Teacher recruitment starts with strong job descriptions.
In a flooded job market, job postings are a great way to kickstart your teacher recruitment strategy.
In just a few short months, thousands of superintendents and other school leaders will once again turn their attention to teacher recruitment. For many school leaders, though, this year is likely to be particularly challenging. According to a September 2022 study by AASA, 84% of superintendent respondents reported not having enough applicants for currently posted jobs. Additionally, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education reports a consistent and troubling decline in the number of students seeking degrees in education over the past decade.
The persistence of a strong labor market has also contributed to higher expectations among most job seekers. LinkedIn claims that in 2022, applicants viewed twice as many jobs before applying than they did in 2019. And although the number of job openings in the U.S. has grown 22% since January 2022, the number of applicants has actually dropped by 23%. If all this isn’t enough to worry about, a 2022 NEA study found that an alarming 55% of teachers surveyed were considering leaving the profession “earlier than they had planned.”
What does this mean for school leaders and recruiters, beyond the likelihood of a hiring headache between now and next August? It means that you need to take every advantage possible when it comes to recruiting talent for your schools—and that starts with job postings and the application process.
Why job postings?
For the vast majority of school districts, job postings are a pretty cut-and-dried business. You have a form, a list of required qualifications, and maybe a description of your ideal candidate. Chances are, you even have a set of job posting templates that you cycle through depending on vacancies. After all, a 10th grade World Literature teacher will need to have many of the same qualifications as a seventh grade English teacher.
But here’s the thing—because most school districts don’t put a lot of effort into their job postings and applications, a school district that does put in the extra effort automatically stands out. And in a hiring market like this, standing out is more important than ever.
The most strategic place for job postings to exist on a district’s website is on a dedicated careers page. After all, most job seekers find opportunities online these days. However, they’re relying on job posting aggregator sites like Indeed and even education-specific career platforms like SchoolSpring to view a large quantity of opportunities at once. Unfortunately, this means that for some prospective candidates, your job posting may be the only exposure they have to your district at all. That’s especially true if they’re relocating to your area and aren’t already familiar with your schools.
That’s why building impactful job postings is crucial to putting your best foot forward and netting new talent. While it takes a bit of effort, it’s the first step to a more successful hiring game.
How Job Postings Lead to Teacher Recruitment
How do you get this started? Writing a job posting that stands out from the crowd involves a few key ingredients.
Start with culture.
When job seekers are looking over dozens and dozens of job opportunities, they’re not just seeking out positions they’re qualified for. They’re also scanning for workplaces that look enjoyable. Most school districts provide little—if any—information about school culture in their job postings, so illuminating all of the great reasons to work in your district already sets you apart from the crowd.
What does this look like in the context of a job posting? Before you go into the details of a specific position, spend some time talking about what someone could expect of your district’s work culture. For example, if you have rallied your staff around a culture of high expectations and mutual support, including that in your job postings will likely attract professionals looking for those qualities in a workplace. On the other hand, being upfront about your district’s values also weeds out candidates who don’t share those priorities—all before they even apply.
Think creatively about your expectations.
When you’re hiring for a position in your district, you’re looking for more than just technical qualifications. You want someone who will thrive within your culture—someone who will build and further support the values, norms, and habits you want in your district. But how do you identify culture fits when you already have so many technical questions to consider? After all, if you only hire for technical requirements, you run the risk of hiring teachers who have the right background, but don’t contribute to the positive culture your community has worked to pursue.
The answer is to find ways to embed cultural expectations into your technical requirements. Let’s say you have a core value of continuous growth, but also a technical requirement that all teachers must attend a two-week professional development over the summer. In this case, you can combine your technical requirement into your cultural expectations: “We’re looking for highly motivated teachers who take every opportunity to hone their craft.” After all, what highly motivated teacher wouldn’t be up for attending an advanced professional development, even if it is over the summer?
Be brief about a role’s expectations.
According to research by LinkedIn, shorter job postings (fewer than 300 words) tend to get more applicants than longer ones. Be strategic about what you include in each job posting, and don’t be afraid to save a minor requirement for a later conversation. After all, a job posting is not a contract—it’s okay to leave some of the more rote qualifications for your in-person discussions.
Shorter job postings are also more mobile friendly. Per our own research this issue, more than three-quarters of teachers—76%—said that they use their phones to research the jobs they apply to. Making sure your application is mobile responsive also makes it more shareable, increasing its potential to be read by people who otherwise wouldn’t have seen it.
Systematizing your work
Revamping your job postings may seem like a lot of effort, but the good news is that this work doesn’t have to happen all at once or be completely redone for each position that opens up. The majority of the work—such as exploring your district’s culture and determining which values make prospective candidates desirable—could be written in a one-hour meeting with hiring decision-makers.
Your end product could be a template that stands out, but is also flexible enough to switch up for various positions. (See example below.) Different roles should attract different skill sets, so while cultural messaging should be consistent across your postings, the application itself should cater to the specific needs of the role. The language that might recruit a stellar athletic director should be changed if you’re hiring a pre-K paraeducator.
