01/30/2024 by Art Charles |

5 Lessons Learned from International Leadership Searches

by Art Charles

CS&A’s International Schools Practice offers a team of seasoned school leaders who have assisted more than 300 schools, mostly international, in finding senior administrators.  We have successfully completed searches for international schools large and small, in more than 50 countries.  As a group of consultants, we have more than 45 years of experience as school leaders ourselves.  As a result of our many searches, we have learned some important lessons about how to guide a successful search for a new school leader from first considerations to assisting with a smooth transition. For example, we have learned:

1. A successful search requires an articulated, well-woven search process

We come with no preconceptions about the school and treat every school as being unique. Our process begins with a site visit (in-person, virtual or hybrid), which allows the consultants to understand the opportunities and challenges as well as the desired profile for the next Head of School.  We meet with as many members of the school community as possible to understand their thoughts about these areas.  Our findings are reported to the search committee and serve as a basis for the Position Description we send to qualified candidates, the interview questions we pose to the strongest candidates, and the profiles we write for the candidates we present.

2. Searches take time

We typically suggest allotting 4-5 months for a Head of School/Director search.  Our goal is usually to have the new Head’s appointment in time for a full academic year of transition.  The first several months of the search process involve the consultants collecting information about the school and the position, getting the announcement out worldwide to potential candidates and sources, creating a comprehensive Position Description, and then evaluating the pool of potential candidates,­­­­­­ interviewing them, selecting those who seem to be the best fits with the desired profile, and then presenting extensive dossiers that explain why the candidates are the best match for the position.  After the consultants present the candidates, the search committee must read and evaluate the dossiers for 8-12 candidates, interview semi-finalists and then invite candidates to campus to meet the school community.

3. Consultants and search committees work in partnership

We have found that search committees are unique in terms of their composition and experience with school leadership.  ­­­­­­­­We have worked with search committees that have deep experience with previous searches and committees whose members who are new to the process.  At CS&A we are adept at sensing the level of advice and counsel we should provide search committees. We have also compiled an extensive library of forms and guidelines for every aspect of a leadership search.

4. Communication must be timely, frequent and informative

We provide frequent and timely communication with the search committee.  Having several consultants on a search means that all emails will be answered as quickly as possible. No communication to the public is sent out without prior approval of the search committee.  After the consultants have presented candidates to the search committee, we suggest frequent touch points with the candidate to build their enthusiasm and further inform them about the school.

5. Flexibility is key

A successful search will result in candidates who match what the school is seeking in its next Head.  We present only those candidates we feel have the experience and skill sets to move the school forward.  The search committee may also find that, over the course of the search process, the needs of the school may change or the particular strengths of some of the candidates may change their thoughts about requirements.

In addition, it is not unusual for candidates to be involved in multiple searches with multiple search firms.  It is important for search committees to keep an open mind about all the candidates – one of them will be the next Head of School.  Falling in love with a single candidate can limit potential options. Our CS&A team is prepared to pivot if and when the unexpected occurs.


As a result of our process, almost all our searches have been successful and completed on time or before the expected completion date.  Search committees have often told us that they would be pleased to hire any of the three finalists we have presented.

We are pleased when a search is successful and enjoy receiving testimonials like the following:

“We interviewed 3 search firms and hired Art Charles and John Chandler of Carney Sandoe to help us lead the search.  They educated our first-time search committee members on process, commitments, and best practices.  ….  Carney Sandoe helped us conduct an efficient and effective Zoom-only search process during COVID, without compromising the integrity of the process or the search’s outcome …  Generally, their response time was two hours or less, regardless of the time difference.  They were extremely kind, patient, and thorough and encouraged us to evaluate fit throughout the process. In the end we couldn’t be happier with our head of school.”

Dave Wilson, Search Co-Chair, American College of Sofia

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