Tips For Conducting a Successful Internal Hiring Process at a School District

Early in the search process districts are sometimes faced with a complex decision to consider external candidates or limit the search to those who are already within the organization.

This article was written with assistance from HYA Associates Brian Harris with Jane Westerhold.

Each result certainly comes with its own pros and cons. However, there was no debate for West Aurora School District 129, located in Aurora, Illinois. The Board determined they had a strong pool of internal candidates to choose from, and they were not going to look outside the organization.

Feeling confident in the direction of the school district under the outgoing superintendent, the Board wanted to keep the momentum going forward with its current guiding principles and felt poised to do so with a member of their qualified staff.

Narrowing the search from a strong group of candidates to a single finalist involved a well-thought-out process. HYA associates developed a Leadership Profile based on information collected through community focus groups involving a wide range of stakeholders, and individual interviews with board members by HYA associates. The conversations were centered around a few key ideas: the strengths and challenges of the district, the priorities of the school community, and defining characteristics in a school leader. These important conversations and an explicit process allowed for a successful search.

A resolve to hire internally can have its challenges, particularly when a district has multiple highly-capable and qualified candidates. Those who are denied the opportunity, may feel less valued in a district where they once felt assured of their worth. This sometimes leads to candidates feeling rejected and making a decision to move on in their career, creating a void for the district. It is not atypical for school employees to feel that there may have been bias by the Board and feel disheartened that the district is not casting a wider net in the pool of contenders by considering external candidates.

On the flip side, appointing an in-house leader certainly comes with some strong advantages. Internal candidates have a clear direction on the vision of the school district and school community. A smooth transition is almost inevitable as the appointee has already established a solid foundation and has built relationships within the district, and often can be mentored by a successful leader while waiting to assume their new position.

When conducting an internal search it is essential that the Board is transparent from the onset of the process, and follows the timeline set forth.  If the school district is interviewing external candidates and internal candidates, HYA recommends that the internal candidates, like any external, are brought forward for the Board’s consideration when their skills and experience are a match with the leadership profile.

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