A good hire starts before there’s even a vacancy, says John Simi, Technology Specialist for Shelby (Tenn.) County Schools. His team makes sure job descriptions are constantly up-to-date.

Jul 23 2007

How to Find Your Best IT Fit

Following these standards will help ensure you get the right person for your department.

Following these standards will help ensure you get the right person for your department.

Each well-run organization must have good facilities, an exceptional product and a sizable customer pool, but more important, it must have dedicated employees who strive for excellence. This is especially true when that organization serves hundreds or thousands of customers ranging in age from 5 to 18.

While every school, public or private, big or small, strives to educate each of its students as efficiently as possible, there is one standard that can help all schools succeed: hiring the right employee. And with the growth of technology in classrooms every year, hiring in the IT department is becoming a bigger piece of the school puzzle.


While hiring practices and departmental structure can vary greatly from school to school and district to district, there are three basics that every school follows: attracting the best applicants, conducting fair and meaningful job interviews, and picking the right candidate. But there are many different ways to accomplish these goals. These best practices from IT experts will help you sharpen your IT hiring policies.

Creating Accurate Job Descriptions

“Finding the best person for any position requires patience, planning and input from my entire team,” says John Simi, technology specialist for Shelby (Tenn.) County Schools. Simi and two other tech specialists work in the central office and oversee the district’s 10 school-based curriculum technology trainers (CTTs). Simi’s group is involved with the hiring of the entire district’s CTTs. While this department used to number 30, budget constraints have squeezed the group to just 10 workers, making the contribution of each employee even more important.

Simi’s work starts well before there’s an actual job opening. His first task is to create accurate job descriptions and ensure that they remain up to date. CTT job descriptions were written several years ago when the positions were revamped, allowing for more connectivity with the teachers at each of the district’s 49 schools and training school workers on a variety of new hardware and software tools. Every year, Simi and his team review the descriptions. “We look at what our CTTs are actually doing in the schools. This allows us to be prepared in case a new hire is needed,” Simi says.

The director of information technology at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools follows a similar procedure. At one of the nation’s premier independent pre-K–12 schools, Curt Lieneck must keep his department’s nine positions filled with quality staff.

“Detailed job descriptions are required and must accurately reflect the role the person plays,” says Lieneck. To make this task easier, he keeps a quarterly activity report detailing every technology department project. This allows Lieneck to see any recurring patterns, needs or problems that are not being addressed by his current staff.

He is then better able to determine whether current positions need to be redesigned or a new position is needed. When Lieneck approached his supervisor about adding a network resources technician to his department, he presented a historical needs analysis narrative based on these past quarterly reports to support the necessity for this new position.

“Having done this over the years, I can easily present to my boss the needs in my department based on factual data rather than subjective recollection,” he says. He also gives these reports to job applicants so they have an idea of what the position would entail.

The university technology department is a highly collaborative one. Those in Lieneck’s department help edit job descriptions before they are presented to other administrators. Once the human resources department approves the job description, the job is posted on the school and university’s Web site. He also posts openings on the Lake Michigan Area Independent Schools’ electronic list server, the Independent School Educators’ list server, the Independent Schools Association of the Central States’ list server, and International Association for Language Learning Technology teaching groups, as well as content teaching lists.

Creating a Process

Hiring an effective IT employee may not be as easy as 1-2-3, but this checklist will help you set up your own effective standards.

Quantify your need:

  • Can current duties be reassigned to your department or other departments?
  • Can volunteers be used? Students?
  • Would it be cheaper to outsource the position to some group such as Computer Explorers (www.computerexplorers.com)?
  • Get a Tech Audit: Educational Collaborators (www.educollaborators.com) offers consulting services for schools that want to reassess their technology goals, while the Anytime, Anywhere Learning Foundation (aalf.org) offers services for schools interested in 1:1 programs.

Determine what you need and create a job description:

  • Collaborate with all members of the technology department.
  • Keep quarterly summaries of duties — determine if the trends spell out the need for a new position.
  • Make sure each person’s job description clearly reflects what they actually do.
  • Make sure the position fits with the goals of your school or district by consulting with your school’s principal.
  • Consult your technology long-range plan (you do have one, don’t you?) to make sure you are hiring for the needs you have.

