Building a Team: First Things First …

GeeseWhen it comes to hiring, leave no stone unturned – look everywhere!

Oh yes, look at colleges, job fairs, and early childhood conferences. Use ads in all types of media – but remember, everyone else is doing these very things. Amid a sea of “teaching positions” in local newspapers (And it is a sea!), what will bring attention to your program?

Do other professionals know of your school? Host an open house or other event now, even though you’re not looking to hire, so that other professionals (potential future hires) have an opportunity to visit your program. People tend to imagine themselves working in places they visit, so give them that opportunity. Also, visit other schools and learn about your competition. What makes your program unique? Capitalize on what sets you apart in your marketing strategy.

And then, if you ultimately hire (and hire well) from any of these venues, keep a record, so you can use the same successful recipe again. You’ll also know which methods took a lot of time or resources ($), and whether you gained or lost.

For my money – and I wrote about this in an earlier blog post – it’s all about making connections. For me, personal networking is the way to go. Who do I already know, and could they help me get the word out?

Some of my best hires have come to me from other colleagues/directors who have already worked with the candidate. The person is now living in my neighborhood and looking for a position. I learned early in my career to cultivate a directors’ network, and build a support group of leaders. I can’t tell you how often, when the circumstances presented themselves, we have hired one another’s fabulous teachers!

Through their own colleagues and friends, my staff have brought me many good people as well. Since they already work in our program, and know who we are, what we are about, and what we aspire to, they refer teachers who will “fit.” As a result, I hire many good people from this referral pool. And so, when I need to hire, one of my connections is to my existing (and former) team members. I learned early on to keep in touch with former team members when possible. I also learned that our paths might cross over and over again – as they have!

Parents, both former and current, are another connection I tap into when looking for staff. They, too, know our program well, know the caliber of professional we are seeking, and often refer great candidates from their circle of family and friends. Again, because they are a never-ending source for me, I work at keeping these relationships as well. When I need to hire, I send out a note asking for their help.

At times, there have been more resumes than I need – and more people than I can hire. But, I interview many, many to find the one. And, if a candidate is really good, I keep the resume (just in case) and end my conversation “keeping the door open” for future positions. This, too, works well. I can think of several teachers who we ultimately hired, though they had initially interviewed years earlier.

I also pay attention to my hiring history. Nearly every year in late summer, someone on my team gives notice and resigns. One particular teacher gave her two-week notice on the first day of the new school year! Knowing that teachers will actually resign in this eleventh hour, and knowing that in late August, it is incredibly difficult to find great teaching candidates (they have already been snatched up!), I decided to begin looking for teachers before I actually need them! Sometimes, I hire the teachers right away and for a brief time we are slightly overstaffed. At other times I use these teachers as floats or substitute teachers until I have a place for them. This strategy has saved me many times over. It is worth the extra money to save my sanity! I budget for this now.

The hiring process is one of the critical functions of our work. The results will make or break our programs. So, it should be a thoughtfully planned and executed process. It should involve key stakeholders. And it should not be hurried.

To “panic hire” because we are short staffed and need someone NOW, is usually a disaster. Corners are cut, references are not checked, orientation and training does not happen and, quite often, the person we thought we hired is not the person now working for us. Problems arise, performance issues surface, and our time is spent mopping up one mess after another. “If only we hadn’t been in such a hurry …” This is the directors’ lament. We have all been there and, because it is such an unpleasant place to be, we vow never to hire this way again! If you haven’t yet hired anyone, please learn from our mistakes!

A thoughtful hiring process includes an interview with the director of the program, another interview with the supervisor or program coordinator, a tour of the facility, and time spent working in the actual classroom with the teachers. Finally, there should be time for the teachers to sit together (as a potential team) and just talk. Reference checks, and the result of a background check round out the information needed. As Director, my role is to pull all of these outcomes together and make a final decision – to hire or not to hire.

A bit about interviewing might be helpful here. First off, the candidate should be expected, and greeted warmly. I say this with some hesitancy, because it seems like it should be a “duh!” comment. However, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the experiences of others, where they said: “people came by and just looked at me,” “people didn’t seem to know I was even interviewing,” “no one greeted me,” “they couldn’t find my resume,” “it was chaotic from the start,” and so on. Certainly not a great first impression. In fact, I consider this rude and disrespectful. Why does this even happen?

During the actual interview, some questions are off limits! It is illegal to ask job applicants about their age, race, gender, or sexual orientation. And, because most early childhood candidates are female, beware of potentially discriminatory questions such as: Are you married? Single? Divorced? Engaged? Do you have any children? How many and what are their ages? What kinds of child care arrangements have you in place? Staying far away from personal questions seems the safest route.

The best questions are those that will get a candidate relaxed and talking. They are open-ended: “Tell me about a time: … you had a conflict with a team mate, … you had to tell a parent something difficult, … you just knew you were meant to be a toddler teacher.” Some say that the past is a good indicator of the future, so prior experiences with children, team mates, and parents is important information that should be listened to carefully. And finally, I look for one very important (to me) ingredient – enthusiasm! I watch faces and expressions during an interview; and when a candidate lights up while telling a story, I see the passion, and the  excitement that I want to capture for my program! End result – hired!

Once the new teacher is on board, the next very important steps are an orientation, and a good, solid, successful first week! This, in my next post.

If you have hiring experiences/stories to share, please do! We are learning from one another – the feedback has been very positive! And so, I welcome you to the dialogue!

Until next time …

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