When Henry County Schools, along with the rest of the districts in Georgia, closed down because of the novel coronavirus, Jolie Hardin, executive director of leadership development and employment services for the district, knew there was one March event that couldn’t be postponed.
The 42,000-student district was expecting between 300 and 400 teacher candidates to its annual job fair — a gathering at which principals often identify who they want to interview and hire.
But because principals’ days are now packed with Zoom, Meet and other types of virtual meetings, Hardin knew having them schedule initial interviews as well would be adding too much during a stressful time.
Her office — a team of six — began scheduling videoconference interviews to screen those who would have attended the fair. In one week, they held interviews with 66 candidates. Those considered a “good fit” for the district are added to a “super pool” of candidates for principals to access. Of that batch of 66, 12 were offered positions in the district.
“Our job is to serve the principals and get them the most effective teachers,” Hardin said. “And this is one route to help them get toward that goal.”
Across the country, virtual job fairs are taking place on a much larger scale through a platform developed by the California Center on Teaching Careers, a state-funded agency working to address teacher shortages in the state. Since last year, more than 150 school districts or countywide education agencies have participated in six virtual fairs, and over 1,400 teachers have been hired throughout California.
Even though some experts say the pandemic could result in lost revenue for districts next school year — which affects hiring — Hardin said the district still has to plan ahead. “Because of retirements and resignations, we’re always going to need replacements,” Hardin said.
And in California, “even if there are cuts, we’ve had such a big teacher shortage,” said Donna Glassman-Sommer, executive director of the California Center on Teaching Careers.
She notes there is a gap of roughly 12,000 credentialed teachers in the state. The unexpected shift to distance learning — and the uncertainty of what’s ahead for next school year — may also lead some veteran teachers to retire sooner than planned, she added. And even in a slow economy, she said, there will still be a demand for math, science and special education teachers.
Here are some lessons learned so far on the benefits of virtual recruiting.
No need to travel
Stay-at-home orders and restrictions on group gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19 have made virtual recruiting and hiring a necessity. But even without a health crisis, Hardin and Glassman-Sommer said there are benefits of virtual job fairs for both teaching candidates and school leaders.
Candidates might be applying for a position at the other end of the state, or even out of state, and can’t afford to fly to a job fair. And those who are student teaching don’t have the flexibility to be gone for a few days.
“I would hate to have college students on the road for a screening interview, now that we know this works,” Hardin said.
The technology also accommodates principals’ busy schedules, which is why both Hardin and Glassman-Sommer think more districts will take advantage of virtual recruiting and interviewing in the future.
“I wanted to be very involved in the hiring process,” said Glassman-Sommer, a former principal. “But because of the demands … I couldn’t get off my campus to travel — let alone out of state.”
In the center’s platform, principals have access to information on candidates who have registered for the virtual job fair, including their resumes. They can request an online chat session with the candidate, and some job offers have even been extended based on video chats, Glassman-Sommer said.
Seeing the candidate’s true personality
In the past, formal interviews in the Henry County district were conducted in person by a panel of district employees. But often, the members of the hiring committee wouldn’t get more than “textbook answers” from candidates.
The one-on-one video interviews, Hardin said, are more relaxed.
“I think we’re getting a better understanding of their personality,” she said. “They appreciate the opportunity to really talk versus the formality of that 30-minute quick interview. They are able to tell people what they are really about, and they know we’re going to relay that to the principals.”
A better fit
In addition to compiling a stronger pool of candidates, Hardin said, she sometimes even knows “the exact school where this person would fit.”
In California, the virtual fair allows recruiters or administrators to find out-of-state teachers who have expressed an interest in coming to California or even to their specific district because they’ve requested an online chat.
The center has also received requests from county offices of education to do virtual events just for their county, and Glassman-Sommer said they have thought of also planning one just for rural districts.
At in-person fairs, recruiters sometimes like to bring along a teacher in the district so the candidate can talk to someone who works there. A virtual fair makes the scheduling easier.
Districts learn to promote themselves
At a traditional job fair, recruiters can opt to sit behind a table and wait for candidates to find them, or they can work to make connections. Similarly, Glassman-Sommer said, district teams can spend the event waiting in their virtual “booth” for candidates to request a chat, or they can access the resumes and reach out to those they are interested in recruiting.
The center used to hold the virtual job fairs over a two-day period, but now they’re held on one day, and more frequently, which improves participation, she added. Because of the virtual format, teachers from around the globe — representing 46 countries on six continents — have participated.
An ‘essential’ skill set
If district leaders are hesitant to try a virtual model, it’s usually because they’re concerned about building a platform or moving away from a system that has been in place for a long time. But the “digital natives” applying for teaching positions prefer this approach, Glassman-Sommer said.
In fact, if recruiters weren’t already asking about candidates’ comfort with teaching online, they might be now.
“It will certainly be part of the conversation,” Glassman-Sommer said. “Now, more than ever it will be essential.”