Recruiting Fair Diary, London

About this Article:  Recruiting Fair Diary, London presents us with the unique opportunity to share a recruiting couple’s very personal Fair experience. From their interviews, to strategies and the emotional strain of waiting for phone calls from directors that never came, it’s all here. If you’ve been searching for real insight into the recruiting experience, this is it.

With eighteen years of combined International teaching experience, Master’s degrees and IB experience under their belt, the London Fair was the first-ever Recruiting Fair attended by the author and partner. In the author’s own words:  I’ve benefited much but contributed nothing to previous ISR discussions, so it’s now time for me to give a little back…

Our objective was straightforward:  a good school in western Europe which had positions for both of us. We had already turned down requests for interviews from some good schools in southeast Asia (been there) and central Asia (ten years ago maybe), but on the eve of the Fair there was just the single school with advertised positions that matched our interests. My partner and I had already sent letters of application to this school and to a few others with a position for at least one of us, all the time expecting that more matching posts would appear once we were at the Fair. We left for London already facing limited options and wondered openly whether we should relent from our narrow focus and expand to consider non-European schools. However, we also knew that our current school was keen to keep us and had generously extended our notification deadline to the first week after the Fair, so if we left London with no Contracts that didn’t mean we would be jobless for the next school year.

The evening before the Fair tested our resolve as a great school in east Asia, whose fortunes we had been following for years, emailed us asking to interview before sign-up. Neither my partner nor I would have considered working at School A as anything other than a great outcome for our job search:  the positions, school, the city, the package, the leadership – everything appealed, notwithstanding that it was not Europe. Some advice that had always been given to us about approaching a Fair had been to go in with open minds, and we were prepared to change our plans if it meant working at School A. We accepted the invitation to interview and prepared to fly out that night with a heightened sense of expectation.

DAY 1:
We arrived in London in the early morning and after the three-hour commute from Heathrow to Gloucester Rd. Station, we were thankful we had changed our original flight times. Had they been kept, we would have arrived late for the 1:00 pm Fair orientation. The orientation itself wasn’t too informative – it basically covered the information in the pre-Fair emails sent by Search – but the timely arrival meant we could prepare for that unexpected early interview with School A. Also, that morning another school we were interested in, this one in a great northern European city, had invited my partner to interview at the same time as the orientation. Schools will schedule interviews as soon as it is convenient for them to do so, so an early Fair arrival can be helpful to candidates.

We also had time to reconnoiter the Fair venue, touch base with our Associate, survey job listings in the candidate lounge, check the candidates’ mail room, and drop our CVs and notes into recruiters’ folders in the schools’ mail room.

A few observations:
1) The school listings in the lounge area was almost identical to what was on the Search database, something that surprised us.

2) There was not a single paper communication other than advertising to our candidate folders for the duration of the Fair.

3) We wondered whether the paper CVs and handwritten notes had any effect on potential recruiters as we garnered absolutely no interest from this contact method.

4) We were again grateful that out hotel was only 100 meters from the Fair venue, and we welcomed the opportunity to take breaks from the Fair venue to relax and reflect.

Two Fair features worth mentioning were the Attendify App and Fair Portal. The former was activated about a week before the Fair and allowed us to contact other candidates and, later, we used it to contact school representatives once mutual interest had been established, either through email or at sign-up. The Fair Portal on the Search site was particularly useful, among other things, for its list of school representatives who would be attending the Fair. A few days before the Fair, my partner and I emailed the directors and principals of our target schools to remind them of our applications and that we looked forward to meeting them at the sign-up. Most of the messages that we sent were at least acknowledged and a couple were keen on arranging an interview, so this enabled us to queue-jump later at interview sign-up. We also wondered whether Attendify and the Fair Portal would eventually supplant the need for mail rooms for candidates and recruiters respectively. Our experience with the App and the Portal was generally positive, much less so with the mail rooms.

