Special Report
Recruitment & Retention

To Connect With Candidates, School Recruiters Hone Social Media Skills

By Ellen Wexler — January 25, 2016 5 min read
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At the time Kalie Bennington landed her first interview in September, she hadn’t even started looking for a teaching job.

Bennington was starting her final year as an elementary education major at Butler University, in Indianapolis. A week earlier, she had won a prestigious future-teacher award, and Butler had posted a notice of the award on its Facebook page. But when Bennington saw the Facebook post, it was one of the comments that struck her most.

“She needs to come interview with me at Washington Township!” wrote Tom Oestreich, the director of human resources for the district, which covers a portion of Indianapolis.

Bennington had been told that most schools don’t start hiring until the spring. But within hours, she had scheduled an interview with Oestreich for the following week. Less than two months later, she signed a letter of intent with the Washington Township district for next school year.

“I was kind of shocked,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that someone would reach out to me through Facebook.”

‘A Late Adopter’

But district recruiters like Oestreich see use of social-media platforms as a necessary next step in teacher recruitment. To hire top candidates like Bennington, districts know they need to get out in front of them early. And while most new teachers are still contacted through traditional channels like job postings and career fairs, some district human-resource departments are starting to see social-networking platforms as an efficient—and continuous—way of connecting with the current generation of prospective educators.

“With teacher shortages and the amount of turnover that all school districts in the state of Indiana have seen, teacher recruitment has really become a 12-month job,” Oestreich said.

School districts have long seen technology, especially in the form of online job postings and virtual interviews, as a way to reach top talent in a competitive market. But many are only beginning to see the potential of incorporating social-media strategies into their recruitment systems.

Today, around one-third of Americans use social-media platforms, according to a Pew Research Center survey released in November. Thirty-five percent of social-media users have used those platforms to look for or research jobs, and 21 percent have applied for a job they found through social media.

But those numbers apply to all industries, and some experts speculate that schools are slightly behind the curve.

“Education was a late adopter of LinkedIn, but it’s growing significantly,” said Brian White, the executive director of human resources and operations at the Auburn-Washburn Unified School District in Topeka, Kan.

White has worked in education for four years. Before he started at Auburn-Washburn, he was a staffing manager in the private sector, where he learned most of his recruiting skills.

“In the corporate world, LinkedIn was heavily used for recruiting,” he said. “When I moved into the world of education, I quickly realized it was not something that was largely a part of what education used.”

For the past few years, White has given a presentation on LinkedIn at the American Association of School Personnel Administrators’ annual conference. His talk tends to cover the basics: what LinkedIn is, how it works, what a profile is used for.

Each time he gives the presentation, he said, the attendees seem more familiar with the social-networking platform. This year, most of them had their own LinkedIn account, but a much smaller fraction, around 20 percent, were actively using the service for recruiting, White estimated. More than half didn’t know whether their district had a LinkedIn page.

“Think about it from a student’s perspective,” White said. “If I went to a LinkedIn site and saw that a district was not active, I would probably have some concerns: Is this district really on top of technology?”

And the number of teachers using the platform appears to be growing. Last October, White searched for the word “teacher” on LinkedIn and found around 4.7 million results. When he searched the term again this October, that number had grown to almost 5.6 million. “Universities are teaching students about LinkedIn,” he said. “I realized that we needed to at least have a presence there.”

Increasing Visibility

White makes sure to keep his district’s LinkedIn page up to date. When he goes to career fairs, his district’s promotional materials always include the LinkedIn logo. He also links to the district page in his email signature.

White noted he has tried recruiting through Facebook, but he found that it wasn’t as effective as other platforms. He sees LinkedIn as the least-intrusive way to connect with potential applicants. “You’re not crossing those boundaries that may be sacred to some,” he said.

In Indianapolis, Oestreich uses Twitter and Facebook along with LinkedIn, and he makes sure to update all the accounts on all three frequently. Last year, a job candidate contacted him through Twitter, and now she’s teaching 4th grade in the district.

For every 20 teachers he hires, Oestreich estimates that he connected with one or two through social media.

For some districts, it can be hard to quantify the value of social media in recruiting.

Jason Kennedy, the president of the American Association for Employment in Education and a senior human-resources administrator in the Wake County school district in North Carolina, said he hasn’t hired any teachers directly through LinkedIn. But some candidates might see a job on the site and then apply through the official posting, he said. Others might see a job posted on LinkedIn and pass it along to their colleagues.

“This is something that we’re kind of experimenting with,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a manual out there when it comes to the education industry.”

Over the next few years, Kennedy thinks that many more districts will start using LinkedIn and other social-media platforms to increase visibility and to find talent in the initial stages of the hiring process. But for the latter stages, he prefers more traditional tools.

“Face to face is always going to be a part of the hiring process,” he said. “I don’t want that to ever go away.”

A version of this article appeared in the January 27, 2016 edition of Education Week as To Gain Reach, HR Directors Get Social

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