Are you a compelling candidate on paper?

June 1, 2016

 

Have you ever had a chance to be on the employer’s side of the hiring process?

 

Think about what you do when you are hiring: you go through the resume stack quickly and put them in "yes, no and maybe" piles after quick glances at what the individuals are currently doing and where they went to school. You will go back and read the yeses in depth and depending on numbers, you might go back to the maybe pile. Unless your search goes to pot, you will probably never go back to the no's—and maybe not even then.  As a candidate, your goal has to be to present your materials in such a way that you end up in as many yes piles as possible.

 

Applying for a head of school job—and getting noticed out of the surprising "piles" of candidates—is quite different than applying for other school jobs. In part, as a potential candidate you need to keep in mind that the people reviewing your papers—the members of the search committee—are typically not educators so they don't "speak" school language, and therefore titles alone might not be enough to give them a full sense of one's scope of work and abilities. For example, the position Dean of Faculty can be a position that varies greatly from school to school—from an honorary title given to the longest serving faculty member to an individual who is responsible for all hiring, daily support and evaluation of 150 faculty members. If you simply list Dean of Faculty and don’t offer your readers valuable information to put the job in context, the readers will see and “value” the job through their limited lenses.

 

We strongly recommend a format that includes "Accomplishments." Let’s say you are currently the Director of Communications and Marketing at a school. You briefly explain the scope of your work: ““Responsible for oversight of all school communications, including website and written publications. Oversee two staff.” But adding (true) measurable accomplishments: “Led a re-branding process that resulted in a two-year inquiry increase of 28%. Designed an annual fund appeal that supported a 16% increase in alumni participation” will capture your reader’s attention and promote you as a “do-er” in a way that a simple outline of your titles and responsibilities will not.

 

Chronological order is also not necessary. You can group your work in a manner that simplifies it and focuses the reader on the experience that is most relevant to the job you are seeking. For example, many independent school people put Administrative or Leadership Experience in one category and Teaching Experience in a separate one when they are seeking an administrative position. If you lump all your work under the school’s name, the facts that you chaired the reaccreditation self-study and oversee the associate teachers program could easily get lost after your initial note of 5th grade lead teacher. The reader will see you mainly as a teacher and your valuable and relevant administrative experience may not get the notice and weight it deserves. You can also use Relevant Professional Experience and Other Professional Experience if you have worked in other fields, separating your school work from what some Board members might term “real world experience” (and do know they value that!).The further you go back, the less you need to say about the work—streamline it. Does anyone really need to know numerous details about your teacher assistant job at Kalamzoo in the late 80's now? Additionally, eliminate the Objective as it just takes up space and doesn't add anything of substantive value. 

Secondly, when working with search committees and talking about candidate documents we always say, "Pay close attention to the letter of interest. Is it a generic letter that could be sent to any school with a word or two changed or is it truly a letter of interest that responds to your school's opportunity statement and shows that the candidate is really interested in YOUR school not just any school." Our experiences with search committees demonstrate that it is ABSOLUTELY worth the extra time a candidate takes to really personalize the letter of interest. Yes, you can have a paragraph or three that shows up in each letter but if you don't connect in a real way to the school, to its needs and to its mission, it is unlikely that you will get serious consideration as a candidate as it presents as lazy, and no one is seeking that character trait.

 

School people are not used to self-marketing but these papers ARE your self-marketing tools. Thinking about who your audience is and what they need to hear and see is essential. As you put your papers together, step back and think about the process you have used when identifying worthy candidates. Make sure your papers are inviting and readable, paying attention to font size, white space and a layout that is easy to follow. If your papers reflect strong detail orientation and a thoughtful, articulate approach in their preparation, you will be signaling that YOU possess those qualities.

 

You cannot “wow” a search committee or a hiring head of school unless your papers earn you an invitation to a conversation.

 

Take the time so you can get in that yes pile.

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