My partner’s interview with School B’s section leader went well and was told that a follow-up Skype interview with other staff would be arranged for the next day. However, no position was open yet for me though the prospect of something becoming available was a possibility closer to the end of the school year. Our joint interview with School A’s director and section leader went very well. Each showed knowledgeable familiarity with our CVs and they sold us on their educational philosophy and vision for the school. Our heads were turned, and the prospect of working at this school with these leaders became a very appealing one. We were contacted after the interview and informed that School A wished to progress our application, asked if referees could be contacted, and if so, would set up follow-up interviews with our prospective line managers in the days ahead. My partner’s interview was scheduled for Day 2 of the Fair, and I was told mine would be set for a later day. What we inferred from this delay was that other candidates had probably (and reasonably) been prioritized ahead of me.

The sign-up was bedlam. Schools from countries whose names started with A-K were in one venue (downstairs), while the rest were upstairs (or vice versa, I can’t recall). My partner and I approached three schools only, all in western Europe and to which we had sent applications before the Fair:  two which had positions for me only, and one which had had positions for both of us. The first two were interested in me (I’d like to think) but confirmed that nothing was available for my partner, so we agreed there was little point in pursuing the application. The only other target school at the Fair with jobs for both of us – School C – invited us to interview on Day 2.

Day 1 Summary – A joint interview concluded with School A in east Asia with the prospect of follow-ups; a single interview for my partner with School B with a follow-up scheduled for the next day; a joint interview with School C set for Day 2.

DAY 2:
My partner had a successful follow-up Skype interview with School B, and this led to a job offer. As it was in a great city, we considered the merit of accepting the offer and on something becoming available for me at a later stage or at another school in the same city. However,
we stuck to our plan, and with some regret had to turn down the offer. My partner also felt the Skype interview with School A went very well, though news of when my interview was scheduled was not yet forthcoming. Our joint interview with School C’s head of section went extremely well, we thought, and we considered that an easy rapport had been struck with the interviewer, someone who was likable, asked insightful questions, and with whom we felt we could easily work. The interviewer asked if referees could be contacted and, if all went well, we could expect follow-up interviews to be scheduled. There was one caveat, though:  the position for me was a tentative opening, and School C was waiting on whether the incumbent could confirm their intention to take up a position elsewhere.

Day 2 Summary My partner concluded a follow-up interview with School A but mine was yet to be scheduled; School B had offered my partner a job but it was declined; School C, the intention of follow-up interviews declared but not yet scheduled. My partner and I retired to the nearby Stanhope Arms, reviewed where we stood through the lens of a few brews, and compared Fair experiences with a friend and fellow job-seeker from another school. We thought it prudent to contact our referees about the likelihood of reference checks, and did just that before turning in, asking them to let us know if they had been contacted by representatives of either School A or School C.

DAY 3:
Anxiety sets in.
This was a long day. We waited in our hotel room for news that never arrived. School A from east Asia did not contact me about any follow-up interview, and neither my partner nor I heard from School C in Europe about any follow-up at all. Moreover, there was no sign that our referees had been contacted. Disconsolate anxiety set in. Had we been vain to think we were nearer the line than we were? Were we among many similar candidates for these schools, and if so, just how far back in the rank could we be not to receive even a polite message from either school about the progress of our applications? We were sorely tempted to use the Attendify App to contact the reps but thought better of it. Patience was our only recourse, but we were running short. In the end, we tried to distract ourselves by attending a few school presentations. Apart from a few, most weren’t very interesting or informative, with presenters relying on video clips about their school that we had already viewed online. The exceptions, though, were great schools, and with a view in mind for future possibilities we took time to speak to their directors afterwards.

DAY 4:
Our Patience Gives Way.
Finally! That morning I was contacted by School A to schedule a Skype call later that day with prospective line managers. The interview went well but revealed to me the challenges of the position, and the feeling I was left with was that I may not have been the ideal candidate, but neither had they identified anyone who may have been better. As for School C, our patience gave way and we emailed the section head to query the progress of our application. There was no reply.

We checked in with our Associate, whose modus operandi seemed to be to reflect whatever it was the candidate was thinking:  the advice was philosophically sanguine but ultimately helped little.

The next morning we were to fly out of Heathrow with nothing to show from the Fair. The relative hurly-burly of the first two days had delivered no result, and our conclusion was that we would be doing this all over again in a year’s time.

