Dear recruiters, heads of school, hiring managers, Human Resource (HR) departments, and anyone else involved in hiring international school teachers and leaders, how can we do better?
In order to create some awareness and empathy to effect change, allow me to share with you a bit of the struggle of a job search for an international administration position. For context, I have taught in three different top tier international schools as a teacher leader and administrator. I am currently in the United States, where I’ve been for the last three years.
Here’s a little bit of my experience from last fall:
Day one: I click into my old account in recruiting portal A to find out they have merged with recruiting portal B last year and I have to reupload many of my professional documents (letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc.) because there was a glitch in the transfer. Okay. I spend two to three hours with logins, passwords, and document scanning and uploading. I apply for four jobs. I write “unique to the position” cover letters for two of those and generic cover letters for the other two. I click and apply. Should be good.
Day two: I go into my old bookmarks in my browser from my last international search in 2017. Out of eight of my favorited schools (for which I have the employment links bookmarked), three of those have broken links or have new employment pages that I have to dig for on their website.
Day three: A friend texts me that school C has an opening for middle school principal, but I have to log on specifically to portal D in order to apply for that because that’s the only way they are accepting applications. I begin a membership application on portal D, mumbling and rumbling as I fill out the information and pay the fees to join portal D. It takes two hours to fill out all the necessary forms and upload documents for portal D. I search for school C inside the portal D dashboard. I do not see said job that my friend has said is available. I check the school website, not listed there. I contact my friend and ask if they know what happened.
Two days later, an “internal hire” text comes through to me. Okay, what else does portal D have in store for me since I am on now anyway? I go down the rabbit hole and start clicking away and researching schools in portal D. Some schools have posted complete information about their contracts, salary information, and number of dependents allowed, and some simply have nothing listed. An N/A is showing under salary, housing, airfare, etc. To candidates, this information is vital before pursuing a school.
Day four: Portal E is just for teachers who have taught in certain international schools and candidates must have their former HR department verify that they, indeed, have taught at one of portal E’s schools. In portal E, one can just click “apply for this job" and voila, just like that, you've applied. Or did you? Does that really mean I am in the applicant pool or will no one at the school end look at the notifications inside their dashboard to see applicants? I suspect the latter. One head of school does reach out to me via this portal, which eventually ends up in a successful search. There's a happy ending, don't despair! Meanwhile...
Day five: A friend of a friend is Head of Secondary (HoS) at school F. A great admin position is opening. I get an email from the HoS, which is encouraging. “We list the position on portal B, but you actually have to apply via our school directly and submit through Talent Ed. Hope that is ok.” Sure. That’s okay. I make a pot of coffee to power through the Talent Ed account creation.
Day six: I have an interview with top-tier school G for a curriculum coordinator position. It goes well. This is right before the holidays. They say they would let me know in a week what next steps will be taking place. I send a thank you note for the interview.
I wait until the third week of January to reach out and inquire. “Oh, so sorry, yes, we are moving ahead with another candidate.” I reply and ask for feedback since my perception is that it would have been a great fit and that the interview went well. No response to my request for feedback. I am just left there dangling in the ether. The same thing happens with two other schools. Another interviewer cancels our interview an hour before it is to begin so he can go get a COVID test to fly. I start talking to myself about this. It couldn’t wait another 30 minutes? This is after I arranged my whole day to be available for that 6:00 pm interview. I know your time is valuable. My time is also valuable. I understand everyone is busy, and COVID did a number on many ways we interact, but this simple etiquette is one that we must guard fiercely.
As I continue my search, I wonder if I am overusing my friends on Facebook to tell me about openings they might know about and provide insider info on life in that school. I want to know things like what kind of places can I live without a car. What schools have the best professional development budget and offerings where I can continue to grow? What about safety for females? I’m an experienced international teacher and I want to learn more about schools other than just reputation and word of mouth. Where is the best place to do this? There are several international teacher review sites but the ones I know about tend to have mostly negative and very out of date reviews. How can I find a school that would be the best fit for me, and where does that information live?
As a female leader, I read the job descriptions for leadership positions and wonder who wrote them. They are usually bullet points of words like strategic, results-oriented, proven track record, performance, and developing policies and practices. All of those are great but can we also prioritize important qualities like empathy, collaboration, and team building?
Finally, I have a successful search and am delighted to be an incoming middle school principal. Of course, I have also had many positive experiences in my search. And now that I have an administration position secured for next year, I can breathe a sigh of relief and gratitude!
My hope in sharing the more frustrating aspects of my search is to begin the conversation so that other candidates will have a more efficient, transparent, and respectful experience. The world of international education offers so much. How can we make it easier for highly qualified candidates to know how to navigate the world of international school recruiting? How can I, as a recruiter myself now, make sure I am walking my talk and not forgetting how this felt? How can we ensure more females have access to leadership positions? I am a driven, persistent, resourceful jobseeker with race and language traditionally tilting the scale in my favor. What about those candidates who may have so much to offer without these same attributes attached to their pedigree? How do they navigate the labyrinth of acronyms of international school recruiting? How can we do better?
Here are three guidelines for recruiters to consider:
1. Etiquette matters. Get back to any interviewee in a timely manner with good news or bad. Normalize asking for and giving feedback. Just like with our students, the interview process can be a formative feedback tool for growth. We can support our profession by giving feedback to candidates who are not advancing in the round. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming. A bit more than "you weren't the right fit" would be beneficial. With a little polishing, your non-advancing candidate could become a gem. It makes us all better when we uplift our profession.
2. Ensure your systems are as efficient as possible. Make sure HR is updating information in all the recruiting portals. Is up to date, accurate information posted on your website? Please take time to put the requested information for schools inside the recruiting portals and provide as much information for candidates to make good decisions for themselves and their family situations. Also, please explore systemic solutions to have better communication with applicants as to the status of their applications. Even an autoreply is better than no reply after one has submitted their application.
3. Make this a conversation. Please talk to other heads of schools, recruiters, and agency representatives. Ask each other how this process can improve to attract highly qualified candidates and promote equity. Share what’s been effective and generate new ideas.
What are your ideas, readers? What can we do better in the world of international school recruiting? Leave your comments below.
Mary Noble is a middle school principal at ACS Beirut, Lebanon.