You want to hire the best marketing and communications professionals you can. That’s a given. But it’s not always a given that those people are already working at an independent school.

To help schools think outside the recruitment box, Kalix spoke with Amy John, President and Founder of Amy John Advisory, an educational consulting firm. She’s an expert in leading senior-level searches for administrative positions in independent schools, especially to fill enrollment, marketing and development positions.

Q: Why is it important to look for hires in the for-profit marketing world?

Having a candidate pool that reflects a diversity of thought and professional experiences is critical. If the only net that the independent school world is looking in for candidates is an insular, small net, we are doing ourselves a disservice. Candidates who have had experience in the for-profit world bring a fresh set of eyes, a collaborative spirit and “product based” strategies to an independent school search. Often these candidates have been in professional spaces that are driven by market research and competition. Independent schools are understanding that admissions and development strategies need high-level market research driving a school’s action plans, and actions plans should reflect high-level competition.

What I hear from candidates who want to transition from the for-profit world into independent schools is a desire to be in a community that is driven by a clear mission. People are seeking professional spaces that set collaborative work as a priority. Schools are perfect places to have that experience. Working in an independent school is also a “product” that matters to people.  Their “product” is the growth and development of children – there is no better product!

Q: Are the skills transferrable from for-profit to independent schools?

Absolutely! It’s all product, whether you are managing an athletic shoe campaign for a sports apparel company of attracting students to a school. It’s believing in your product and knowing the psychology of the people who want your product. The strategies are all the same: managing social media; creating messages that are succinct and crisp; developing a multi-pronged communication plan. With candidates coming from the for-profit world, they are typically skilled in product management and using data to drive decisions – all qualities that many schools need to enhance.

Q: What attracts marketing pros from outside the independent school world, and what can schools do to be competitive?

Building a school budget that has competitive salaries is the way to attract highly skilled talent. Schools have created competitive salaries for faculty and administration, and in doing so, have attracted excellent teachers. Schools are now seeing that an investment in the person who is going to ensure your messaging is getting out and has multiple strategies for how to do that is critical in ensuring you are attracting the strongest students to your school. When schools invest in marketing and communications staff, they are investing in the long term financial sustainability of the school.

Q: How do you hire for fit?

When I run searches for non-academic positions at schools, Heads will ask me how I know if a candidate is a good fit. I am always looking for candidates who understand and can speak to mission. Mission is everything at an independent school.  When I am confident a candidate understands and reflects a specific school’s mission, then I dive deep into skills. I also look for candidates that think out of the box.

Templates answers means that that the person knows how to make the trains run on time. These positions are about building a bigger, faster, better train. When I interview a candidate, I want to hear big ideas and that people are driven by competition. I need to hear that they know how to create a new type of train based on the old model.

Q: Once hired, what are best-practice on-boarding to-dos for non-faculty leaders at a school?

The transition and retention of a great hire needs to be a priority for any school Head. First, celebrate the announcement internally and externally! It sends a message to the community that this is important, that we have a new member of the team and this person is critical to our success. I also tell schools that they need to get their “house in order” before a new hire starts. That means no chaos. You can’t go from good to great if you present broken.

Make the new hire feel that you are ready for him/her, and that you have done some important preparation to have things ready to go:

  • Make sure you introduce the new hire to all important contacts (vendors: printer, designer, mail house, etc.) and in-house (all faculty/staff, parent and alumnae volunteers).
  • Compile all contact information, reports, existing plans, etc. in an orderly digital and hard file. Do not point someone toward a stack of files, viewbooks and copies of magazine ads with a “good luck.” For-profit “cross-overs” are used to reading reports and will most likely see trends that others missed.
  • Give them the schedule for faculty meetings and student gatherings so that the new hire can absorb your school’s culture and mission right away. Set up meetings with key parents and alumnae for the same purpose.
  • Create a very clear set of short-term and long-term goals so that the new hire can create clear pathways to success.

Q: Where should a school look for candidates outside of the typical independent school/educational places?

Post the position on LinkedIn, as that is where marketing professionals are looking. It is worth posting the position on the big, online job sites (Indeed, Monster, etc.), as well as listing it with the career placement offices of any colleges and universities in your area, especially those with business schools. The idea is to cast your net as wide as possible.

About Amy John

Amy speaks fluent independent school, having worked in Baltimore-area independent schools for almost 30 years. During her tenure as Executive Director at the Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust, Amy established significant partnerships with key stakeholders in Baltimore around educational access and choice, founding The First Generation Affinity Group and The .Edu Project, both efforts to support first-generation low -income students in Baltimore.  Prior to her administrative role at B.E.S.T., she served on its Board of Trustees. Currently, Amy serves as the Chairman of the Board for Next One Up, a non-profit supporting low income African American boys through mentorship, programming, academic support and college guidance.

Read our previous interview with Amy on Staff Recruiting:

6 Do’s and Don’ts for Faculty and Staff Recruiting in December