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The Best Candidate is Not Always the Hired Candidate

Sarah, a teacher in Nebraska, was looking for a new teaching job. She left her previous position in order to start a family and have her first child. While she was in the hospital recovering from the delivery of her first born son, she received a call on her cell phone which was close to her hospital bed. It was a secretary from a school district near Sarah’s house—a school district that had a great reputation and the secretary wanted to schedule Sarah for an interview, but THAT interview was going to take place the NEXT morning! Sarah asked if there were other dates where interviews were being conducted, but there was no flexibility for the interview date that was set in stone. So, Sarah talked to her husband about what to do. Although Sarah couldn’t drive to the interview herself, would need her husband to help out, and wasn’t feeling 100% strong after her delivery, she still accepted the interview because she wanted to teach and find a new job so badly. It was her passion.

Sarah had a great interview, but she didn’t get the job. A teacher related to two Board of Education members and who taught at the school district for 3 years as a temporary teacher ended up getting the job.

Shift now to Jonathan, a principal in Texas, whose contract was not going to be renewed. He suffered from various “dunk tank” scenarios from a ruthless and nasty superintendent of schools who was Jonathan’s direct supervisor. Jonathan was an incredible leader, but his health was suffering from the constant bullying by his superintendent. As a result of job insecurity, Jonathan needed to look for a new job. He was given a good reference letter, ironically, but needed to land his next job, not only to support his family, but because being a principal was his passion.

About one month later, Jonathan received a phone call to interview for a principalship in a school district only seven miles from his house. If he landed this job, his pay would be lower, but he didn’t care. He loved being a principal and was excited about the opportunity to interview. He didn’t get all of his hopes up, but he got some of them up.

Jonathan had an exemplary interview, but he didn’t get the job. The assistant principal who worked at the school for 6 years became the new principal at the school where Jonathan interviewed.

What do these stories have in common? One might conclude that, sometimes, time, energy, and resources are wasted when conducting hiring processes that almost end up with a candidate that was originally sought after in the first place. Sometimes the best candidate is not the hired candidate.

So, why do we feel the need to carry out intricate hiring processes when the result is perhaps, already known? Do we believe that a fair, good, or excellent employee who puts their time in to a district should be afforded promotion just because?

Think about how time, energy, and resources from these two stories were wasted:

1. Interview teams were taken away from their leadership and teaching duties for one or more days. Substitute teacher salaries must be covered for sometimes, 8, 10, 12 or more interview panel members. This has a direct impact on serving students and managing resources.

2. Processes were set up for the sake of shared decision-making values, but sometimes, shared decision-making does not take place, after all. As a result, our own processes become a strain or tension on the organization. And, if disagreement on an interview committee exists or debates about who the best candidate really is, we often find that the higher ranking district officials make the final decisions for hiring even if a committee was assembled in the first place.

3. The candidates provide their time, energy, and resources for preparing materials for interviews that may have already been decided before they get there. Candidates get their hopes up that they have a fair shot, only to be let down when being notified that they were not going to be hired (for no good reason). Personnel already working in the capacity of a posted position is sometimes the choice to begin with and candidates get their hopes up like Jonathan and then feel misled in the end.

4. There are many school districts that still use paper applications and paper recruitment processes. Personnel filing systems are outdated as a result of opening up searches that might not have to be opened up in the first place. Resource waste and clerical time (human resources waste) is compromised on maintaining outdated systems.

Sometimes, there are contractual obligations and union protocols that must be followed for posting a position, recruiting for that position, and setting up interviews and hiring practices for selecting a candidate and, sometimes, these contractual agreements are rarely negotiated out of contracts, so processes stay status quo and resources continue to be wasted.

One might argue that all hiring processes are fair and just in the name of “finding the best candidate out there and as a result, opening up a search, externally, to find that best candidate” is what many say is happening when in fact it is not. I’m not convinced that hiring fairness exists across the nation, but I also know that injustice exists and we shouldn’t be naive about that fact of life. We all know that hiring the “safe” employee or “known entity” is less risky than hiring an underdog or unknown entity. It is human nature for us to follow these plotlines of what we believe is the best for our organizations because it feels the best to us.

Nevertheless, how might we strive to rejuvenate our hiring processes, make our candidates feel important, and set up systems that continue to still legally protecting our school districts, but aren’t misleading our professionals into narrow hallways of already decided candidates?

Think of these categories of self-reflective questions:

1. Can we hold back on making promises to anyone and self-reflecting on why we want to hire someone especially if it leads others to immediately spot any form of nepotism, discrimination, or dead-end hiring committees?

2. Can we streamline postings and procedures while minimizing tangible resource waste and human resources waste as described in the stories above?

3. Can we personally notify, speak to candidates, or deter them from applying if there is a reason to not open up a position or even interview for it in the first place?

4. Can we establish trial-based hiring pathways that then lead to more permanent employment if we find a high quality teacher or school leader and don’t need to look further as a result of their incredible, demonstrated performance?

5. Can we tell the truth about whom we are going to hire, why we want to hire them, and move forward with what is right versus what is hidden, screened, or secretively already decided?

6. Can we move to a more robust digital hiring management recruitment system that doesn’t automate canned responses to candidates in impersonal ways (or don't communicate with them at all?)

7. Can we learn more about conducting talent searches instead of assuming that we all know how to hire staff? (Note: Many administrators have no hiring experience or formal training in conducting robust talent searches). I never received any formal training on conducting talent searches and as a result, I took the time years ago to learn from those who were expert in human resources and talent search leadership.

8. Can we embed a hiring process that mines for the attitudes and dispositions of candidates instead of simply looking for knowledge, skills, abilities, or experience as the foundations and reasons for our hiring decisions?

When we confront the procedures and practices that are uncomfortable for us to confront, we serve our students in new and amazing ways. Can we push the boundaries of any status quo recruitment or hiring procedures that are in place right now?

Join me at or for more information about pushing boundaries.

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