asking them to do all these things.

My suggestion: the recruiting services should send a link to the referees that simply asks them submit or upload a confidential letter of reference on company letterhead. The schools who work with the recruiting service should be able to see these letter as view only, and the contact info for the referees in case they have any specific questions not addressed in the letter. If the candidate accepts an offer of employment from the school, the school should be able to download the letters and print them for their records. Done. Enough with the forms!

Or maybe this is a deliberate tactic on the part of recruiting services. If we have to ask our colleagues to fill out a form every time we want to list our CV on a board, it means that we might be less likely to use more than one. From a marketing standpoint, maybe it makes sense. From a convenience standpoint, it is a huge hassle for the principals, coordinators and directors that we know already have about ten too many things to do every day.
06/09/2017 - Psyche_guy
I know of schools that deliberately write glowing references based on either the "drinking buddy" system or because they want to get rid of someone. In some cases, schools that pay lower salaries or have a bad reputation will grab anyone they can, regardless of references. As an administrator myself, I question the value of many references.



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