"Other Investments: Emotion, and Energy
I was stunned by how draining the process was on my emotions and overall energy. Mind you, it was a "good" drain on me personally, but it produced a certain level of exhaustion that is quite unlike any other kind of exhaustion I've experienced. In particular, the emotional drain caught me entirely by surprise. When you spend upward of forty hours researching a school and working on application materials, you become emotionally invested in the school, even if you have never been there or had a conversation with anyone at the school. In a sense, you have "joined" their community, and you begin to see yourself at that school, dealing with the kinds of things the consultants have highlighted in their "information for candidates" documents. Not unlike participating in an accreditation visit, you become invested in that school community, and you've managed to put a bit of yourself in the school, in your own mind, at least. It is exciting, yet draining; and it is even more draining when you aren't advanced in a search, after having put all those hours into a search effort.
My energy level was sometimes buoyed, sometimes deflated, relative to my normal workload. It was challenging to keep up with my normal responsibilities plus apply for headships. It became apparent early on that applying to five or six was the equivalent of a full-time job, yet I was looking for that kind of breadth in order to get a fuller sense of the experience.
Exhilaration: The Call
There's nothing quite like "the call." Actually, on two occasions, it was "the e-mail." Something along the lines of: "I'm pleased to be discussing your candidacy with the search committee. Please make yourself available the weekend of XYZ. You should expect a call from a search committee member within the next twenty-four hours regarding your interview time."
Pure exhilaration! At that moment, you're on cloud nine. You don't care what happens eventually; you're just so happy to have been chosen for a first-round interview; it is the highlight of your day, especially given all that work you put in!
It is here where the emotional investment ticks up yet another notch: you wouldn't have made it this far (say you're one person out of 100 applicants, and one person out of 10 first-round interviewees) if the search committee didn't see you as a viable candidate. Oh my gosh, I'm a viable candidate! I'm no longer dreaming -- this is for real! I'm viable. (In the back of my mind, I was thinking: holy crap, I'm viable...what does that mean? Does this change who I am, going forward, if I don't land this job? And other, similar thoughts.)
The First-Round Interview
Once you get over the fact that you're a viable candidate (which is, after all, an affirmation of your own work and of the nature of the schools in which you've had the privilege to work), you begin to fret, to worry. "What will the interview be like?" Ideally, the consultant has given you a list of the search committee members. My development experience taught me the importance of prospect research, so I followed that route and researched each committee member so that I would know with whom I would be speaking. That research, for the entire committee, took probably ten hours or so. Then, I revisited the consultant's document that highlighted the school (specifically its challenges), and I revisited the school's website (and any other information that may have been sent to me) ad nauseam. Figure another ten hours. I drafted lists of questions I wanted to ask. I came up with 50 questions or so, then whittled them down to one page of questions: no more than ten.
I was fortunate to land a handful of first-round interviews. Most were on the phone; one was face-to-face with the committee (which I far preferred to the phone interview). These were wonderful times, as we spent approximately one hour discussing independent schools, a subject near and dear to my heart. It was easy to establish "relationships" (in my mind, at least) with several people on each committee. I left these interviews feeling that I had done my best, given my experiences in schools, and felt that I had conveyed my love of schools and of school life.
In all cases but one, I was not advanced to the finalist stage or the "serious" semi-finalist stage (where three to five candidates might be invited to campus). The rejection was nowhere near as bad as I had anticipated. In actuality, it was uplifting. I received excellent feedback from either the search committee chair, the consultant, or both. The committees liked me very much, yet I wasn't advanced because they felt that I needed more "time in the cooker," if you will. In particular, these folks (these *great* folks -- board members love their schools!) felt that I needed more experience with a larger number of direct reports than what I had had. I agreed entirely; it made sense. What is more, I felt affirmed as a person and as an educator, and I would hope that any candidate would feel that way. It was clear to me that headship was the right path for me."
Tomorrow, the final chapter.