4 ways to get your recruitment strategy in shape now

While this year’s international recruitment window has seen a slow start, Mark Steed suggests school leaders should plan for things to come
29th January 2021, 10:00am
Mark Steed


4 ways to get your recruitment strategy in shape now

How To Ace International School Teacher Recruitment During Covid

Teacher recruitment is usually near the top of any headteacher's priority list.

But, understandably, it has been displaced in the past 12 months by crisis management, re-rewriting social distancing protocols, flexing between home-learning and various combinations of "mask-to-mask" teaching, not to mention agonising over what is going to happen with public examinations this summer.

That said, recruitment may not be top of the list, but school leaders kick this can down the road at their peril. Now is the time for schools to get their recruitment strategy in shape.

A sluggish start

Six months ago, we were all hoping that the 2021 recruitment round would be back to business as normal but the reality of lockdowns, travel bans and quarantines means that international schools face yet another challenge over the couple of months: how to fill their vacancies.

The early indications from the major Asian cities, where schools advertise a significant proportion of their posts before Christmas, are that this year's recruitment round is generally sluggish, with international British curriculum schools reporting fewer applicants from the UK.

One consequence of the pandemic seems to be that teachers are currently sitting tight. A colleague who runs an international school in Europe described the recruitment market as in a "state of paralysis".

It remains to be seen whether this phenomenon is only a temporary blip and the international schools recruitment market will pick up again later in the year.

It is quite likely that, as with so many other areas of life, schools and job-seekers are in a holding pattern of "wait and see" until travel restrictions ease.

Now is the time to plan ahead

One thing is certain, international school recruitment will not simply return to how it was before the pandemic - indeed it is likely to be significantly different.

Now is time for school leaders to review and streamline their teacher recruitment strategy and processes so they are ready for the post-Covid-19 era. Here are four areas to consider:

1. Rethink your face-to-face recruitment strategy

Prior to my arrival at Kellett two years ago, the school senior team typically went on four recruitment trips to the UK each year.

The cost of these was not only financial (flights, hotels etc) but also in terms of "wear and tear" on the team, and the impact on the school of having senior leaders in a different time zone.

The lion's share of our recruitment in the past two years has been virtual as we have developed our expertise in video-conferenced interviews and honing a range of online tasks.

Looking ahead to a world with the resumption of global travel, it is likely we will continue with our video-conferencing interviewing with very few (if any) annual trips to the UK.

This also reflects that international recruitment is changing. It is not just about pulling talent from the UK - the reality is that there is an increasingly strong talent pool around the world.

We will still want to do senior appointments face to face, but it is more likely that we will achieve this by flying shortlisted candidates out to Hong Kong.

The advantage of this is that the candidates can see the school, it reduces senior leadership team absence, and we can involve many more people in the interview process.

2. Rethink your interview questions and processes

Consider moving away from the traditional-style questions ("can you give an example from your career when you did X") to setting work-related tasks and scenario-type questions ("what would you do/say in this scenario?").

This approach elicits more relevant, deeper responses (and it is much more difficult for candidates to roll out pre-prepared stock answers), which is vital if the whole process is being done remotely.

International schools routinely ask questions at interview to reassure themselves that the candidate has thought through fully what the move abroad entails. This is more important than ever this year.

So, consider asking a series of hypothetical questions exploring how the candidate feels about the potential impact of any travel or quarantine restrictions, and how they might respond about not being able to get back to the UK as often as they might do usually.

3. Attend virtual recruitment fairs

Recruitment fairs are an important part of the recruitment strategy of many schools. They are an efficient way of bringing job seekers and schools together in one place.

Their move to being online events makes them an even more cost-effective option for schools that haven't embraced the more traditional model.

4. Review your contract terms

There always have been some downsides to living and working abroad and these have been exacerbated by the travel restrictions caused by the pandemic. As a result, fewer people are willing to commit to a three-year initial contract overseas.

Schools may need to build greater flexibility into the contracts that they offer in order to attract and retain the talent that they need.

At Kellett, we have moved to an initial two-year contract renewable annually, which has given staff greater control over how long they choose to work in the school.

Mark S Steed is the principal and chief executive of Kellett School, the British School in Hong Kong; and previously ran schools in Devon, Hertfordshire and Dubai. He tweets @independenthead

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