If you’re in the process of hiring an administrator for your private school, you know that the stakes are high. Administrators play a pivotal role on any school team by enabling the rest of the staff to do their jobs well. Plus, they’re often the first representation of the school to the students and parents, both current and prospective.
It can be tricky to hire for a job that requires such a varied skill set.
For example, if the administrator’s role includes responsibility for tasks like keeping official records, your top job candidates will need to be able to demonstrate a keen eye for detail. However, as the gatekeepers for the whole school, they’ll also need to be able to keep the big picture in mind.
Although most admin positions require plenty of technical skills, such as familiarity with software and spreadsheets, their people skills will be just as important; school administrators are expected to interact with parents, children, and staff almost constantly.
At private schools, in particular, each staff member tends to wear many hats. You’ll want to find someone with a well-rounded set of skills.
To make the best hire, get specific about what skills are the most important for the job. Regardless of your unique needs, most school administrators need some combination of the following characteristics.
Technical and Organizational Skills
School administrators are usually tasked with important clerical and administrative duties, such as collecting tuition and fees, managing inventories, and serving as an official registrar for things like academic progress and attendance records.
That’s why whomever is in this role should be very organized and have some experience with record-keeping.
If you expect your administrator to hit the ground running, list in the job description the need for experience in specific programs, such as your school administration software, school information system, accounting software, or office docs software.
However, in many cases, it’s actually more important for good administrators to be willing and able to throw themselves into learning new software and computer programs. After all, your school’s tech needs will change over time. Most administrators will need to learn new programs at some point.
Make sure to list any other technical skills that are important to your particular needs, such as typing expertise, familiarity with certain rules or regulations, or proficiency with spreadsheets.
To test for these technical and organizational skills before you hire, consider giving candidates short test assignments and evaluating the results before they come in for an interview.
Personal relationships are powerful tools in a school community. They build an engaged, willing-to-help group of parents, teachers, and students who feel connected to one another and the greater mission of the school.
When you’re hiring for this role, you need to check for candidates’ people skills. (Don’t be fooled by the term “soft skills.” They can be even more difficult to acquire than technical skills.)
If you have any hesitations about a candidate’s rapport with you or others — their eye contact, their body language, their choice of words — take note. The best candidates for these positions are almost always those who take a real, genuine interest in people and naturally put others at ease.
You can also build emotional intelligence assessment into the interview process by asking questions like those suggested in this Fast Company article. For example, you may ask them to teach you something, or to tell you about a personal learning experience. You can also ask them to describe a prior personal work relationship or how their team worked together to accomplish tasks. See if you can gauge their ability to empathize with others and take responsibility for their own actions.
Written Communication Skills
Most school administrators are in charge of fielding written communications between the school leadership and teachers and the parents. Their responsibilities also often include drafting of official documents such as the student handbook and other official policies and guides.
Administrative duties for private schools also often bleed into marketing duties such as newsletters and social media.
If you expect your administrators to take an active role in these kinds of tasks, verify that winning candidates can express their thoughts clearly and have a strong grasp on grammar.
Written communication skills can be tested throughout the hiring process, especially if you require them to email you for some of the hiring process. If a candidate can’t express themselves clearly or is sloppy with their writing, it’s definitely a bad sign.
Rapport with Kids
Before you make a final decision on a candidate, you should absolutely observe how they interact with students.
We’ve all met people who seem fine with adults but clueless when they talk to kids — which would be a big problem for someone in this role. After all, there are plenty of admin assistant jobs for people who prefer adults; you want someone in this role who enjoys children and makes them feel comfortable.
Check candidates’ resumes for experience working with children and ask their references about their rapport with kids before you ever bring someone in for an interview. Once you see them in person, make sure they get a chance to spend time around students. If they act awkward or continue to focus on you without paying attention to the children in the room, it’s a red flag.
As important as it is for admins to be warm, friendly, and great with kids, administrators should still project a sense of professionalism, competence, and authority. After all, they play a very significant role on the business end of your school and are entrusted with important personal information.
Professional administrators greet visitors in person and on the phone clearly and calmly. They are patient with flustered parents and teachers. They are aware that the way they dress, act, and appear reflects on the school. They understand how to handle students’ information with the utmost discretion. They show up on time every day (a skill that is particularly important for the person who is often in charge of tracking absences and tardies for students).
Pay attention to how candidates present themselves throughout the interview process and take note of the candidates who conduct themselves with poise and professionalism.
Administrators often serve in an assistant role, from compiling reports for the principal to taking messages for teachers. However, that doesn’t mean that the best candidates won’t also demonstrate leadership skills.School admins may mostly serve in assistant roles. But they can still demonstrate great leadership. Click To Tweet
The best school administrators take initiative as opposed to simply waiting for orders. They’ll try to improve overall processes with the school’s big-picture goals in mind. They’ll make an effort to improve their own skills and education so they can be better at their job. And they’ll happily step outside of their technical job description to help others when needs arise.
To find someone with leadership skills in this role, look at the past job experience on their resume for promotions, commendations, and a general upward trajectory. During interviews, ask about times they took initiative or went outside of their comfort zone. If possible, verify with references.
Make sure you do more than just keep these characteristics in mind. Hire in a structured, objective way by having interviewers score these characteristics separately.
What to read next: 5 Time-Saving Tools for High School Administrators