Think back to the last staff member you hired. Can you confidently say that this person took part in a hiring process that was equitable and inclusive, leaving them inspired by your school’s mission and looking forward to the first day of school? If we asked them the same question, would they agree? Why or why not?
Recruiting and hiring a school staff can be a daunting task, no matter your experience level. And getting this wrong can be costly to the school culture that you’re working hard to establish and sustain.
With a talent pool of more than 115,000 leaders and nearly two decades of recruiting under its belt, our talent team has overcome countless hiring and recruiting challenges. We recently faced our biggest challenge yet: Using feedback from candidates and BES leaders, we aligned the BES Fellowship selection process with our vision for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
Over the past 18 months, we completely overhauled a decade-old recruitment and selection process. While we are continuing to gather feedback from our 2021 Fellowship candidates and refine our practices, we’ve pulled back the curtain to share immediate takeaways for those school and network leaders who are responsible for hiring and recruiting. Read on for three ways in which leaders can begin to shift their own hiring practices, resulting in a more equitable process and, ultimately, an engaged, mission-aligned team.
Put everything on the table.
To revamp our selection process, our team began by writing down every single thing that we did, from our candidate and program competencies down to final interview questions. Since we might have blinders on when trying to evaluate our own practices, we brought in folks from other departments, as well as outside experts, to assist us. We looked through every single resource, email, presentation, marketing material, written document, and system. We put it all out on the “table.”
We held meetings with external equity and consulting partners to identify blind spots and get an outside perspective on what was and wasn’t working. As a hiring manager, if you don’t have the ability to bring in an outside consultant, consider partnering with your coach, a nearby leader, or diverse team members in your current school or organization that can share other perspectives.
When auditing your hiring practices, start by asking yourself and your team these key questions:
- What are the strengths and gaps in our current application, interview, and selection process and materials?
- What are the benefits of changing our process (e.g. better-aligned hires, a more uplifting candidate experience)?
- How will a more equitable hiring process lead to better results for our school community?
Once you complete your audit, create a detailed project plan with action items, owners, and deadlines. Implement standing meetings and feedback cycles during the hiring and recruitment season. Consider how you will assess new hires’ success and how that relates back to changes you could make to your process.
Make a plan to mitigate implicit bias.
A successful selection process that results in a mission-aligned new staff member must be equitable and inclusive at its core. Using the auditing process we explained above, we went beyond a surface-level approach and examined each hiring stage, step, and question with a DEI lens as part of our organization’s commitment toward becoming actively anti-racist.
As veteran recruiters, we’ve always relied on the old HR adage, “facts, not feelings.” To put this into practice, we wrote out our minimum candidate requirements and the role’s core competencies, resulting in a hiring rubric. This allowed our team to be clear about who to move forward in the process and why, and helped us to think about how our candidate requirements translated into Fellowship experience once the person was hired.
Defined requirements and a clear rubric brought us back to the facts and figures, rather than feelings or assumptions, resulting in a more equitable experience across the board. Beyond creating a rubric, we also recommend using an implicit bias scorecard to check interviewer bias and assumptions.
Pay close attention to the actual interview questions that you and your team will be asking. Be wary of relying on the same prompts that you’ve used for years or those written down in a resource you saved from your last job. Consider how each question aligns to your rubric, focuses on the needs of your unique community, and lends itself to finding a candidate with a diverse set of experiences, in addition to looking for racial diversity.
Once you solidify these questions, create an interview guide with exemplar answers for each question and your hiring rubric, allowing your team to objectively rate candidates based on their answers, which will help ensure consistency and reduce interviewer bias.
Make space for authenticity and honoring candidate experiences.
You simply won’t find the best candidate if you try to fit the person into a prescribed mold, versus assessing how their unique experience and background could meet the needs of your students.
As we looked at feedback from previous candidates and Fellows at each stage of our selection process, we saw a trend. Because we hadn’t intentionally asked leaders to show us their authentic selves and tell us their stories, we were inadvertently communicating that we were only seeking one type of leader, proposing one type of school model.
We set out to update our interview prompts and exercises across all stages of the hiring process. We revised our existing questions to probe instead of lead, and added questions framed around candidates’ past experiences and demonstrable skills. This gives candidates from various backgrounds an opportunity to more authentically express how their experience has shaped their vision for an excellent school. Then, we mapped each question to a specific competency we wanted to test for to assess candidates holistically and use our rubric with fidelity.
To make sure that your changes are landing, create a short survey after each round or touchpoint to gather useful feedback to improve your process and your candidates’ experience. Analyze trends in written responses as well as ratings. Keep the most resonant feedback in a visible place where you can come back to it throughout the year as you revisit your process.
The key is this — once you’ve revised how you recruit and hire staff, the work cannot stop. To onboard, equip, and retain a mission-driven team, you must constantly iterate and improve on your processes throughout the year. Don’t wait until the spring or summer to think about hiring and retention. Consider how you can use these tips to create an equitable culture for those staff members who are already a part of your team — a culture where a diverse group of people can thrive.
The BES talent and recruitment team offers a variety of supports to schools in their search for executive leadership (principals, executive directors, heads of school). Read more about our executive search work here.