With many campuses closed and administrators’ energies primarily focused on developing online learning experiences, the uncertainty surrounding a virtual hiring process can be daunting.
To the degree possible, however, staying on your teacher recruitment schedule is highly desirable: compelling candidates won’t be on the shelf forever; you’ll have other pressing priorities at the end of the school year; and this summer, everyone will really need a vacation!
Accordingly, several administrators have asked for our thoughts on establishing a purely virtual hiring process. I assume you’ve already considered or implemented many of these points, but perhaps there are a few nuggets that make reading this worthwhile.
INITIAL PHONE CALL
We assume one of the first steps of your normal hiring process is using email to schedule an initial phone call. Even though videoconferencing technology makes it easy to chat virtually, we recommend that your first conversation be via phone, not a videochat.
Why? The informality of a phone call puts less pressure on both of you than a videochat. This might be a candidate you want to woo, and developing a rapport on the phone helps you set the stage for advancing. In addition, the call enables you to confirm the candidate’s interest before you invest time scheduling and preparing for a video conversation.
As always, the call is a winnowing device. As in your typical process, your goal is to determine if you want to advance—and if the candidate does.
If you do decide to proceed with this candidate—either during the conversation itself or after you’ve had time to review—we suggest that your invitation to the next stage should be a fulsome email that explains clearly what the videochat will include. (See sample instructions at the bottom of this message.)
Bob Weiman, the Associate Head at St. Stephen’s-St. Agnes in Alexandria, Virginia, has some good advice. He is preparing a document with links to videos and articles (some of which are not available on the school’s website). He intends to send it candidates so that they have a better sense of the campus and community—especially since they won’t be able to visit the school. The candidates know more about you, and you can gauge their responses to the culture of your school.
If you have such a document, you might wish to send it with the invitation to the videochat.
We recommend that the initial videochat should not be a demo lesson. Interviews can be nerve-wracking enough. Teaching a demo lesson isn’t chamomile tea, either. Consider conducting the first video conversation separately from the demo lesson.
A one-on-one conversation is ideal, as opposed to a team. You’ll spend less time coordinating schedules and you’ll minimize the pressure on the candidate, while continuing to gain more insights about the candidate’s viability.
Be mindful that some very good candidates truly—and sometimes, inexplicably—don’t screen well on a video. Good candidates can be hard to come by and unfortunately the camera just doesn’t love everyone; some folks who are just fine in front of a class just do not perform at their best on camera. It is sometimes best not to rule them out based solely on a less than stellar video interview.
VIRTUAL DEMO LESSON
If the candidate remains viable after the phone call and videochat, then you may want to invite the candidate to teach a virtual demo lesson. There’s so much artifice in this situation that one should be mindful of several points.
Don’t pretend the administrators or teachers who are viewing the virtual demo are students. This weird twist invites distortion. And don’t expect a 40-minute presentation. A real classroom experience includes a back and forth academically, intellectually, and socially between teacher and students. You cannot replicate these virtually, so we suggest that you simply don’t try to.
Instead, consider requesting that the candidate prepare and present a 10-15 minute lesson on a topic assigned by or pre-approved by you. This allows all participants to spend the time fully engaged on the presentation rather than being distracted by thoughts of “why did they choose this topic” or “our students have/have not done that.” This is just not the time for mystery or surprise.
In addition to the candidate’s presentation, you may well want to continue your questioning and investigation during this video conversation. You probably already use some of these approaches in your “real” interview process, but consider the following.
1. Have a standard set of questions prepared, because you will probably be comparing different candidates, and some standardization is helpful.
2. If technologically possible, record this video conversation. This is wonderfully helpful because you don’t need your interview team in one place at one time. You can share the recorded interview with others on your team later (and this, once again, suggests why a standardized format or set of questions is helpful).
3. If you do plan to record the demo lesson, your email invitation to this conversation should clearly state this intention. Also, just as your invitation to the initial videochat explained your expectations of the conversation, your invitation to the demo lesson should be equally explicit.