As you can see, our example job posting concludes with the expectations of the position. Today’s job seekers want specifics on what to expect from a position long before they walk through your doors. By including information about what candidates can anticipate—or even what they should accomplish within their first year in your district—you are letting an applicant know how to excel in their position.
What happens after your job posting goes live also matters. Imagine a job seeker who’s aiming to submit at least a dozen applications. They find your position, and while they’re interested, the application is a long, multistep process that requires entering the same information over and over and over. That candidate could easily choose to skip out on your district—simply because of application fatigue. Keeping things as efficient as possible doesn’t just mean less work for your candidate—it also means that you have the potential to attract applicants who might otherwise have overlooked your role because of a labor-intensive application process.
Following up is also a great way to stand out to applicants. Many job seekers have low expectations for the organizations they apply to, so this is an easy way to shine. Even if you decide not to hire a candidate, you should update them frequently and honestly. After all, the teacher market in your area is a finite resource, and a candidate who is not a good fit for one position may be perfect for another in a few years. Write up a few email templates you can use to keep candidates in the loop. This simple strategy will make sure all your applicants feel valued—and help build your employer brand.
What about applicant management systems?
If you use an applicant management system, this all may seem like a tall ask. After all, most systems have rigid formats that—while they make it easier to track applicants—can limit the type of information you include in each job posting. The use of applicant management systems is pretty widespread, even among smaller districts, and you may have limited control over which system your district uses. Regardless of whether or not you have the ability to choose your own system, you will likely feel inhibited by its limitations sooner or later.
How does this impact your ability to create innovative, effective job applications—and how can you work most effectively within those limitations?
1. Spend time exploring your product’s customization options.
Even the most basic, old-fashioned software will have features worth exploring. If your district is resistant to updating systems, explore whatever product updates or features you can. If you’re looking at your product with an eye toward innovation, chances are, you will find ways to make it happen.
2. Be creative about how you use your product if you need a feature it doesn’t have.
In our conversations with hiring managers, some have admitted that while their applicant tracking systems have frustrating limitations, they can frequently find ways to work around them. For example, one HR manager said that her team used a pipeline within their system that was designed for cold calls to track LinkedIn applicants instead. Just because your applicant management system has limitations doesn’t mean that you can’t be creative and make it work.
3. Be vocal with your decision-makers—and your vendor—about what you need to take your recruitment game to the next level.
Products change over time, often because of feedback from customers. Providing your vendor with information about what you want is one path for molding a product’s future so that it can better suit your needs.
How do you get this started in your own district?
Overhauling your job postings and applications means serious work—and usually intensive collaboration between Comms and HR. But given the nature of hiring this next school year, that teamwork will be what carries you through this particularly difficult labor market. However, if your district already understands that prospective candidates will only get harder to find, you probably won’t need to convince your staff that this teamwork is necessary.
Despite efforts across many states to improve teacher recruitment and retention, the job market is likely to be difficult for years, if not decades. If your district isn’t already changing up your hiring strategies, you are risking being left behind in a quickly changing hiring market.
That’s where taking a close look at your job postings can put you ahead of the game. And remember: When applicants scan job postings, they are doing just that—scanning. Their goal is not to look at every posting slowly and thoroughly, but rather to quickly identify a variety of opportunities that seem intriguing at first glance. The most vital question you can take to your hiring committee is this: What can we do to stand out from the crowd?
Sample Job Description
About Centerville School District:
We believe that every student who enters our school buildings has a story we can learn from. We support our students to build the skills and confidence they need to succeed. Our teachers challenge students intellectually and nurture their JOY of learning.
At CSD, we believe in the power of crafting an environment in which all students can thrive. Our staff members prioritize educating the whole child by providing resources for students to grow both academically and emotionally. We want our students to live with joy and be well equipped to seize whatever opportunities they are able.
We do more than aspire to build a community—we actively work to create one. As a CSD teacher, you will be part of an inclusive team that works together inside and outside of the classroom, whether that is during lunch duty or a Friday potluck
You will enjoy teaching at CSD if:
You want to be part of a productive, supportive teaching community. You love to get into the craft of teaching and value the human connection that is unique to the teaching profession.
As a Middle School Math Teacher:
You will play a critical role in student success. We want you to build an exciting classroom environment while maintaining a rigorous STEAM- focused curriculum. Your classroom will be a place where students learn and grow in the field of mathematics and feel prepared for life beyond the walls of our schools.
Nurture a Culture of Curiosity: We know that students go far when they are intensely curious about the challenges at hand.
Build Community: People thrive when they know they are valued. Our employees prioritize building communities—from classrooms to PLCs- — and do whatever they can to make everyone feel seen and valued.
Focus on Long-Term Growth: We want you to receive the mentorship, professional development, coaching, and support you need to become the best math teacher you can be.
Originally published as "Stand Out or Strike Out" in the Winter 2023 edition of SchoolCEO Magazine.Subscribe below to stay connected with SchoolCEO!