We believe that our decades-long focus on serving independent schools and the broad and deep knowledge and expertise of our staff—combined with proven and innovative search methods and strategies that have served nearly 400 schools well—are the things that set Wickenden apart from other firms. We encourage you to visit The Wickenden Way and Why Wickenden sections of our website to learn more.
Unlike some of our competitors, we favor an open process that includes a published application deadline and pre-determined dates for semifinalist interviews, rather than a closed process in which candidates are presented by the consultant on a rolling basis. Experience tells us that our approach—which enables the search committee to review and compare the credentials of all recommended candidates at the same time—goes a long way toward keeping the process on track. A structured, transparent search allows a search committee to gain a full understanding of the depth and breadth of the talent pool, avoid bias, and build consensus around the selected candidates at each stage of the process.
We have conducted over 200 searches for key senior administrators, including Assistant Heads, Division Heads, and Directors of Admission, College Counseling, and Development. Our method is similar to our Head of School search process in that we work closely with the Head of School and the Search Committee to provide a top-flight group of candidates, comprehensive support at every stage of the process, and guidance on appropriate ways to engage and inform various constituencies about the search. Because schools vary widely in their approach to senior administrative searches, we will work with you to tailor our process so that it reflects your preferences—particularly with regard to the timeline, the roles and responsibilities of any search committee you appoint, and the extent to which you wish to include various constituents in the search process. View our recent senior administrative searches to see the broad range of schools we serve and the quality of their placements.
Assembling a first-rate team of Search Committee members, guided by a well-respected Search Chair, is a task that the Board Chair should pursue with great care; good choices early on will pay great dividends later. While we have worked successfully with Search Committees of widely varying compositions, sizes, and personalities, we offer a number of guidelines. Check out our blog on Assembling a Stellar Search Committee.
Deciding who will serve on the advisory groups is always a complicated political issue. Often, the Search Committee’s best bet is to ask existing organizations representing the various constituencies—the parents association, alumni council, or the faculty as a whole—to nominate candidates to the advisory committee. The Search Committee should, however, reserve the right to make the final decisions about the membership of this group. We also recommend that one member of the Search Committee be appointed to the Advisory Committee to maintain healthy communication between the two groups and to ensure that the Advisory Committee stays on task. Whatever the eventual composition of the advisory body, the Search Committee must make clear to the advisors that their role is in fact advisory, and that all decisions ultimately rest with the Search Committee.
Experience suggests, however, that there is no substitute for targeted, personal outreach when it comes to attracting candidates of the highest quality. This approach—a combination of mass marketing and targeted outreach—is fairly standard across the industry for any firm committed to an open, inclusive search. At Wickenden, we recruit by building on decades of good work with hundreds of schools and thousands of candidates across the country; we network through our long and deep relationships with independent school leaders and rising stars, and we attract candidates who know our reputation for knowledge, experience, and integrity.
We also conduct extensive telephone interviews with at least five reference sources for each finalist candidate—including sources who do not appear on the candidate’s list of references. Our experienced staff members prepare written reports designed to give search committee members a balanced understanding of each finalist’s strengths and weaknesses. And, a careful reading of a collection of references allows patterns to emerge about candidate traits that can be difficult to gauge in an interview setting or to see with just a single reference.
There is no easy way to measure success in our business; however, the tenure of our placements and the number of schools that retain our services more than once are fairly good indicators of client satisfaction and our ability to successfully match institutions with school leaders. We are a boutique firm—just the right size to offer the best service—and numbers rarely tell the whole story, but we offer the following benchmarks:
- Over the past five years, nearly half of our business has come from schools we have served before.
- Of the 80 Heads of School we placed from 2009-2014, 62 (78%) are still at their appointed school or served at least five years.
- Of the 142 Heads of School we placed from 2009-2019, 133 (94%) remain in office or served at least three years.
While we are proud of these numbers, it is important to note that there are many factors that contribute to the success—or failure—of a school and its leader, and many of them are beyond our control. Initial conditions, internal dynamics, and/or external market forces can define a school’s specific leadership needs, and they can impact the tenure of any given Head. However, our experience and knowledge of schools strongly suggests that an engaged, supportive Board that adheres to best practices of independent school governance can have a dramatic, positive impact on the long-term success of any Head of School.
We take pride in the quality of our service and in our responsiveness to both clients and candidates. In the rather small independent school universe, we have found that our previous clients have been our most effective marketing agents. We will gladly provide you with a list of references if you would like to speak with some of our recent clients and/or candidates. Here’s what a few of them have said about us:
- “I just want you to know how impressed I am with the depth and diversity of our pool. I know we have a long way to the finish line, and we may lose some of them, but I can see that you have worked hard in your cultivation and recruitment. Also, as always, the materials are impeccable. Thanks for your professional, thorough, and supportive work.” – Search Chair, Brooklyn Friends (NY)
- “I want to issue my sincere thanks for your steady hands and patient ears this evening. I can only imagine how many credential reviews you have led, but (unsurprisingly) nothing tonight felt pro forma or phoned in.” — Search Chair, The Browning School (NY)
- “To anyone who listens, I tell them of the remarkable quality, detail, thought, and insight you bring to the work you do. I am so glad I had the opportunity to work with you as chair of the search. You and your team are first class.” — Search Chair, Phoenix Country Day School (AZ)
- “It’s my observation that other firms do a lackluster job of defining their clients’ open positions, and again, you did a great job describing the position…what you wrote certainly matched what I saw on campus. If I ever hire a search firm, Wickenden would be top on my list.” — Candidate
- “Wickenden brought a professionalism to the search that would be hard to match. Your preparation of materials, management of the process, and presentation of the school were superior…My colleagues said that your reference checks were among the most thorough they had ever seen.” — Candidate