Three Ways to Improve Recruitment, Hiring, and Placement of Strong Turnaround Leaders

By Aaron Butler, American Institutes for Research, Apr 25, 2016

A national focus on equity has spread to states and districts during the last year, thanks in part to the federal Excellent Educators for All initiative. It is no surprise that leadership preparation and professional development are at the core of many state equity plans.

But leadership is not one-size-fits-all. Education today sorely needs “turnaround leaders”—individuals who are capable of leading dramatic, rapid improvements in failing organizations.

Any plan to improve turnaround leadership should begin with recruiting and hiring the right individual for the job. Often, turnaround leaders have only one to three years to accomplish significant change and positive results in a school or business. With time and timing so critical, turnaround leaders must continuously try new approaches, monitor results, stop doing what does not work, and do more of what does.

Unfortunately, too many districts and schools across the country have sought to work through turnarounds with leaders who lack the right skills or competencies for the task. What can states and districts do to ensure equitable access to effective turnaround leaders?

Researchers have identified several common obstacles to recruiting and hiring turnaround leaders that districts might wish to consider, including:

  • Job description is not very appealing
  • Pay is too low to attract the most talented candidates
  • Recruitment is informal or passive
  • Focus on hiring internal candidates is over-emphasized
  • Selection criteria and processes lack rigor
  • Interview and hiring processes are inefficient or prolonged

To address these obstacles, states and districts should consider three recommendations:

1.      Create a profile of a high-quality candidate. District leaders should take the time to clearly articulate the skills and competencies needed to realize the school’s or district’s vision and look should search for candidates who:

  • Demonstrate a strong drive to achieve outstanding results
  • Reach high performance standards despite obstacles
  • Set clear expectations and hold self and others accountable for performance
  • Demonstrate the ability to influence others using a variety of approaches
  • Use data to inform decisions, including developing logical plans and recognizing patterns

Creating a candidate profile—an often overlooked step in the search for qualified leaders—ensures that every member of a recruiting and hiring committee are looking for the same skills and competencies throughout the search process. 

2.      Initiate competency-based recruitment, hiring, and placement processes. District leaders can identify strengths and weaknesses in their recruitment, hiring, and placement processes by asking such questions as:

  • Where and how do we publicize openings? (Locally, across the state, or nationally)
  • Do our recruitment materials include turnaround-principal actions and competencies?
  • What incentives can we offer to aspiring leaders in our district to get their administrative licenses?
  • In what ways might behavioral-event interviews improve our hiring results?
  • Do we use a competencies- and standards-based hiring criteria?
  • What process do we use to match candidates to the school or district?

Taking the time to answer questions like these can yield valuable information to district leaders to help them revise their processes to more effectively recruit and hire turnaround leaders. 

3.      Consistently evaluate the effectiveness of recruitment and hiring processes. After all positions are filled and the school year has begun, how often do state and district leaders take the time to reflect upon the success of their recruitment and hiring efforts? A third step could include gathering data on such measures as:

  • Applicant characteristics
  • Applicant training and/or licensure
  • Number of applicants per opening
  • Number of candidates offered a job and number accepting the job
  • Average rubric score for each candidate
  • One-, three-, and five-year performance evaluation data for hires

Gathering and analyzing data to determine if recruitment and hiring efforts are producing the quality of turnaround leader sought by the district or school helps to improve talent management. Together with candidate profiles and competency-based interview processes, districts can begin to overcome obstacles to recruiting and hiring the kinds of leaders needed to turn around failing schools.

Now it’s your turn. We want to hear your thoughts.

  • How might creating a high-quality candidate profile benefit a district’s or school’s recruitment and hiring more than would a typical job description?
  • What additional data should be collected and analyzed to improve recruitment, hiring, and placement efforts?
  • How can states and districts more efficiently gather and coordinate recruitment and hiring data to inform leadership-pipeline development?


Dr. Butler, you are absolutely correct! Your assessment is spot on when it comes to identifying key attributes of an effective turnaround leader. There should be incentives included to attract - and retain - those leaders. It might be worth looking into models that utilize an Urban Leader Perceiver format to help with the identification.

Thanks Aaron Butler for sharing this insightful article. Although, there is an amazing pool of talent available to be tapped, but the sheer numbers make it increasingly difficult to locate perfect candidates. So, these tips can help to map out organization's strategy for recruiting the best leaders.

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