Recruiting and Selecting Teaching Staff: A Strategic Approach

By Jonathan Owen

Teachers can make or break an educational institution. For this reason, the process used to recruit them is critical to a school’s overall success (Meador, 2017). Yet, as Yaffe (2015) points out, the teacher-hiring process is sometimes rushed and ad hoc, which could have far-reaching consequences. Therefore, a strategic managerial approach to both recruitment and selection of teaching staff is crucial. To hire the best teachers possible, school managers should focus on two key processes: the recruitment process and the selection process. The objective of the recruitment process is to attract an adequate number of quality applicants. The objective of the selection process is to choose the best person for the particular post from the pool of applicants and offer employment.

The purpose of this article is to explore models of good practice in recruiting and selecting teaching staff for an educational institution.

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Pre-Recruiting Considerations

Managers need to pay attention to certain managerial considerations before any recruiting takes place, e.g.
• Growth and survival, i.e. determining the institutions survival in the ever changing world of education.
• Succession planning, i.e. anticipating the demand and supply of teaching staff.
• Labour market, i.e. an awareness of who is available for recruitment.
• Legislation, i.e. adhering to (in Britain and the USA) the Sex Discrimination Act, the Race Relations Act, and the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act.
(O’ Neill et al, 1994, p46)

The first three points in O’Neill et al’s recruitment considerations address the importance of assessing the needs of the institution, which Day et al (1990) and Bensimon et al (2000) agree is an opportunity to bring about desired changes by recruiting teaching staff with particular areas of expertise. The last point, as will become evident, is an area which the institution must pay careful attention to.

The Recruitment Process

Middlewood and Lumby (1998) identify four key components in managing the recruitment process:
1. Defining the vacancy
2. Personal specification
3. Advertising the vacant post
4. Sending information to interested applicants

In order to accurately define the teaching vacancy, Middlewood and Lumby (1998, p.65) suggest management hold an “exit interview” with the post holder prior to him/her leaving the employment of the school or transferring to another post. The purpose is to give the experienced post holder the opportunity to comment on the role and suggest ways the job definition could be amended (Schools Human Resources Consultancy, 2009). An alternative suggestion is for a member of the management team “to do the job for a few days” him/herself to identify key aspects of the job (Middlewood & Lumby 1998, p.65).

In order to define the personal specifications for the vacant position, Everard and Morris (1996, p.70) devised a checklist which emphasises the essential and desirable characteristics necessary to meet the job criteria:

• Personal characteristics and physical factors: age, speech and dress.
• Achievement and experience: general education, degrees etc, jobs, special projects, awards.
• Competencies: abilities, aptitudes, skills, knowledge and effective application.
• Motivation: ambition, social, intellectual, level of drive.
• Personality: leadership, relationships, emotional stability.
The rationale behind the checklist is to identify characteristics that will complement those of other members of the faculty team (Ibid, p.71).

Advertising the vacant post and sending information to interested applicants are important components in the recruitment stage, as there are several issues a school management team will need to consider, such as ‘where’ to advertise. The Office of the President of Academic Advancement of University of California suggests:

“every effort should be made to conduct a thorough search and advertise widely before filling any faculty position […] search efforts should include all available avenues for publicizing the position, including national publications, mailing lists, professional and academic conferences, and web sites”
(2001, p.6)

Furthermore, advertisements should avoid publications which could exclude or reduce the number of applications from a particular gender or ethnic origin (Schools Human Resources Consultancy, 2009). Moreover, and very importantly, management must adhere to discrimination acts by not specifying gender, age, ethnic origin, religion, marital status and specific home circumstances unless certain they are justified in terms of job requirements. Failing to do so would diminish any chance of creating a competitive advantage in an increasingly competitive market, as “a good image will impact on an applicant to apply” (Ivy 2001, p.276).

Including essential requirements for vacant teaching positions such as experience and qualifications in the advertisements, can enable applicants to self-select appropriate vacancies. On the other hand, job advertisements should also provide an “opportunity for unsuitable candidates to deselect themselves” (Middlewood, 1997, p.145; see also Taylor and Hemmingway, 1990; and Day et al., 1990).

The Selection Process

Assessing the Pool of Applicants

The purpose of the selection process is summed up by Morgan (1997, p.119): “Selection should have the intention of predicting as accurately as possible that a person can perform a certain job”. Therefore, what should the management team focus on to be able to make reasonably accurate predictions?

Middlewood and Lumby (1998, p.69) suggest a school’s management team consider the following points:

  • Personnel, i.e. who shall be involved in the process?
  • Criteria, i.e. against which standards shall candidates be assessed?
  • Weighting, i.e. relative importance of the different criteria.
  • Instruments, i.e. how shall the candidates’ performance be assessed?
  • Matching, i.e. deciding on which person is best suited to the post.


