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.
There is no typical search process, since every school is unique. The detailed roadmap we offer our clients is based on years of experience working with an extraordinarily wide range of schools; but, our deep experience has also taught us that one size does not fit all. We do believe, however, that certain elements—like an inclusive, collaborative launch phase and a solid communication strategy—are key to all successful searches. In terms of timeline, we recommend, if possible, that Head of School searches get underway in May and conclude in October/November for an appointment in the following July. But obviously, there are many factors affecting this schedule, and we partner with you to find a timeline that works for your community and enables a comprehensive transition plan.
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.
We are careful not to take on too many clients as a firm or as individuals. Our workload allows us to collaborate effectively and maintain the flexibility we need to serve a variety of schools and work closely with search committees and their chairs. And we facilitate enough searches to generate a steady flow of inquiries from a wide range of educational leaders.
This decision rests with the Board, but under certain specific circumstances, it makes sense for a school to appoint an Interim Head. For example, if the current Head’s departure was not planned; if the timeline does not allow you to execute a comprehensive succession and transition plan or to build confidence in a search process; or if it will be difficult to find available candidates because of the school calendar/cycle, appointing an Interim Head might be the best option. In fact, in some cases, there might be issues and/or pressing needs that an Interim Head can help a school mitigate, so that the new Head is better positioned for success.
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.
While Advisory Committees are not a necessary component of the search process, Search Committees sometimes choose to encourage and organize input from the various school constituencies by creating an advisory group composed of faculty, parents, and/or alumni. Wickenden Associates would typically meet with the advisory group at the beginning of the search to gather their impressions and concerns about the school. While Advisory Committee members don’t participate in Search Committee interviews or deliberations, they can play a role during finalist visits, both as guides and as evaluators of the candidates.
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.
Most likely, we will leave our initial visit to your school with several candidates already in mind, based upon our broad familiarity with independent school leaders throughout the nation. We will also reach out to sources from our vast network of independent school contacts, informing them about the specifics of the opportunity and asking them to nominate appropriate candidates. In addition, we will mine our detailed database of 15,000 prospective candidates to identify those we will actively recruit. We will post the position on our website and on various job boards that target independent school opportunities. We will also feature the opportunity in our email newsletter, which is sent to more than 7,500 subscribers. We will use LinkedIn to help spread the word regarding new opportunities and to research prospective candidates and connect with sources.
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.
Evaluating candidates is among the most consequential and challenging aspects of the search. Our process allows us to assess candidates through multiple lenses. Initially, we judge candidates on the strength of their application materials, as well as preliminary interviews and reference checks. The semifinalist interviews enable the Search Committee and us to evaluate the candidates’ depth of preparation and ability to manage a challenging interview session. The two-day finalist visits, during which candidates undergo a sometimes exhausting set of interviews and meetings with various constituencies, provide a window into candidates’ poise, stamina, and fit with the school culture. We offer and administer an online survey to capture the views of members of the community who meet with the finalists; this survey report contains valuable information for a search committee as they begin their final deliberations, and for the Board, as they plan an announcement and construct a transition plan.
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.
Wickenden Associates is committed to reaching out to a diverse group of candidates for every search, and we have a strong record of supporting the careers of women and candidates of color. Of the 129 Head of School and senior administrative searches we conducted over the past five years, 62% of appointees identified as a woman and/or a person of color. We are proud that our candidates are diverse in age, education, and prior life experiences. We also search beyond the independent school world, successfully recruiting candidates from the public school sector, the military, foundations, higher education, and even the business world. Of course, the diversity of the pool often depends as much on the school as it does on our recruitment efforts. Schools that have invested heavily in diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels have a better shot at attracting a diverse candidate pool.
We generally advise our clients to approach internal candidates the same way they do external candidates, evaluating them according to the same criteria and requiring them to go through an identical application and interview process. However, every situation is unique, and schools should consider the current and future relationship any internal candidate may have with the institution. For example, the search committee may need to take extra care when it comes to candidate privacy, communication with affiliated applicants, and reference checking with current employees. Our years of experience have equipped us to see all the angles and provide well-tailored advice and excellent options no matter what the circumstances.
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.
The end of every Head of School search is also a beginning. To promote a smooth leadership transition, we offer a range of supportive services at no additional charge. We offer extensive guidance on the steps the Board should take to set the stage for a new leader’s success. Our service includes a standing offer to return during the Head’s first year to evaluate his/her entry into the school through a series of interviews with key constituents and stakeholders. Finally, we have a healthy network of experienced consultants who offer executive coaching services for seasoned leaders and/or structured mentorship for new Heads of School. We will gladly work with the Board and the appointee to discuss your needs and to introduce you to a slate of possible partners.
The price of each search depends on a number variables, including but not limited to, the type of search, the specifics of the process, and the timeline. In addition to the fee, Wickenden is reimbursed for actual expenses incurred in the search, including consultant travel and lodging. Clients are also responsible for all candidate travel and lodging costs, as well as advertising expenses, FedEx charges, and any outsourced reproduction costs. We would be happy to discuss our pricing with you.
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