Human Resources |
By Amber Stockham
Experienced independent school administrators have a saying: “If you’ve been doing this for 10 years, what that means is that you’ve done it 10 times.” Schools have a rhythm and a cycle. At an all too startling speed, that rhythm has been disrupted by the spread of COVID-19 in many countries around the world.
Find all COVID-19 Resources for the Independent School Business office here.
And yet in some ways, the beat goes on. We’re in the midst of annual conversations about faculty contracts, faculty departures and hiring needs for the coming year. Faculty contracts are often issued in late February or March, hiring can begin as early as January for known openings, and most hiring happens in March. At the height of hiring season, we’ve had to prioritize responses to the COVID-19 threat and many schools simply put their searches on hold.
And now, just as many campuses have transitioned to remote learning, school administrators are turning to remote hiring. For schools that have closed their physical campuses, the faculty and staff who would normally coordinate hiring efforts or interview candidates are no longer reporting to a single location. And when classes have been suspended or moved to a remote learning environment, asking prospective teachers to teach a demonstration class can be a challenge. Candidates may also be unable to travel, need to provide care for children whose schools or daycares have closed, or face quarantine for any number of reasons.
How can we adapt? Much of the hiring process can be moved to an electronic format relatively easily. Resumés can be uploaded to Google Drive or Dropbox for hiring teams’ review. Teams can collaborate on a conference call or in a shared Google document. Multiple team members can participate in outreach calls with candidates through conference calls. Even interviews, which would normally be done in person, can be adapted to a remote environment with a little flexibility and creativity.
Many schools plan for candidates to spend a full day on campus, with numerous community members involved in the interview, including students. Under normal circumstances, coordinating administrators time on campus can be challenging. In some ways, moving to a remote interview creates more scheduling flexibility. Appointments need not all be scheduled on one day. Those who want to be involved but don’t need to ask candidates questions can view recorded interviews in their own time.
Interviews with individuals or groups may follow established patterns when conducted remotely through a conference call or videoconference. If these interviews involve students, board members, or others who may have technical challenges, include someone capable of troubleshooting problems on the call. Interviewers should coordinate questions ahead of time and develop a process for asking questions so that multiple people are not trying to speak at the same time. If the interview will be recorded, be sure to notify the candidate and all other participants prior to recording.
In a video-conference interview, all participants should be on video if possible. Being unable to see one or more interviewers can be disorienting for candidates when they know they are seen. Reading body language — seeing reactions — is an important aspect of interviewing, whether it is in-person or on video.
Interviews often involve a tour of the campus, and schools should adapt this tour the same way they have adapted the tours they would provide to prospective families. If possible, a virtual tour is ideal, but may need to be adapted to show candidates specific offices or classrooms. In some cases, schools may ask a technology staff member to explain available classroom technology. Provide candidates who do not live in the area with information about the surrounding community, including about housing options and cost of living, walkability, and a list of local venues such as restaurants, gyms, dog parks and entertainment venues. These details can be key for candidates considering accepting a position.
Both teaching a demonstration class and sitting in on a class can be adapted to a remote environment. Consider the technological capabilities of the candidate’s home environment. Ideally, the candidate will be able to sit in on a remote class to develop a deeper understanding of how teachers are adapting their lessons before being asked to teach a demonstration class in a comparable environment. If classes are not being taught live or if assignments are being sent home to students, the school could ask the candidates to provide videos of themselves presenting a lesson as they would present it in a classroom, and this could be shown to students to solicit feedback. If a video demonstration is not possible, schools could also ask candidates to provide a syllabus for a class they are teaching or have taught and to create one mock lesson plan.
The most important element of a remote interview is preparation. Similar to the preparation required for an in-person interview, schools should identify who will participate in the interview and what elements will be included, and also screen questions for potential bias. Coordinate questions to ensure the candidate is not unnecessarily repeating answers; share recorded interviews when appropriate so everyone gets appropriate information. In a group interview, coordinate question order so that people don’t try to speak at the same time. This is easily complicated in a remote setting, where it is more difficult to read body language.
Remote interviews pose particular challenges. Allow time between interviews because moving from one interview to another quickly is difficult. Carry normal considerations such as breaks into the remote interview process. Also be aware of potential time zone challenges when scheduling interviews and convey the dates and times to participants appropriately.
Explain the interview format to candidates and ask if they will need any accommodations. Ensure the candidate is comfortable with any software they will be asked to use, and warn candidates if they need to install any software beforehand. Also consider providing the name and number of a staff member who can provide technical support at the time of the interview.
To avoid awkward situations and ensure that all candidates are being evaluated fairly, send a statement to each candidate informing them of any expectations for the interview, including attire and the setting from which they call in. The candidate should be in a quiet, private space with good lighting and no visual distractions. Research has shown that candidates who follow these guidelines are more likely to be hired, and clarifying expectations can create a more equitable search.
The interviewer should follow similar protocols. Interviews are best conducted in a quiet, well-lit room, and those who are interviewing from their home should try to ensure they will not be interrupted. Prior to the start of the interview, all interviewers should test their equipment to ensure that their system is working as expected and producing acceptable sound and video. At the onset of the interview, the candidate should be reminded if the interview is being recorded. Interviewers should attempt to speak clearly and slow down their conversation if necessary to ensure that the candidate can hear them well. Interviewers in these situations must be adaptable because challenges can occur. Be ready to move to a phone call should challenges disrupt the interview.
Many workplace software companies like Zoom, Microsoft and Google have offered free or discounted software to schools affected by COVID-19. To learn more about free and discounted tools, see Campus Technology's list, updated daily.
While hundreds of software options are out there, schools need not seek out a new videoconferencing software if they already have one that meets their needs. Here are some:
The greatest challenge faced by organizations related to interviewing in any format is unconscious bias, and this challenge does not disappear with videoconferencing. Common wisdom is that interviewers frequently decide if they will hire a candidate in the first 15 seconds of the interview. This can be due to many forms of bias, including the “halo effect,” where interviewers prefer people who are similar to themselves; and “anchoring,” or giving disproportionate weight to the first information the interviewer receives about the candidate. Steps schools can take:
Also be prepared for technological challenges. Glitches may happen in real time during interviews, requiring flexibility. Candidates may also have videoconferencing limitations for many reasons. Socio-economic limitations, such as access to broadband internet, can be accommodated by moving to a teleconference. It is also important to not stereotype candidates’ technological proficiency and to treat all candidates equally unless they ask for an accommodation. For instance, candidates who may not have experience videoconferencing could be particularly nervous about using it in such an important setting and may request extra assistance from your technology department.
Candidates may also have difficulty seeing or hearing. It is appropriate to ask candidates what accommodation might be appropriate for them, because they may have experience with technology that will better meet their needs. Remember that flexibility is key when accommodating a candidate’s needs. Whether it is a need for subtitles or interview time limitations, schools should be ready to adapt their systems. While it is ideal that all candidates are interviewed in the same way, it may become necessary to offer a candidate with unique circumstances a different option for their interview format
No matter how diligent a school is in providing information to candidates, the challenge of not being on campus in person will cause stress. However, attempting to accommodate candidates’ needs and working with them to create an environment in which they can interview remotely signals the school’s concern for the well-being of its community and everyone involved in the process. This can create a positive impression immediately and help a candidate feel connected and welcomed to the school. Flexible options show that a school is forward-thinking and adaptable. Carry this impression through the hiring process by offering a team meet up online after the candidate is hired so candidates can meet everyone they will be working with. Schools value their community, and that doesn’t need to be lost in a time when coming to campus may not be an option.
For more information, see all COVID-19 Resources for the Independent School Business office.
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