Teacher Recruitment Strategies: Tried-and-True Ways to Build Your Applicant Pool
The next generation of teachers will be entering the teaching workforce before we know it. For those with a classroom waiting for them after graduation, the fun is only just beginning. Others might be spending an entire summer still searching for job postings — are they finding yours?
Read on to see if your teacher recruiting strategies make your postings visible to job-seekers in the right places.
Table of Contents
Recruit Where the Candidates Are
Teachers look for jobs on the internet first.
One thing is for sure: job-seekers are turning to the internet first. Teachers report checking job boards daily for new postings and combing through district websites to find openings.
What teachers say:
“To find openings, I checked my state’s job service website multiple times a week (every 1-2 days!).”
“K12JobSpot is a site I visit daily. I also made a spreadsheet with all the districts I’m willing to drive out to, and found direct links to their employment page. I check those every day and apply if anything is up!”
Of course, teachers have to find your school district before they can look through your employment pages. One teacher wrote, “I live in a somewhat rural area and have done teacher recruitment days, as well as an ole’ fashioned google search of ‘schools in my county, my state.’”
What this means for you:
It’s more important than ever that your district can easily be found online, so invest in developing your district’s brand as an employer.
Teacher job fairs are still a good bet.
The Internet might be beloved by job-seekers for sheer convenience and accessibility, but that doesn’t mean that job hunting has gone exclusively digital. In-person job fairs are still popular with new and veteran teachers alike.
What teachers say:
“I applied in probably 10-15 districts and went to 2 different job fairs.”
“Your best bet is to look at job fairs. Districts will go to them out of state if they need to fill lots of spots.”
What this means for you:
Recruiting teachers at career fairs is still a viable way to find candidates. You’re able to market your district exactly the way you want to a wide pool of motivated job-seekers, show off why your district is a fantastic place to work and meet with interested candidates face-to-face.
Networking is still a reliable teacher recruitment technique.
Any post about where educators find their first teaching job would be incomplete without the time-honored tradition of finding careers through student or substitute teaching. It’s a good way for new teachers to get their foot in the door through networking, while gaining valuable experience in the classroom.
What teachers say:
“Your best bet is to substitute if you haven’t already been. That’s how quite a few people I know got jobs in areas without large demand.”
“Even if you don’t get hired right away, subbing gives you a lot of good experience as a teacher, especially if you place effort to actually teach the kids instead of sitting back and watching them chat. You’ll not only network but you’ll get experience in the actual classroom, which will make it less daunting for your first year teaching.”
What this means for you:
Keep building those existing relationships with your student teachers and substitutes — they could be wonderful full-time teachers in the future. When it comes to your substitute pool in particular, you can help grow their classroom skills with professional development opportunities and encourage full-time teachers to leave substitutes constructive feedback after an absence. Not only does this help them become better educators, but shows that your district invests in its people and their growth.
Make sure to remove obstacles in the application process.
No matter how an applicant finds your district, you can be sure that you’re not the only one receiving their resume. Many teachers said they sent out resumes and applications to dozens of districts (or more), as if they were taking a page out of Oprah’s playbook — “You get an application, and you get an application, everyone gets an application!”
What teachers say:
“I sent out to over 100 districts.”
“I sent a cover letter and resume to every one of the 125 school districts on Long Island. Then I sent one to the Archdiocese of NYC and to every Catholic high school on Long Island.”
“I sent out about 40 resumes (and this is for music = not many jobs)”
“My suggestion is to apply to anything and everything. You don’t have the room to be picky. I did that, and am sure I applied to 60+ jobs.”
“Here’s my advice. Apply everywhere.”
What this means for you:
When job applications are pouring in, make sure you have a system to help you stay afloat. You need to be able to easily collect and store the resumes coming in (without them cluttering up your desk), sort through them, painlessly find candidates with the most potential and keep all of their materials together. Find a way to make the entire process work for you with online applicant tracking software — otherwise, hiring is going to take over your every waking moment.