Your school’s regular practice presumably includes reference calls. Some administrators prefer to call before interviewing, others after. You’ll probably want to follow your usual practice.
However, just as your school is closed, it’s highly likely that the school where the reference works is also closed. Therefore, together we need to work on gathering cell phone numbers for references, in addition to their school phone numbers. By “together” I mean you, the candidate, and Southern Teachers. We are actively instructing our candidates to refresh the contact information for references so that we can communicate with them as needed. Reference checking is important, but harder than ever during this unusual moment.
We recommend that you prepare a standard document that you send to candidates when you are scheduling the very first videochat. For example:
Part of our hiring process is to call references. Because of the disruption in usual routines, we ask for your help in providing us with a list of your references that includes their email address, their work phone number, and their cell number. We understand that some individuals prefer not to hand out their cell number, but in these unusual times, it is a legitimate request that we hope your references will honor. I would ask you to send me this information prior to our scheduled videochat. I may not call them before our conversation, but at some point I want to hear all the good things your references have to say about you!
You’ve assessed the gathered information just as you would in a normal search process. You’ve asked your follow-up questions; the candidate has asked his or hers.
Now, presumably, it’s decision time. But this is a routine part of your process.
Of course, if the candidate is a Southern Teachers referral, we would be pleased to talk with you and share our thoughts about him/her.
I have long believed that a school can make a sound decision about offering a candidate a job without having the person on campus. I think it is more difficult for a candidate to make the decision to accept an offer without having visited the school.
It’s interesting to note that the German word for “employer” is “Arbeitgeber,” which translates as “giver of work.” You, as the “giver” have the right to establish the ground rules on offers, whether it’s a virtual interview process or a normal one. For instance, you get to decide:
1. how long a candidate has to respond to an offer,
2. if you are willing to allow them to travel to campus in order for them to confirm that accepting the job is the right course of action,
3. how much you will pay for those travel expenses.
Again, this is part of your routine process; you’re accustomed to making these decisions and conveying them to candidates, so in this stage there aren’t many differences between a “real” or virtual scenario.
If you have additional suggestions, we’d welcome them. We will be sharing a comparable set of instructions with candidates so that they are better prepared to interview virtually.
We’d like to help you in any way you can; we’ll get through this together.
Thanks for your consideration.
Carey Goodman | Director
434-295-9122 | Goodman@SouthernTeachers.com
SAMPLE INVITATION TO VIDEO INTERVIEW
The search committee at XXX is very excited about meeting with you! Just to confirm, we are scheduled for X:XX PM ET on DAY OF THE WEEK, MONTH XXth. The call will last around XX minutes. Even those who have video interview experience may benefit from the following tips I have gleaned from my experience being on the other side:
1. Dress as if you are making a campus visit
2. As best possible, position your camera at eye level (it is very easy to get an up-angle which is flattering to no one)
3. Make sure the lighting is on your face rather than behind your head
4. When answering questions, look directly at the camera; when you look at your screen, it looks like you are not making eye contact. If you have a laptop, this is less of an issue than if you have a desktop and separate camera.
5. If something goes wrong (technology is fickle), stay calm, patient, and flexible; how you react in those situations can say a ton about you as a candidate!
I recommend that you review the school’s website in advance of the conversation. And here’s another tip—one of my first questions will be:
An Upper School Math Teacher at our school . . .
We will be using Zoom/Skype/Other as our video conferencing platform. At the designated time, we will send you an email invitation to the meeting. Click on the link in the email to join the meeting.
It is always a good idea to have a dry run before the actual interview, so let me know if you have five minutes to test the video technology.
Here are the committee members:
Because not every committee member may be able to attend each meeting, we will be recording the interviews.
Just so you have it, my cell is 555-555-555, which you are welcome to use any time, including the day of the interview, and especially if we have any technological glitches as we are talking.