It’s Hiring Season: Tips for Finding a Top-Notch Secretary

In a recent coaching call with one of our Foundations Course Graduates, we discussed the challenges of finding and hiring a great school secretary. Here are the highlights from our conversation, including tips you can use to find the right candidate for this critical role.

The leadership design of most U.S. public schools is insufficient for producing breakthroughs in student performance. Schools are typically too complex to function well with one school leader, the Principal, deemed responsible for everything. Consider the areas of accountability that must be managed well in order for a school to thrive:

  • Community PR & Student Recruitment
  • Student Enrollment
  • School Operations: the physical plant, school safety, & instructional delivery
  • Front Office Administration
  • School Finance
  • Human Resources

A private sector organization of similar size and complexity to the average public school would normally employ at least one, highly skilled VP to run each of these departments. However teachers, who may be experts at instructional delivery (Operations) and supporting the social and emotional development of children (HR) are promoted to Principal with scant knowledge of how to systematize, manage and grow the four other areas. To charge one person with managing these six accountabilities is unworkable, unsustainable and counterproductive. We put it plainly to administrators when we say, “You are never going to get it all done! You cannot time-manage your way out of the scenario you now find yourselves in.”

It is in this context that we reimagine the school secretary role.

The Secretary as VP

When you hire a school secretary, you’re often hiring someone to fill, at a minimum, three vital roles: VP of Administration, VP of Finance, and Chief Counsel to the School Executive. This is not a hire to make lightly or because you’re rushing to place someone before the school year starts. Your secretary is one of your greatest assets for accomplishing your professional goals. It’s worth carefully considering the qualities, background and skill-sets you need in this VP, and where you would find someone well-suited for the position.

The Ideal Profile

I often advise clients to seek out secretary candidates who spent their early years working in “corporate,” then left the workforce to raise families and who are now, a decade later, ready to get back to work, minus the crazy hours and competition. These job-seekers tend to be sharp, college-educated women who were once themselves executives, and who appreciate a healthy challenge. They understand the difference between process and results, they know how to hold themselves and others accountable, and they embrace life-long learning. In interviews, they are able to recount stories that illustrate their experience with each. They are commitment-driven and want to make a difference, but they are no longer hung-up on big salaries and promotions. Personal time and quality of life matter most to them now.

Where to Find Candidates

Chances are you already know job-seekers who match the above profile, (or you know people who know people who match the profile), they’re just not walking through the doors of your HR department with a sign on their forehead. Instead, for help finding these ideal candidates, ask the ‘connectors’ in your life like:

  • PTO chairs and School Improvement Council parent leaders
  • School board members
  • Administrators who run Adult Ed schools
  • Religious leaders
  • Your own neighbors, friends, and relatives

Give them your criteria and these folks will giddily fire up their phones and social media feeds, and conduct the search for you. Be strategic and allow your networks to do the heavy lifting.

Just as you must change your leadership assumptions to transform your school, you must also be open to re-imagining the role of your most valuable VP.  With planning for next school year already underway, now is the time!