Almost two years after COVID-19 brought massive upheaval to school operations, countless school districts continue to yo-yo between in-person and remote learning, masking-required and masking-optional. Amid continually shifting circumstances confronting districts, there’s one constant: the acute need to fill employee vacancies.
But how? Especially when the competition for talent is so fierce.
Large, in-person career fairs are still out. Interviewing candidates while wearing masks is less than ideal. Enter virtual recruiting, a relatively uncommon method for hiring in school districts before the pandemic, but now a critical tool. Through the unpredictable waves of the pandemic, savvy recruiters have learned a whole new way of doing their job: targeting, vetting, interviewing, and offering jobs to candidates—without ever meeting them in-person.
For some K-12 human resources professionals, the push toward virtual recruiting had started before the pandemic hit.
Steve Flak, director of recruitment for the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, says the state of Nevada has about 2,000 teaching positions to fill annually, and that the state doesn’t produce enough “homegrown” teachers to fill all of them. Virtual recruiting became the logical solution to finding and engaging with talent in other markets, he says.
Rebecca Lloyd agrees. The director of personnel at the Public Schools of the Tarrytowns in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., Lloyd began using virtual recruiting in 2019 to reach candidates for hard-to-fill positions. The method allowed her to access job seekers across New York, and in other states, for a deeper candidate pool.
Both recruiters share the strategies they’ve used to make virtual recruiting succeed.
The overall strategy behind virtual recruiting doesn’t differ from the traditional method, says Flak. “The two key steps are to find your target market and figure out how to engage with them,” he said.
To do that, Flak suggests either turning to a vendor that has access to an online database of candidates, or contacting schools of education at colleges or universities directly. This latter option almost guarantees that recruiters will be meeting students where they are, so to speak, as most traditional college students are “digital natives” and, therefore, extremely comfortable interacting with potential employers online.
With virtual recruiting, the limitations of physical distance disappear. This is good news for districts with limited travel budgets, as well as those with very specific hiring needs. For instance, recruiters seeking to hire hard-to-fill positions (think: special education, English-as-a-second-language, or candidates who are dual-certified as teachers and administrators) can target teacher-preparation programs that offer these specialized programs—regardless of where they’re located.
Lloyd believes recruiting online can also be part of the solution for districts aiming to hire more teachers and staff of color.
“To create a more equitable hiring practice, we have to remove barriers,” she said. “What better way to remove barriers than to be online.”
She points to her own district in the state of New York, far enough from New York City to deter viable job candidates, namely due to transportation issues and distance.
“Often they are teaching during the day and can’t get away for a day-long trip, many use mass transit, and often they are considering a move but don’t have the ability to get to us to interview,” Lloyd said.
Virtual recruiting also can minimize hit-or-miss scenarios common to in-person college recruiting. “Many of us who have engaged in university recruiting have experienced this scenario: We show up in the foyer, set up a ‘fruit stand’ as we like to call it, and hope that people are in school that day, that people are out of class at that moment, that they venture across our path,” Flak said.
When well-organized, informative, and engaging, a district’s own website can serve as a strong sales tool. But too often, districts don’t always get it right. Flak’s own district, he admits, was one of them. In a survey of job candidates, 48 percent said they couldn’t easily find on the district’s website what they were looking for; specifically, information on employee benefits, job postings, and job application status.
“That was telling,” Flak said. “We had to reimagine how we engage candidates online.”
Not every district has the resources to spend on creating or revamping its website to sell prospective job candidates on the appeal of working there. But using social media like Facebook and Instagram to tell a district’s story is free. And, as Lloyd has found, some of the most captivating social media posts for job seekers are those that offer grassroots glimpses of a district—sometimes at low to no cost. She cites an example of a video posted of the district’s Halloween parade.
“Fun moments like these show candidates what our culture is like, what we’re all about,” Lloyd said.
In addition to selling a job candidate on a district, virtual tools can be used to organize and streamline the recruiting process. Most applicant tracking systems, central components of a virtual recruitment plan, allow users to automatically send invitations, reminders, and follow-ups to job candidates. They can also make the recruiting process less prone to “hit-or-miss” in-person recruiting scenarios like Flak described.
Automated tracking systems make it easy for districts not only to engage with prospective job candidates, but also to maintain contact with those Flak refers to as “silver medalists”: strong candidates who weren’t selected for an open position but may be a good fit for a future job opening.
Flak acknowledges that trying to implement a comprehensive virtual recruiting strategy can feel overwhelming, especially to recruiters who aren’t digital natives. He suggests adding virtual strategies incrementally.
He also recommends seeking out “champions” within one’s district who can support the work—those staff members who are naturally digital and sales savvy and excited for the opportunity to showcase what the district and community can offer to prospective employees, perhaps via regularly scheduled posts on the district’s social media accounts.
Lloyd offers additional suggestions to those who may be reluctant or unsure of how to adopt a virtual recruiting strategy. “Look at the different products available, talk to peers in other districts,” she said. “It’s working.”
Lloyd shares an example from her own district, which was able to conduct an interview with a prospective job candidate from Dubai who was contemplating a move to New York.
“It’s lifesaving for this industry,” she said of virtual recruiting. “And I think it’s here to stay.”