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Search Consultants:

Job Success Begins At Home 



When school boards go looking for a new superintendent, the search always involves issues beyond experience and other professional qualifications. There’s the question, for instance, of whether a candidate’s personal and family circumstances make sense, as well.

That’s where people like Linda Hanson come in. A former superintendent, Hanson now is president of School Exec Connect, a Highland Park, Ill.-based firm that conducts executive searches for school districts. She says determining whether a job candidate’s family life is a good fit with an open leadership position can be difficult, even tricky.

“We’re not allowed to ask direct questions about family,” Hanson says. “Instead, we might say, ‘Tell us about yourself and what’s important in shaping kids and learning.’ Some candidates never get personal, but most end up talking about their kids and family, which provides insight. If they don’t, we try to pick up clues through their references: Do people say he’s a great family man? Or that she’s raising wonderful kids?”

Then there’s the follow-up question: What do the kids actually think about mom’s or dad’s potential new job? Recruiters can’t ask the children directly. And school boards don’t talk much with candidates’ spouses.

“Trustees used to want to meet spouses, get to know them. But more and more, that’s not a high priority. There is so much riding on their selection that they want to spend maximum time with candidates,” says JoAnn Desmond, who retired this year as superintendent in the Bannockburn School District 106 near Chicago to work full time as a senior associate for the education search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates.

School boards typically assume prospective candidates have the full support and enthusiasm of their spouses and families, but, Desmond warns, it’s an assumption not always well-founded.

“I once had a great candidate,” Desmond recalls. “He’d been presented to the board. The members thought he was wonderful, their favorite. Then, right before the final interview, the candidate backed out because his wife decided she didn’t want to move. After that, I never considered him for another opening.” 


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