Innovative Teacher Recruitment Strategies Every School Can Use
Some of these strategies take a while to take full effect — like “Grow Your Own” programs, which focus on supporting current non-teaching staff in a journey to becoming credentialed teachers. Other districts focus on co-curricular career pathways (like Educators Rising) to help secondary school students prepare for a future in teaching. This goes beyond teacher recruiting — districts will need to also take a more holistic approach to developing and retaining their current employees to keep the best teachers in their classrooms.
But not every district has the resources for those kinds of incentives. Luckily, there are ways to ensure deeper applicant pools for every position.
Start recruiting and hiring teachers early.
When is the best time to start recruiting teachers?
Trick question — it’s always a good time to build your applicant pool.
Instead of waiting for candidates to come to you, consider proactively recruiting applicants. Keep in mind that the best teachers do tend to be hired early in the spring, so it’s a good idea to move your hiring timeline up as much as possible. You’ll be the early bird who gets the worm, plus you’ll have less end-of-summer stress caused by unfilled positions as the school year approaches.
Create compelling recruitment materials.
What makes great teachers want to work in your school? Invest in a well-designed district website to attract new applicants and show off the many reasons why teachers should want to work with you. Recruitment is all about marketing your district, so make sure you have a compelling message to reach potential candidates.
Modernize (and customize) your teacher recruiting practices.
Still using newspaper classifieds? Today’s job-seekers look for positions online, so consider advertising jobs on high-volume websites like K12Jobspot.
Recruiting online lets you reach more teachers, even those out of state. And although it’s often said that about 60 percent of teachers work within 20 miles of where they went to high school, this may be changing. Millennials — the youngest generation of teachers —are far more likely to relocate for a job, with 85 percent saying they are willing to move to a new city for work.
They’re also the most likely to seek out new jobs online, making online teacher recruiting a sound strategy for any district. So, focus your recruitment efforts online, and make an effort to proactively reach out to the most qualified educators. Having the right tools can save you time by automating recruitment campaigns — there’s no need to spend hours individually writing and sending messages to each potential candidate.
Building a strong applicant pool is like making a masterpiece out of LEGO: it will take some creativity and time, and you need to make sure you have all the right pieces. But it’s all worth it when you find the right teachers who, like LEGO, will “inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow.”
Use Data to Set & Reach Your Teacher Hiring Goals
Across your district, teachers and principals are using data to set goals and evaluate their performance, so finding the best and brightest teachers for your district should be no different.
But by setting aside time to establish goals, you’ll have the structure you need to develop an effective strategy for continual improvement.
So, what goals should you set to complete the recruiting and hiring process?
Step 1: Gather hiring data
The most actionable goals are based on a thorough review of your district’s data. So, you will need to pull together your recruiting and hiring data. If you have the right software, this is a breeze.
But if not, this could be the hardest part of goal-setting — if your hiring process is based on paper, you will have some difficulty getting the full picture of your district’s trends. Or, if you manage your hiring through an inefficient HRIS system, you may need to get in touch with your IT department to export the data.
In any case, gather as much recruiting and hiring data as possible. Without this step, you might be able to come up with objectives, but you’ll be ill-equipped to track your progress toward them.
You may want to take a few minutes to reflect on this data-gathering process. If you had any difficulty accessing the data you need, or find any inaccuracies or gaps, consider setting a goal to make your data more visible and easier to use.
Step 2: Ask the right questions
Look closely at your district’s data and look for patterns. It may be most helpful to look for changes over the past several years and year-over-year trends, if the data is available. If not, it’s perfectly fine to start with the past year.
Which data points are surprising to you?
Why do you think the data shows one trend or another?
What improvements would you like to see?
Don’t forget to recognize and celebrate where you are doing well already.
A few specific areas to consider, and questions to ask:
New hires & applicant pools
Look closely at who your district has hired. What do you notice about the population of new teachers? Is this what you would expect to see? Were you able to fill all of your open positions, or are still some waiting for the right candidate to come along?
Next, compare your new hire data to your applicant pool and note any differences you see. You may want to examine whether new hires disproportionately come from any particular recruitment channel, or if they tend to have a certain experience in common. For example, do word-of-mouth referrals represent a disproportionately large percentage of new hires? Or do you tend to hire heavily from your substitute teacher pool, or educators who started out as student teachers in your district?
