New School, New Head: Solving the Search Solution - The Recruitment process for the new Brookes International School in Moscow

Brookes Education Group owns and operates seven international school campuses in Bangalore, India; Cambridge, UK; Seoul, South Korea; Shawnigan, Canada; and three new campuses: Silicon Valley, California, US; Victoria, Canada; and Moscow, Russia.

Brookes Moscow will open in September 2018 as a newly built, state of the art, K-12 school for 800 local and expatriate students in the Botanical Garden district of Moscow. Here, TIC talks with David Rose, UK Director and Partner in Brookes Education Group about his approach to leadership recruitment for the brand new Brookes Moscow international school:

TIC: What was your strategy for your headteacher search for Brookes Moscow?

David: We thought it was important to get someone into the position early; ideally 12 months in advance.

We began by looking to see where we might recruit from and the kind of person we would be looking for. We considered several sources for candidates: Search fairs, advertising in the TES, LinkedIn, and recruitment agents. I have known Andrew Wigford for about 15 years and have been aware of the work TIC Recruitment has been doing for many years; I used TIC for some previous recruitment needs in London. We decided to use TIC because we knew they have a good knowledge of the international school market and understand the particular style of Head we would be looking for.

There were obviously costs involved in using a recruitment agency which initially seemed expensive, but when we considered what we’d have needed to spend travelling to different places, extensive advertising, etc. and the time that would have been required to handle the selection process ourselves, it made sense.

For the Heads position, TIC supplied me with about 20 really good CVs. They came through to me fairly rapidly; 4 or 5 each day. This meant it was easy for me to manage them; to read through, talk to my colleagues, and feed back to TIC. What was really helpful was that all the CVs from TIC were in the same format so you could get the information you needed very quickly and compare applications easily. The layout that TIC provides for its candidates’ CVs answer all the immediate questions you might have. TIC found us a good range of candidates from far and wide; different experiences, and from different countries including China, and some people who were Russian based or had had some experience working in Russia.

We didn’t set a firm deadline for a final decision, which meant we were able to accept applications for some time.

Because we’re a global group and wanted to attract quality candidates from all over the world, it didn’t make sense to hold interviews in one particular location, so we decided to use skype for most of our initial selection. I had a conversation with most of the candidates that TIC proposed. My skype conversations were fairly short for some people, for others there were additional skypes too. Andrew and the team at TIC had obviously selected appropriate candidates. They had also given them enough information about the role so that, by the time I spoke to them, they were already interested, although some, of course, were also interested in other positions too and, as a result, wanted to make fairly quick decisions which we weren’t in a position to do.

Eventually we were ready to get face-to-face with one person, Charley King, who was our serious candidate. He met some of our criteria: he already had international school leadership school experience, he had worked in Moscow, he didn’t have IB experience which, ideally, we wanted, but what he did seem to have were the qualities to be an energetic start-up leader. We needed someone who understood about starting up a new school, who could lead the staff, but also who didn’t worry about getting their hands dirty.

We decided to meet Charley as a group, which wasn’t easy as we are based around the world, so interviewed him in Luxembourg when we were together as a company for other reasons. It was worth it; it made a difference to us, meeting Charley face to face, getting to know his personality better, and for him to get to know us. He was probably the 4th or 5th best candidate we had in terms of experience alone; he hadn’t been a head of a whole school, he didn’t have IB experience, he is quite young, and he is very British which, when you’re thinking about opening up an international school, you have to think about the style of school that you want. So, there were a few hesitations. But once we met him, and understood his appetite for the job, and knowledge of the city, we felt he was the best choice. It was very much about the person and their character as well as their experience.

Charley was already a Principal at another school in Moscow. We did have some concerns about appointing locally as we did not want to create animosity with the international schools in the city. We did not headhunt him or any other positions; all applications have come to us based on general advertisements; we believed that was important and were very careful about that. However, we felt Charley was the right decision for the school and we had very favourable response from prospective families already living in Moscow who knew him. He was well liked by children, parents and staff, and this attracted many people to the school. He also had his own apartment and his own family life already established in the city which was a big advantage.

We appointed Charley last summer, twelve months prior to school opening in September 2018.

One of the big advantages of using TIC Recruitment was that we are a fairly small, young school group. Using TIC; an experienced and respected specialist recruitment company, gives us a bit of status that we don’t yet have ourselves. TIC also gave us structure to our recruitment; the formality they employ with applications and forms helped us and gave us a more professional feel. Also, a lot of international teachers, particularly those in leadership positions, know and trust TIC. I don’t know where else we would have looked to give us such credibility. TIC gave us that recognition; almost a seal of approval.

What advice would you offer to other schools and school groups about working with a recruitment agency?

Speed is important. At the moment, we have a couple of projects going on, including opening a school in Oman. The pace of that school opening is quite frightening as we want to open in September. We haven’t started recruiting for that yet. In the next 10 days, I need to start that process and I know that straight away, TIC Recruitment will have a pool of candidates that they can recommend who I will feel quite confident about.

Don’t accept any and all candidates; make sure your agency works hard on selection. I’ve seen that a lot of work goes on behind the scenes at TIC to make sure the calibre of candidates is good, and that a school receives applications of candidates that are right for its needs.

Use a recruitment agency that specialises internationally and works with teachers and leaders all over the world. TIC brings us a diverse range of quality candidates, whereas many agencies provide candidates from primarily one country only, and very few have access to candidates with good international experience.

Don’t be too formal with your interview process. Try and bring some informality to the process so that you can get to know someone, at the same time as assessing the qualities you need.

As the number of international schools grow, are you finding it more difficult to recruit quality leaders?

It seems that there are more and more people who are interested in working in international schools, but they are being choosey about where they want to go. We know people are really looking carefully at what’s available for them around the world today and taking the best packages; that might mean where they would feel most comfortable living, a good salary and benefits package, somewhere that’s a great hub for travelling, or a school that offers them a stepping-stone for their career. We know good people can pick and choose to a certain extent today. So, we set our pay package and benefits at quite a generous level to be competitive.

We were fortunate with our Moscow leadership position as it appealed to many people; Moscow is an attractive city, plus it’s going to be a fantastic school building, and an excellent opportunity professionally. But moving to Moscow can be a concern for some and it does have awful winters and very hot summers; some people don’t want that.

Recruitment for our school in India is quite hard. A lot of people who choose to work in India do so for the international adventure and only plan to work there for a couple of years. In Moscow, on the other hand, we have quite a few staff bringing families. The cost of this for us might well be higher for accommodating them, but these people tend to want to settle for longer and that’s a big benefit for a school.

Our Head of school in Seoul wanted to see his potential candidates face to face, so he came over to the Search recruitment fair for 4 days this year and he found it really difficult. People weren’t deciding; they wanted to find better packages. For that kind of event, people were weighing up a whole range of options and didn’t seem to know where they really wanted to go. With TIC, on the other hand, we get a pretty clear understanding that if there’s an appointment people are applying for, they are serious about it.

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