The head of department, deputy heads and vice principals are usually the personnel automatically involved in the selection process as well as those wishing to gain valuable experience, i.e. middle managers (Middlewood and Lumby, 1998; Bensimon, et al, 2000; Middlewood, 1997). Moreover, to introduce a different perspective, lay personnel may also be used, i.e. governors, who may have experience as selectors outside of education (Middlewood and Lumby, 1998). Furthermore, because a new applicant will become part of the institution’s team of teachers, Day et al believe “it is vital that staff be involved” in the selection process (1990, p.57). Objectivity is critical because whoever is chosen to be part of the selection team to assess the pool of candidates, must avoid excessive variation or inconsistency.

Criteria and Weighting

Consistency, as well as objectivity is needed when assessing candidates. Middlewood and Lumby (1998, see also Middlewood, 1997; Bodbin, 1981) suggest devising a checklist of criteria, e.g. biographical data, skills, knowledge, attitudes and values, as well as the ability to contribute to a team. Giving a value or weighting to each of these criteria is intended to encourage consistency, and bring as much objectivity into the process as possible (Middlewood, 1997).


Instruments are used to firstly shortlist the candidates, and then to assess a candidate from that shortlist.

Initial Screening: forming a shortlist

Curriculum vitae/resume, application forms and references are what Bensimon, et al refer to as “initial screening instruments” (2000, p. 9). They enable a shortlist to be drawn up based on candidates’ “factual and behaviour” aspects (Everard and Morris, 1996, p.73), as well as singling out unsuitable candidates by exposing bogus qualifications or experience, and even an unexpected break between periods of employment, which may be, for example, imprisonment or dismissal for misconduct (Ibid). Furthermore, Bensimon (2000,) argues that even if a candidate produces letters of reference, it is a good idea to follow up with a telephone call because it may provide a more candid and useful assessment of the candidate’s character and data.

Assessing The Shortlisted Candidates

Top candidates are generally invited for interviews. If a team approach is used for carrying out the interviews, then it is vital that all those involved are briefed about the process and appropriate questions are asked.
Thoughtful questions allow candidates to demonstrate their strengths and admit their weaknesses.
It is also important that interview questions reveal a candidate’s beliefs about curriculum, classroom discipline, school culture, collegiality, and commitment to the profession (Tooms and Crowe, 2004).

It’s equally important that inappropriate questions are not asked. “Innocent inquiries about forbidden topics as religion, pregnancy or age can risk discrimination complaints from rejected candidates” (Yaffe, 2015). Yaffe suggests interviewers ask behaviour-based questions such as “tell me about the best teaching experience you’ve had in your career”, or “Tell me about a lesson plan that went well, and why it went well” (2016), instead of questions such as “tell me about yourself”, which don’t accomplish anything.

On the other hand, Riches (1994b); Hill (1989); Thomson (1993); Morgan (1989); Middlewood and Lumby 1998) argue that interview processes pose significant limitations, firstly because they “cannot measure skills and ostensibly only test the candidate’s knowledge of the job” (Morgan, 1997, p.167), and secondly because they pose “strong elements of subjectivity and pre-judgements” on the part of the interviewers (Middlewood and Lumby, 1998 p.68). For these reasons, Middlewood (1997, p.50) emphasises the importance that an interview plays “only one part in any selection process”.

Therefore, it is suggested (Morgan 1997, p.122) the interview be considered in relation to other instruments, such as:

  • Assessment centres, e.g. series of individual/group exercises and observations (observed/filmed classroom instruction) observed by trained assessors.Tests, e.g. psychometric tests, i.e. work sampling, tests of ability/personality.
  • Exercises, e.g. in-tray exercises, written reports, role play simulations, oral presentations, and leadership group discussion.
    (Middlewood and Lumby 1998, p.70)

Assessment centres are believed to be reliable because they “focus on conditions as near as possible to those in which they are normally displayed” (Middlewood 1997, p.149; see also Joiner, 1989). Similarly, tests and exercises are also effective, that is, if they are related to the job, and the testers are trained to use them (Middlewood and Lumby 1998). It has been argued that where tests are used, when they are analogous to the job to be filled […] effective appointments are significantly improved (Morgan 1997, p.122).


Matching is the final stage in the selection process, where the management come to a decision about which candidate best matches the requirement of the vacant position (Middlewood and Lumby, 1998). This is done by assessing the evidence derived from the instruments. Each candidate is then ranked according to which one is believed to best fit the school’s need (Meador, 2017).


The quality of teachers in an educational institution is a major factor in driving educational improvement. When the appropriate teachers are attracted and recruited, schools are able to build progressively and provide the best possible teaching and learning. Every student, regardless of age and ability, deserves a high quality teacher so it is incumbent upon everyone involved in the recruitment and selection process to recruit the best teacher possible. This can only be achieved by implementing a strategic managing approach to recruitment and selection.


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