Advertise (see Making a Match, pg. 52). Interview:

  • Review resumes and cut the pool down to five to seven possibilities.
  • Conduct a short personal interview (30 minutes) that includes explaining the job and the school’s philosophy. Ask each candidate the same questions.
  • Narrow down to two to three candidates.
  • Have a second interview with department officials (up to one hour).
  • Discuss how the candidate will fit into the department.
  • Introduce the candidates to your supervisor/principal.
  • Invite one to two candidates back for a half-day or day-long visit to meet others within the school, to determine overall fit and understanding.
  • Make final decision, placing personal phone calls to finalists who did not get the job.

Setting Up the First Cut

Once the applications start rolling in, various schools handle the first round of reviews differently. Shelby County sends all applications to its human resources office to be assessed for minimum requirements.

Karen Douse at Nashville’s Harpeth Hall School takes this a step further. She hires a consultant to do the preliminary work of going through the many resumes and conducting preliminary interviews. “I don’t have the detailed technical knowledge to determine what questions to ask for a technical position, but once the consultant has narrowed down the choices, I interview the applicants to determine their personal skills and how they will work in a school environment.” She also stresses the importance of devoting a lot of time to the hiring process.

Joseph Peacock uses list servers to find potential employees, but for him they double as a professional barometer. “I would encourage anyone doing hiring to look first for someone who is actively involved in a list [server] or with his/her own community of independent school techies,” says the director of technology at Burgundy Farm Country Day School in Alexandria, Va.

Prepping for Interviews

Of course, the most important part of the hiring process is the second-to-last step: interviewing candidates. Some hiring managers use team interviews, others painstakingly spell out the job’s duties, while some people prefer to concentrate on how well they think a candidate will fit into their district.

Simi conducts team interviews, typically using people from the human resources department, a school principal or assistant principal, a current curriculum technology coordinator, and all three of the district’s technology specialists. Before the interviews take place, the team meets to determine what questions will be asked and by whom. Each member of the interview team typically asks the same question of each candidate. Simi says this process ensures all interviews are conducted in the same manner. “It also makes sure that we explain everything to the candidate about the job they are applying for.”

Doug Sackett, technology director at Washington, D.C.’s Lowell School, uses the process to educate candidates. He is adamant the job is fully explained to each applicant. “Technology positions can involve many areas of expertise and responsibility. Even potentially good hires may turn out ill suited, unless they know exactly what they are going to be asked to do.”

Lieneck usually interviews four of the 20 applicants he receives for each job. His interview team consists of anyone who may be involved in working with the candidate.

Making the Choice

Lieneck takes a new approach after the interview process — not only does he take narrative notes during the interview, but he uses the software GarageBand to record his impressions and reflections after reviewing his written notes and getting feedback on the candidate from other staff who assisted in the interview. “It saves time typing up notes, and I can transcribe the audio recordings if human resources needs more comprehensive written notes.”

For some people, rating skills can go only so far in judging an applicant. For Bobby Ireland, the most important aspect of the interview is not the technical skills the applicant has, but how he or she relates to others. “This is especially important in technology, as most of us wear many hats and must not only troubleshoot software but explain to users how to address the problem the next time,” says the director of technology at St. Agnes Academy-St. Dominic School in Memphis, Tenn. It’s important to discover how an applicant will react in a school setting. “They must be respectful and understand the education of students is paramount and all technology staff should assist in promoting that in whatever way possible.”

There are about as many ways to conduct the interview process as there are job positions, but the important thing is to create a sensible game plan and follow it. This will allow for all candidates to have a fair chance to represent themselves and for the interview team to objectively review their options.

Making a Match

Fifteen places to look for technology staff members

Within Your School or District

  • Teachers often make the best technology staff because they can relate to the teachers they work with.

Join Electronic List Servers

Independent School Educators: http://listserv.syr.edu/scripts/wa.exe?A2=ind0404B&L=ISED-L&D=0&P=13829

International Society for Technology in Education’s Special Interest Groups: www.iste.org/sigs

EdResource: www.tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/edresource

Attend Conferences

Online Postings

  • Most professional education associations have job centers on their Web sites.
  • Your school or district Web site
  • Online job sites (hotjobs.com, monster.com, yahoo.com, google.com)

Resumes on File

  • Keep all resumes sent to you, even if you don’t have a current opening.
  • Consider Search Firms
  • Carney Sandoe offers searches for independent schools: www.carneysandoe.com.
  • Isaacson, Miller specializes in nonprofit searches, including both public and private K–12 education: www.imsearch.com.
  • The Education Group specializes in public and private education searches: www.educationgroup.com.


  • Word-of-mouth advertising can be one of the most successful ways to find a good employee.

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