The problems with imperfect information

This is a post I started writing earlier in the year that didn’t get finished and am now revisiting as it’s recruiting season again …

I’d also say to anyone – if you’re thinking of moving – it’s a really hard thing to do, particularly if you’re happy where you are. However moving and change results in a considerable amount of personal and professional growth – even as it perhaps hurts like pulling a plaster off a wound (cue my bursting into tears at the staff farewell last year).



In November / December last year it became clear that I’d have to put myself on the international selling block as our continued existence in Singapore had become too economically fragile on one (local contract) based salary. And so I entered the fray of job search at international schools. Let’s say it just doesn’t work quite like this in the corporate world where I’d come from. But the longer I was in the process the more it was “same same but different”.

There are a few things that are quite unusual, but for logical reasons. For one you have a deadline by which you need to state your intent to leave or stay and that date is quite early on in the year, often around November. The problem with that is that both the school and the “leaver” could suffer from “well I’m/they’re leaving anyway” syndrome as funding for PD and admission to committees / strategic planning / POC’s dry up.

The other big problem is both schools and candidates have imperfect information – since different schools have different dates, and sometimes extensions can be negotiated, both the pool of jobs and pool of candidates isn’t known at the same time.

Thanks to informal networks like Facebook, if you’re in the right group, you may know about jobs coming up before they’re officially advertised. But the market is dominated by a few recruiters (Search Associates, Schrole, ISS and TES) who have a monopoly on the market without, in my opinion – or perhaps my advisor just didn’t “get it”, adding much value to the equation. Conferences are a great chance to meet people face to face and also to hear what’s happening in the world and who’s thinking of moving, decided to move / retire, move in or out of one part of the school or another.

I thought a lot about what would be a good fit for myself and the school and the family – and one of the interesting things I came across was the idea of the .eHarmony algorithm of compatibility   – sometimes someone at the school (including the current librarian) may know that one person or another wouldn’t be a good fit or would be an excellent fit – so it’s often a good idea to reach out to them.

Something that I’ve always wondered about in the process is why no one ever bothers asking the library staff about candidates – they often know more about what the sphere is like, what the librarian really is doing and how things work than the principal – during last years job rounds I saw some pretty egregious examples of people padding or exaggerating their CV’s and taking credit for predecessor’s work.

If you don’t have an “inside” into the school it’s really hard to have knowledge of the principal / coordinators / departments / teacher attitudes to the library – aside from the dreadful ISR where it seems only people with an axe to grind give their opinions, and even if you know a school at a certain point in time, by the time you start everything could (and often will) change.

There is a heck of a lot you need to know before you jump into a job, and not all of it is as transparent as you’d like it to be – especially while you’re in the “finding out” stages – one of the jobs I was applying for, the previous person had left due to being unable to survive on the salary package – knowledge about salaries, benefits, cost of living is crucial – yet you can’t start asking too early about this, and the information on the recruitment sites is often abysmally out of date – with them hiding behind “we rely on the schools to keep it up to date” – sorry, that’s what you’re being paid for both by the schools and the candidates!

I also gained in self-knowledge due to a lovely encounter with a super principal where I was in the running for a job that I could have done perfectly well, but if I was completely honest with myself was just not the right fit for me (and I subsequently found out would not have been ideal for my family either) – I really appreciate that person’s  kindness in rejecting me in the nicest possible way for the right reasons.

What have I learned? One thing is that it’s easier to be neutral about the process once you’ve finally got a job! A few podcasts that are apparently unrelated have had some interesting insights:

Hidden Brain: Daniel Kahneman On Misery, Memory, And Our Understanding Of The Mind

Freakanomics: Here’s Why All Your Projects Are Always Late — and What to Do About It

Learnings – we are a victim of our cognitive bias including optimism bias, planning fallacy, impulse control and information overload. In addition, it’s generally know that men are over-confident and go for jobs that are a reach, and females under-confident and undersell their abilities (the confidence gap). For job seekers it’s important to start early, budget way more time for the process than you could think is humanely possible, and learn to oversell yourself.  For recruiters, the lesson is that job seekers are going to oversell (particularly if they’re male) and to check references carefully – as much in omission as in commission. In the library field I would always ask library assistants, a couple of teachers and colleagues, besides the curriculum coordinators / principal who may or may not be involved in the detail.

compilationApropos to careers – here is a pretty cool dynamic infographic from Satyan Devadoss
Professor of Mathematics at Williams College on the Impact of Major on Career Path for 15600 Williams College Alums.

And the best advice I got after the initial struggles in my last job, going forward into my new job was “don’t water the rocks” – i.e. work with the people who want to work with you and it will take a lot of pressure off the initial months that are hard enough anyway.


2 thoughts on “The problems with imperfect information

  1. The points you make about the search companies’ sometimes cavalier attitude towards their clients, schools and individuals, resonate, Nadine. (Your whole post resonates; thank you.).

    The whole business of moving on is fraught – some schools want 3 month’s notice, some want 9 months. For those with the longer period of notice, it can be a gamble, jumping before you know where you will land… Sometimes the best jobs are advertised at very short notice, once it is too late for you to quit your own job (unless you choose to break contract) – though it is more usual for those plum posts to be advertised early in the season, or for the present librarian at least to post a possible intent on a forum such as this.

    You make good points about networking, getting to know people… It is good practice anyway, but if one is thinking of moving on, then the network might well be more amenable to passing on inside information.

    One irritation about the lottery of job-seeking and interviews and job fairs: the schools which post that they will ONLY appoint at designated job fairs, and then you get to the job fair to find they awarded the post to someone who visited the school a few weeks before. That is irritating and can be expensive (if you travel to a job fair with specific posts in mind and discover the positions are already filled). It’s a good tactic, though, if you can afford it, time and money – to visit schools you are applying to (or thinking of applying to) – you’ll get a first-hand impression of the school and be able to see the people who might advise, even if the school is not ready to interview for the post.

    And of course the positions that come up just after you have signed a new contract, the ones that come up in the odd years when your two-year contracts end in the even years…

    One last thought: if you are tempted by a new position which would mean that you’d have to break contract if you are appointed, and if you are on good terms with your administration, let them know as early as you can that you are even considering this. You might well get their full support (I did when I was in this situation)… they probably won’t bend the contract, you’d lose any end-of-contract benefits such as transport or freight, but they will appreciate your integrity; you are more likely to get a good reference and continued support to the end of your employment – and it gives them time to seek your replacement too.

    Honesty on all sides works.



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