Both schools were ‘live’ again.
The day after the Fair we heard back from School A, explaining the jigsaw that is school recruitment and asking us to clarify when the deadline was for notifying our current school. We latched onto this sign of hope, explained the situation to our head of school who granted us a few extra days before having to declare our intentions. Also, our referees began to be contacted by School A, so we surmised that we remained well and truly under consideration for our respective positions. And then two days after the Fair, School C contacts us to say the incumbent for my position was leaving and asked us to Skype interview with prospective line managers the next day. They, too, began reference checks, and it seemed to us that if all went well, we would have a decision to make between two appealing schools:  one a renowned school in east Asia (some might call it a powerhouse) and the other an attractive post in a Europe. Both offered financially attractive packages and were we offered posts at the one school my partner and I would have been extremely satisfied. The second round of School C interviews went very well once more, with confirmation as far as we could tell that leadership, policy, and practice aligned. School C then requested a third round of interviews, this time with prospective team colleagues, a full six days after the Fair. The head of school remained in frequent contact over this period, and we remained transparent about the progress of our application with School A (as we had with School A in regard to School C). It now seemed a matter of which of the two schools would be the first to make us an offer.

It was School C, a week after the conclusion of the Fair. Verbal agreement secured, a paper Contract was dispatched the next working day – my partner and I were going to a great school in a great part of Europe!

My Takeaways from the Fair: 
1) If you have a strong working relationship with your current school, keep them abreast of your intentions and – if you can – try to secure some extension to the date you are required to declare your intentions. This ‘backstop’ option certainly worked for us!

2) Get to the Fair early, even the day before. If you have applied already for positions and let your schools know about your availability for early interviews, then they may very well take advantage of this opportunity.

3) Be specific about what you’re seeking, even if that might limit the number of interviews or job offers you receive. I felt all our interviews went well, although at the Fair itself we had only a combined total of three first-contact interviews. I’m not sure how many quality first-interviews I could’ve given, and it was easier to be keen when my enthusiasm for schools and positions was genuine.

4) The recruitment action for us started in earnest after the Fair, and the timeline for decision-making may extend beyond a week following the last day. Sure, our sample range was limited to two schools, but both operated in a similar manner and required a sequence of responses from us: a) establish an accord with the head of school or section; b) confirm capabilities with line managers; c) demonstrate the prospect for a working rapport with peers.

5) Explain both gaps in teaching career and other workplace experiences. Both School A and C remarked with interest on our Search biographies, which are not regular by any stretch but they do account for periods in our lives that did not involve teaching.

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5 thoughts on “Recruiting Fair Diary, London

  1. I was told, after the fair, that most schools would only consider teachers with ten years of international experience and five of PYP, irregardless of any other credentials and experience.


    1. I was told that it looks rather bad for a teacher to use a non-word like “irregardless.” 🙂

      Sorry, I couldn’t resist.


  2. I find that Search often highlight specific candidates due to the working relationship they have with schools. Relationships with your associate can also be hit and miss.
    I’ve never found a suitable position from this fair despite paying to get there, hotels, etc.
    People are treated like cattle and it’s a stampede when those door opens. Does it actually matter if you get to your chosen school in first, fifth or tenth place?
    My partner and I have reached the end of our tether with such fairs. We won’t be going again. There are plenty of other ways to find jobs out there, with less stress, more personality and for a lot less cost.


    1. I appreciate your perspective (and that of the article’s author).

      I’ve gotten the same sense of Search, and would never pay them anything. Setting aside the fact that (unless you’re in the UK) you’re paying them a very high fee to represent you and shelling out a vacation budget to attend their fairs, I’ve found that other agencies (including some that don’t charge candidates at all or cause candidates to rack up such expenses) show far more respect and concern for teachers.

      It’s a truly awful culture at Search. Nonresponsiveness and favoritism speak to more than their failure to exercise their fiduciary duty to their clients. They speak to a fundamental lack of concern for the quality of international education, writ large.


  3. My feeling is that London is maybe the most difficult teaching fair of all. You and a partner can have a combined 40 years experience, top degrees, be well-dressed, quick-witted and funny, but so are 20 other couples (due to the filtering process by Search). It is a great fair, but the ball is definitely in the school’s court in London!


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