#265 February 2002 - Truth and the Art of Hiring


Truth and the Art of Hiring

The lawsuit epidemic has desecrated lots of human transactions, but none, perhaps, more than hiring. There was a time when employers sat down and wrote candid appraisals of a person’s performance, knowing that the reader expected at least a faint sign of imperfection and that confidentiality would be preserved. Today, anyone who dares to write a letter uses code, e.g. any characteristic not screamingly superlative is probably bad, or qualities called for but not mentioned are assumed to be lacking. At the ridiculous end of the spectrum are admonitions by attorneys to school heads to provide absolutely no further information than dates of employment and grade levels and subjects taught. This is called the “name, rank and serial number” rule. It is, of course, an abomination.

Since the written or e-mailed word is either fatuous or simply not to be believed without tortuous interpretation, what is to be done? There is, alas, nothing left, but that ancient piece of 19th c. technology, the telephone. And through it, there is still, thank heaven, the opportunity to engage in plain speaking with a colleague on any subject, but certainly on the subject of a candidate’s qualifications. Yet, astonishingly, complaints are made each year by heads of school that a colleague has hired one of their people without making a call. It’s difficult to imagine that such an omission is merely an oversight when hiring decisions are among the most critical a leader makes. But what is even more disconcerting is the possibility that lawsuit intimidation has reached the stage where even a phone call is considered too risky. Let it not be so.

Aside from the ban on truthfulness in our new century, several guidelines still apply to hiring, despite occasional breaches. One is that no school should ever discuss employment with a person already under contract for the period of time in question. Nor should a candidate be interviewed for an immediate job without first notifying his present employer. Candidates should be free, on the other hand, to explore future opportunities in confidence if they are not under contract for the period of time under consideration. It is primarily the candidate’s responsibility to keep her employer informed of job searches, but in the absence of that, it is the potential new employer who must insist on such contact. The point of these guidelines, obviously, is to extend common courtesy to all concerned so that no employer can be accused of piracy, and no candidate of failing to meet his moral and legal obligations.

Sadly, in the wider world of education, not to speak of elsewhere, a kind of open season has become the norm in matters of employment practices. But in the independent school world, for the most part, the remnant lives, and the concept of mutual respect still prevails. When our schools cease to be seekers of truth and respecters of persons, even in this narrow realm, there will be little to distinguish us from anyone else.

Note from Albany

There may be some misunderstanding on private school requirements under recent N.Y. laws. Our schools must file physical plans of buildings with local fire and police departments but are not required to have evacuation plans in case of emergency. (Some schools do so on their own). Nor are private schools at present required to do criminal background checks on new employees, though some may choose to do so.

Job Fair to Promote Diversity

Trinity School, NYC

9 March, 2002

Athletic Directors Conference

Mohonk Mountain House

28-30 April, 2002

Admissions Directors Conference

Mohonk Mountain House

1-3 May, 2002

NYSAIS/CAIS Business Affairs Conference

Mohonk Mountain House

1-3 May, 2002

Contact Barbara Swanson for further information.

( (615) 297-7859 email:

Contact Jeanne Ryan to register.

( (518) 346-5662 email:

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