Recently I invited Kevin Ruth, a colleague and author of the blog Introit to write about his experience as a candidate in several head of school searches last year. I know you will enjoy reading his very interesting and personal thoughts as an aspiring head.
"Having engaged in the head search process as a candidate just over one year ago, my intent with this guest blog post is to provide aspiring heads with a realistic look inside this special world, sharing my observations and experiences. At times I will openly critique myself, and at other times I will openly critique the process, or "the game", as it might be termed with some degree of accuracy.
The Decision: Declaring Candidacy
If you are on the path toward headship, at some point, you will ask yourself whether you are ready to explore your readiness for headship by engaging in the head search process. You may decide to explore candidacy merely because you're curious, or you may pursue it because you believe that you are ready to do the job. As for me, I followed the recommendation of a consultant who said to me, "Dip your toes in the water and see what it's like." The consultant added that, depending on how the hiring season worked out, I might land a job as a young head; or, if nothing else, I would 1) receive affirmation that I was on the right track in terms of my professional vocation and 2) learn a tremendous amount about myself and the things I would benefit from doing in the meantime. I thought it was great advice at the time, and now, many months later, I still believe it to have been great advice.
For me, once I decided to follow the advice and dip my toes in the water, the question became, "How do I go about doing this?" It seemed logical that I should form some sort of strategy around the search process. My strategy was pretty simple: it was about relationships. I am gregarious by nature, and it made sense that I should reach out to some search consultants, introducing myself in person, if at all possible. For me, a face-to-face meeting was vital. I wanted to communicate to consultants why I wanted to be a head, and how my experiences had prepared me to present myself as a candidate. Also, even if I would not land a headship that year, I knew that time well-spent with a consultant would form the foundation of a relationship that could extend for many more years, and that, as long as I kept them informed of my whereabouts and responsibilities, I would remain on their radar screen when other head searches would be announced.
Additionally, my strategy included location. Given my wife's line of work and our two young children, I wanted to look at schools where the kids could matriculate and look at locations where my wife could continue to work for the same company, if possible. The other variable was that, depending on the nature of the compensation package--namely, if housing was included, my wife might be able to give up work, which she would have preferred to do. For me, then, the strategy of location meant looking at schools in the New York City to Washington, DC corridor: a saturated marketplace, to be sure.
I began to peruse search announcements and identified "schools of interest," although several consultants also pointed me toward searches that they were doing in schools where, they felt, I would be a good fit, potentially.
Time, What Time? Applications and Time Investment
Research and development. Research and development. Time. Time. Time. This phase of the search process was, without question, the most time-consuming. I studied school websites, searching all the nooks and crannies; reading all the news items; identifying who was on the board as well as the board size; examining academics, arts, and athletics; reading minutes from parent association meetings, and the like. It was easy to spend up to ten hours on one school alone. Then there was the matter of examining a school's IRS Form 990, if they filed one (religiously-affiliated schools are exempt, for example). Although I had put up to ten hours in studying a school's website, I could spend two or three hours pouring over the 990. These were hours well-spent, as I knew what the current head's compensation package entailed (although the updated 990 has far more information in this regard, and it much more transparent). To be honest, in some circumstances, a study of the 990 made me drop the school from my radar screen, as the combination of compensation and location may not have seemed doable. For example, drawing a base salary in Delaware might have been very different from drawing the same dollar amount in Bethesda, Maryland, especially if no housing was included as part of the package. Housing, I concluded, is a very attractive draw, as it could make all the difference in terms of whether I would even consider application.
Speaking of application, it is something that should not be taken lightly. I had spent up to twenty hours just preparing my resume and references; then there was the matter of some sort of statement. Some consultants wanted a statement of educational philosophy; others wanted a statement of educational leadership; yet others wanted one statement that combined both. On one page?! Another ten hours or so, just to prepare something I liked...and even then, I constantly revisited and tweaked the statement(s). The cover letter was last on my list (in terms of ordered tasks), but it was the most important of the entire application. This document carried the weight of my future, potentially. It had to show my interest in the school, identify why I was interested in that particular school, highlight a number of my experiences and accomplishments, plus show sensitivity and a "pedagogical awareness" that transcends the letter itself. It was challenging to reduce this letter to two pages or less. I ended up with a cover letter, in most cases, that ran about one page and half of a second page. Figure another five hours on the cover letter.
The consultants all gave feedback on my materials, and this feedback was tremendously helpful. They affirmed me at times, and yet they also gave excellent constructive criticism on what to include (or exclude). I was amazed at their generosity of time, and I began to wonder how busy they must be, especially when running multiple searches with so many candidates!"
Tomorrow: Chapter Two