We like specialists. We all prefer a doctor, lawyer or repair person who really knows her stuff.
Years ago, I interviewed for a job at the Department of Justice. The attorney that interviewed me took a lot of time to read my resume. It was two pages, but it highlighted a wide variety of professional preparation. To her credit, she looked me in the eye and told me that every item on my resume that highlighted a skill or background that wasn’t exactly what she wanted detracted from my candidacy. I always considered diversity of experience a strength, but as my interviewer made clear, some employers view diverse experience as a liability. If one candidate spent the last ten years doing one job, and another candidate held a variety of jobs, it seemed like a good bet to go with the seemingly more expert candidate. This was reinforced in Malcolm Gladwell’s now-famous recounting that 10,000 is the number of hours needed to become a master. We want to work with masters.
Schools are different. Schools employ people with a greater diversity of interests and backgrounds than is found in other workplaces. Part of the reason for that is that people with diverse academic, professional, experiential, geographic, linguistic or cultural backgrounds self-select into education in the first place.
So what’s the value of diversity when you’re applying for a job – or if you’re hiring for a job?
Diversity is enormously valuable when you’re hiring, but you have to be sure you have answered these questions before you hire:
First, is the project better suited to a deliverables contract for limited duration? Work is almost always better suited to a deliverables contract when you know what you want. Even if it's a repeated deliverable – annually, monthly or even weekly – a deliverables contract is almost always a better deal. Schools are becoming increasingly sophisticated in using outcomes-based contracting, but they have a long way to go. One reason is that school leaders are typically unable or unwilling to define what they need. Another reason is that school leaders aren’t willing to take on the status quo. Very frequently, school leaders hire people because of political connections, a reflex re-filling a previously filled position or, if those two aren’t the reasons, a reticence to take the time to educate a school board about the value of contracting. In the end, public sector managers have many more incentives to hire than to contract.
Second, once you’ve answered the is-a-deliverables-contract-better question in the negative, you need to ask whether you know exactly what you want from the person you will hire. If you do not know, ask yourself why. Odds are good that you don’t know what you want because you are looking for innovation and creativity – as well as some essential duties. If you recognize that you need a creative and innovative worker, you will simultaneously realize that a worker woith a diverse background is always better.
For creative, innovative, or advisory work, make sure the candidate is committed and inspired, and then hire the candidate with the most diverse background.