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A norming activity that creates common vision for interview committees.

School districts have an obligation to find the best candidates. They should be outstanding educators who will help improve student learning, instruction and the entire educational community. Getting the best is not easy and can become a complex process when a group of people must come together to conduct the interviews.

Most school districts use a committee structure when hiring specific positions. The committee consists of stakeholders who have a say or interest in the district. These individuals come together for a few days from different walks of life and are thrust into the process of interviewing educators for a position in the district. Some, or many, on the committee may have limited or no interview experience, or never worked with a committee. Therefore, a common understanding of what the committee is looking for in the best candidate and what might be a deal breaker issue must be established.

Over the last decade I have participated in, and now chair, committee interviews. During this time I realized each committee has a different understanding of their responsibilities, the expectations of their efforts, what’s needed to identify quality candidates and what they should be looking for in an outstanding candidate. As a result, I developed a norming activity for the committee that is conducted before any resumes are distributed or any interview questions can be discussed. The activity is called “Must Have, Should Have, Could Have & the Deal Breaker”.

We start our committee work by introducing ourselves and talking about what part of the community we represent. Often there are district and building administrators, subject supervisors, teachers, parents and community members on large committees but your committee can be made up of any combination of stakeholders. The introductions allow all to get an idea who people are and whom they represent.

Once introductions are complete, I discuss the position we are interviewing for and committee members are encouraged to think about the needs for that position. All stakeholders have a vested interest because they will interact with the person in that position so they all have different views of the needs. At this point I explain that each candidate brings unique experiences, educational background and abilities. That being said there are skills, knowledge, abilities and experiences that we need and every candidate “Must Have”. This is what then entire committee agrees the candidate must have and we expect the best to discuss, demonstrate or have included in the paperwork we are about to review. There are also skills, knowledge, abilities and experiences that a candidate “Should Have”. The committee looks at these as not mandatory but some experience with, be able to talk about or have included in the paperwork. Then there are the skills, knowledge, abilities and experiences we would like a candidate to have but are not required. These are bonuses or what I call “Could Haves”.  The candidate need not have them but if he/she does it is to his/her advantage.

The committee begins to brainstorm and comes up with lists of items and we categories them as Must Haves, Should Haves, Could Haves on a whiteboard for all to see. Once the list is as complete as we think it can be, we begin to combine similar items, move items from one Have to another and delete anything the group feels is not necessary. To combine, move or delete we need group agreement. This is done specifically to begin building the group dynamic and set us up for the next stage of the process.

Once the committee is comfortable with our Must Have, Should Have, Could Have list we move on to next part of the activity which is the development of what could be the deal breaker. What is the experience, skill, issues or comment that if missing or said is a deal breaker for the committee. This is important for the entire committee to come to an agreement on as it completes the committee’s expectations based on what they will not tolerate. This is not a laundry list of items. It is one or two items that the committee agrees that a candidate who hits the deal breaker does not go forward.

The final step of the process is the development of questions off of the Must Have, Should Have, Could Have list. This maintains the committee’s focus so they stay true to their group values and expectations. And as candidates come through the committee we discuss how that person met our list of Haves and if they hit the deal breaker.

The benefits to this norming activity are:

  1. A committee of stakeholders with different expectations and experiences come together with a common expectation and focus for a position without giving up their individuality.
  2. The committee learns to function as a whole, not as a group of individuals.
  3. One person in the committee is no more powerful than any other individual.
  4. The committee agrees before ever seeing qualifications or a candidate on what are the most important skills, experiences, and backgrounds of the most qualified candidate for the position.

Our interview committees have experienced much success with this process and I would be happy to assist any educator in engaging in this process with their interview committees.