Four Tips for Working with a Search Firm

Zachary White, Director of Communications and Research, Wickenden Associates
June 12, 2020

Every year, we are thrilled to meet hundreds of established and emerging school leaders who are interested in a particular opportunity or want to talk generally about their next career move. Some of them have worked with a search firm before, but many have not. If you are new to working with a search consultant or want to improve your approach, remember that this work is highly relational, and anything you can do to build mutual trust with the firm and/or the consultant is a good idea. Here are a few tips you might want to consider:

  1. Be organized. If a school hires a search firm, they are expecting to see a sizable pool of well qualified candidates. One part of our job is to make the search as competitive as possible, and that means lots of conversations, applications, interviews, reference checks, and so on. We know that candidates are busy, and school life isn’t always predictable, so we tend to appreciate and remember the candidates who are organized, responsive, and professional.
  1. Help us see the big picture. Everyone has a unique life calculus, and thinking about a new job often means thinking about more than just the employer and the title. The “perfect job” at the wrong time or in the wrong place is a non-starter, and many candidates are thinking about compensation, family, long-term career goals, and so on. We get it, and we are eager to understand what’s on your mind. Be as honest and open as you can when you’re considering whether to apply or take the next step in a search. Privacy is one of the pillars of our industry, and we are very serious about keeping the confidence of every candidate and prospective candidate we contact.
  1. Nominate your friends and colleagues. We realize that most of the people we contact regarding a particular job probably aren’t actively looking to make a career move. We also know that few people have the time or inclination to respond to every recruiting call they receive. Nevertheless, we highly recommend you take a minute and recommend another person we might contact. This can be a nice way to flatter a deserving colleague, and if you become a reliable source for nominations, you can bet you’ll be among the first people we call regarding new opportunities.
  1. Stay positive and stay in touch. It seems self evident to say that only one person is hired in a search, but it is worth repeating. The majority of the candidates we work with in any given hiring cycle do not receive a job offer in one of our searches. We know that this can be disappointing, but we also know that it can sometimes take a while for the stars to align for a school, a candidate, and a search committee. We’re eager and grateful for the opportunity to work with candidates across multiple searches, refining our understanding of their personality and potential. If a search doesn’t break your way or you suspend your search for a while, please stay in touch so we can celebrate your growth and be more prepared to support and counsel you when the right job comes along.

At Wickenden Associates, we try to take our own advice and contribute to building trust with our contacts and candidates whenever we can. We aim to be responsive and organized when working with applicants; we are candid about the nuances and complexities of a given opportunity; we grow our network by sharing our network; and we strive to see the potential in every candidate.

Zach White is veteran Wickenden staffer. He has led over 30 searches and participated in the success of countless others. In addition to generating proposals, writing and editing search manuals, and designing and executing community engagement surveys and other research projects, Zach supports all of our searches with his extensive knowledge of independent schools, our clients, and our network of candidates.


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