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

In a recent Community Coaching Call—one of our free, live coaching sessions offered to graduates of our transformational 2-Day School Leadership Course—we discussed the challenges of finding and hiring a great school secretary. Here are the highlights from the session, including tips you can use to find the right candidate for this critical role.

Re-imagine the school secretary role.

The leadership design of most U.S. public schools is insufficient for producing breakthrough results 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 & retention
  • School Operations – both the physical plant maintenance, school safety, and the delivery of instruction
  • Front office administration
  • School finance and
  • Human resources

A private sector organization of similar size and complexity to the average public school would normally employ at least one, highly skilled, vice president to run each of these departments. However, school teachers, who may be experts at the delivery of instruction, (Operations), and supporting the social and emotional development of children, (Human Resources), are promoted to Principal with scant knowledge of how to manage and grow the four other areas. To charge one person with running all six of these accountabilities is unworkable, unsustainable, and counterproductive to accomplishing breakthrough outcomes for students. In our 2-Day Course, 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.”

Given this situation, we contend that a school leader’s most important job is to be in and around their school building(s), observing both teaching and classified staff at work, fostering collegial partnerships, and identifying talent/genius on their team that could be encouraged, developed and deputized to help oversee the myriad of initiatives necessary to move a school forward.

It is in this context that we reimagine the role of “School Secretary.” 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 are in a rush to get someone in place before school 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.

What to look for in a school secretary.

I often advise clients to seek out secretary candidates who spent their early professional 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 managers in their own right, and who appreciate a good challenge. They understand the need to produce “organizational outcomes,” know how to hold themselves and others accountable, and embrace life-long learning. In interviews, they are able to recount stories that illustrate their experience with each. They are commitment-driven and want the opportunity to be responsible for work that makes 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 big sign on their forehead. To find ideal school secretary candidates, make requests of the “Connectors” (Gladwell, Malcolm), in your life. These include, but are not limited to:

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

My coaching clients don’t have difficulty finding qualified secretary candidates because they identify and surround themselves with eager and willing “Connectors,” and then they make requests for help recruiting. Tell any “Connector” that you’re hiring and what you’re looking for in an ideal candidate; he/she will giddily fire up their social media feeds and conduct the search for you. When it comes to finding a school secretary, be strategic and allow your networks of support to do the “heavy lifting.”

Just as you must change your assumptions about leadership in order to transform your school, you must also be open to re-imagining the role of your most valuable “VP.” With planning for the 2017-2018 school year already underway, now is the time!