You may also want to look at the volume of high-quality candidates, particularly by subject areas.
Did you have enough high-quality applicants to select from overall?
What about for shortage-prone positions like Special Education, STEM or speech pathology?
And are you confident that the best candidates were hired, or is it possible that some may have slipped through the cracks?
For even better insight, take a look at retention rates for last year’s new hires, benchmarked against your overall retention rate. This will give you a better idea of how well your hiring process selects candidates who fit into the school culture.
The hiring timeline
The next step is exploring metrics like time-to-hire, and when most candidates were hired. By looking at how long it takes to fill most vacancies, you may be able to identify inefficient processes that hold up the hiring process. And by identifying which positions take the longest to fill, you’ll know where to put more of your teacher recruitment resources.
Plus, you’ll be able to determine how early in the year you should start hiring to have positions filled. Remember that hiring late in the year means less-qualified applicant pools, so if most of your jobs are filled in late July and August, you could be missing out on the most talented candidates.
Dig into what could be causing jobs to not be posted until late summer. How can you predict staffing needs more accurately?
The applicant experience
Finally, you may want to gather input from individuals involved in hiring, from your new hires to principals. Consider sending out a survey asking new hires for feedback on the application and hiring process. For principals, consider sending a survey asking for their opinion on the quality of the applicant pool and the hiring process itself — were they satisfied with the level of support they received from Human Resources? Did they notice any inefficiencies that could be addressed?
Gathering feedback from those involved in hiring across the district allows you to go beyond hiring data alone and understand how others perceive the process. Plus, it fosters collaboration and engagement by showing that you care about their experience. And in the end, it will help you provide a more positive experience for applicants and administrators alike.
Step 3: Set preliminary goals and actions
After working your way through the data, determine what your district needs to focus on for the upcoming year and set objective, clearly-defined goals that are aligned to those areas of improvement. These should be realistic — it’s good to have a few “stretch” goals, but ultimately, all of your objectives should be achievable. If you currently receive 40 applications a year for hard-to-staff positions across the district, don’t set a goal of having 250 next year.
A reasonable number of feasible goals will give you the structure you need to develop effective, targeted strategies, without overwhelming yourself or your colleagues.
Lay out your recruiting and hiring goals for the coming year and build a framework for a strategy to help you improve on those metrics and meet your goals. The more integrated that strategy is, the more effectively you’ll be able to improve your hiring across the board with less effort. But don’t stop there — to really ensure success, think about your goals forward and backward.
Thinking forward comes naturally: I want X, so I will implement Y strategy to get there. Thinking backwards — or inverting the problem — means asking yourself, What would prevent me from reaching my goal? What should I do to make sure those things don’t happen? You might realize that your district is inadvertently doing something that holds your recruitment and hiring processes back. Then, you can make a change and ensure that nothing stands between you and your goals.
For example, if your goal is to find more applicants, you could “think forward” by allocating more time and money to attending more job fairs, both locally and out-of-state. But by “thinking backward” you might realize that plenty more job-seekers might apply to your district, if only your application process were more applicant-friendly. By no longer requiring job-seekers to apply in-person or send a thick packet through snail mail, you may find that more qualified educators apply to work in the district.
Step 4: Track your progress
After implementing any changes to your hiring process or strategy, the next step is to continually monitor your data. Don’t let yourself be surprised at the end of the year — you’re more likely to meet your goals when you can track your progress toward them and adjust course as needed.
This step shouldn’t be a burden, either. Just like you expect educators to embed data into their daily work, set aside 5-10 minutes once a week to check in on your progress. Even if the rest of your day is consumed by putting out fires and you don’t have time to immediately act on the data, you’ll be in a better position to stay on top of what’s happening in the district.
By setting goals based on your district’s hiring trends and tracking your progress against them, you’ll be able to strategically improve your teacher recruiting and hiring strategies.
Annie is a writer and part of the award-winning content team at Frontline Education. She's passionate about learning, exploring data and sharing knowledge. Her specialties include substitute management, the K-12 staffing shortage, and best practices in human capital management.