(Originally posted on @DrMattParker)

By Matt Parker

As a school administrator, it is a source of stress and opportunity when a job comes open in a school (or any organization). We suffer from the loss of an employee, but we also have a chance to enhance our organization by gaining special attributes in a new employee.

The most important thing for us to do in the selection process is to define what we are looking for and work quickly to identify and sort through the best candidates before they take other offers. Here’s the basic philosophy followed by a general (customizable) process to identify desirable characteristics and screen a candidate based on that criteria.

Philosophy shift:

We need to shift our philosophy on what we are looking for. We need to de-emphasize screening for experience and content expertise. If we set a minimum standard – would having one more year of experience or an extra course in the content area really make that big a difference in terms of their job performance? Probably not. Any trained professional can learn how to do specific job tasks or acquire skills on most topics – that’s the easy part. Good organizations provide training to develop these skills for all employees anyway.

What is hard to find? A person with life-long intrinsic characteristics that can’t easily be trained. I am thinking traits like teamwork, one who gets stuff done, fidelity/rule follower, organizer, creative thinker, passion, adaptable, leader, boldness, and other specialized mindsets. When screening applicants – don’t overemphasize degrees or experience (set a minimum standard), then focus on the intangibles that the culture of the organization could benefit from.matt-parker-hiring-quote

Step 1: Identify the intangibles!

What role with this person fill on a team? What special intangible skills does the organization need? These need to be defined by the group before any screening/selection begins. Heck, this may be something to include in a job posting. Team dynamics and having the right “fit” among staff is sometimes the greatest asset or detriment to a successful organization. The specific attributes you are looking for may vary depending on the direction the organization is headed or on the make up of the rest of the team. For example, if you already have a strong authoritarian/task master on the team- you don’t need another one.

Step 2: Set up screening process to put emphasis on special skills!

Don’t accidentally let degrees and years of experience cause you to screen out someone with those special intangible qualities. Start with the qualities you pre-select, then go with experience in the event of a tie. The goal of the screening process is to have several great candidates to choose from – not simply to pick the top 5 based on degree/experience and hope one has the special qualities you are seeking. I’d suggest asking questions in the application that might give some insight as to the special skills that this person would possess. Perhaps a section where a person chooses 4 descriptive words from a list that best describes them. This should be weighted in the screening process as much as the education and experience of an individual – if you are looking to make a cultural/organizational upgrade.

Step 3: Ask the right interview questions!

When creating specific interview questions – make sure that you ask a few questions that reveal the intangible qualities that you are seeking. If you are looking for someone with creativity, ask a question where the candidate will have an opportunity I demonstrate that skill set. If you are looking for someone with empathy or the ability to alleviate interpersonal problems, create a question using a scenario to help screen for that skill. This is a great opportunity to create a set of questions related to each skill set.

Step 4: Decide what the “right” answers include!

Don’t just smile and wait to be surprised when a really friendly and nice candidate has a great interview and they get a good review. Sit down and think about the questions and scenarios you are using as a screening tool and determine what you would consider to be a strong answer based on what he organization needs. This doesn’t mean that there is one right answer – but list important elements of their thinking process as “key words” or “look fors”.

The end of the process:

If all goes well, you will have many candidates who exemplify the special skills that you are looking for. At this point, it is good to look at the whole candidate and balance their special qualities with their overall experience and education. A person who seems like the perfect fit as far as intangibles might be a better candidate than someone who would be a decent fit with an extra year of experience. Focus on a minimum level of experience and education that the organization would be able to comfortably recommend in hiring.

I hope this post has at least given a different perspective on hiring the right person to strengthen your culture and enhance the quality of the overall organization.


Dr. Matt Parker is a High School Assistant Principal in Waynesville, MO. He shares his insights on his website @DrMattParker. Follow Matt on Twitter at @DrMattParker.