2016 AC: Seeking 21st Century Talent: How to Disrupt the Campus Visit Experience

By Ari Pinkus posted 02-24-2016 10:13 PM


I'm Ari Pinkus, digital editor and producer at NAIS, and I'll be blogging during the 2016 NAIS Annual Conference in San Francisco. 

These days, how to recruit and hire teaching talent is top of mind for school leaders. In this "design thinking inspired" three-hour workshop, presenters Matt Glendinning of Moses Brown School (Rhode Island) and Carla Silver of Leadership + Design set attendees on a course to reimagine the campus visit for job candidates. Most of those in the room were stewards of their school’s hiring process.

Assuming Much in the Campus Visit

Right away, we gathered at round tables in teams of five. The first step was to consider the assumptions we make about the campus visit. These assumptions fit into the buckets of space, time, role, and rituals.

So what are some of the specific aspects we assume about the visit?

  • the visit is a full day,
  • a candidate eats lunch with students,
  • a candidate does a demonstration lesson,
  • a candidate meets with the head of school,
  • a school in a less-than-desirable location needs to sell itself,
  • a candidate has some knowledge of technology,
  • only one candidate comes to campus on a given day,
  • a candidate meets with as many people as possible (described as the gauntlet),
  • one-on-one conversations are the best way to interview and assess candidates, and
  • candidates understand they have responsibilities in addition to being a teacher (must pass triple threat test: teacher, dorm head or extracurricular day school activity, such as yearbook, and coach).

Then, we were asked to consider: How might our hiring practices intentionally reflect and reveal the qualities of creativity, collaboration, and complex communication in candidates?

To guide us to consider this question, Carla put up a slide from the design firm IDEO with the elements of design thinking:

  1. Discovery -– understanding challenges and preparing research
  2. Interpretation – telling stories and searching for meaning
  3. Ideation – generating and refining ideas
  4. Experimentation – making prototypes and getting feedback
  5. Evolution – tracking key learnings and moving forward

Carla noted this process requires both diverging by considering a variety of choices and converging by making choices. Note that conflict tends to surface as you're converging.

Exploring One Company’s Innovative Hiring Approach

To prepare us to think outside the box, Carla introduced us to Ryan Baum of the firm Jump, which approaches hiring in a unique way. To move beyond the silos (research, strategic planning, etc) in organizations in which everyone talks past one another, employees must possess a holistic set of skills. Or as Ryan described, “You need all things firing in the same brain.”

To that end, Jump looks for a hybrid thinker with three qualities:

  • Humanist – sees the needs beyond the obvious
  • Technologists – envisions what the future might look like
  • Capitalist – considers strategy. Can it make money? Do we need partners to execute?

At Jump, candidates must submit a resume and cover letter as well as a work sample. The work samples help Jump determine what candidates care about. After the initial screening, Jump does two one-hour interviews, and typically four people are involved in each one. The first assesses candidates’ skills based on a project the firm might undertake. Jump asks candidates how they would tackle a particular project.

If they say they need research to move forward, we would give them research, Ryan said. If they say they want to know the competition in the field, we would provide that info. It’s like choose your own adventure, Ryan said. This skills interview then winnows down the field.

The second interview is designed to determine whether the candidates fit into the firm’s culture. Jump tries to generate specific questions that guide candidates to discuss the values the firm espouses. For example, Jump interviewers might ask: Tell me about something you read recently with the purpose of ascertaining whether the person is curious, a key value of the firm. Interviewers can tell a lot about how people react to that prompt and whether they’re really engaged or just searching for what they think the interviewers want to hear, Ryan said. When asking questions about how people deal with conflict, interviewers can sense whether candidates respect the person with whom they disagree. Occasionally, the firm will give homework to candidates to tap their creativity.

Jump uses the same rubric for hiring as it does for reviewing an employee's performance. (Note that the firm conducts a performance review after four months on the job.) Jump evaluates 20 skills, including: ideating, visualizing, passion, enthusiasm, curiosity, intention. They rate candidates on the scale of 1 to 5 to determine whether they’re at the level of novice, competent, or deficient.

Yet Jump does not rely heavily on reference checks. If they hear something negative in an interview, that’s when references may carry more weight. Jump decided to minimize reference checks because we assume that most candidates can find people to vouch for them, Ryan said.

Getting Out and About and Out of Committee

To look for creativity, we undertook field work outside the workshop room, whether in the larger conference center or on the streets of San Francisco. Carla noted how important it is to move beyond convening school committee meetings and referencing books and magazine articles. You can learn a lot about human beings’ needs by visiting other schools and companies, talking to students, and taking photos.   

Jump notes seven ways to build empathy, which we used to guide our field work and study.

  1. Be open to seeing the world in new ways.
  2. Separate out what you see from what you interpret.
  3. Build rapport.
  4. Evoke stories by asking simple, open-ended questions.
  5. Listen 90%, talk 10%.
  6. Let participants set the agenda.
  7. Use participants’ own words. (Don’t correct people because you might inadvertently shut them down from talking.)

Seven starter questions Matt and Carla provided:

  1. What is the most unusual/exciting/surprising thing you’ve ever seen as a candidate or employer in a hiring process?
  2. Tell me about the best interview you’ve ever taken part in – either as the candidate or the interviewer? What questions got the best answers?
  3. Tell me about the worst moment you have ever experienced in a hiring process either as a candidate or as the employer?
  4. How do you welcome people to your school/organization?
  5. Tell me about a time when you asked a candidate to do an activity or exercise where they did something besides talking or writing.
  6. Tell me about the most creative thing you ever saw a candidate do or submit.
  7. What would you change in your hiring process?

Carla asked us to subdivide our team of five into groups of two and three. One person would take notes and the other would ask questions. A third could observe for telling body language.

What was most interesting to me about this assignment: When my team of three (two male educators and me) left the building and wandered the streets, we started realizing the biases that we carried around with us. For example, whom did we consider approaching, and why did we believe that they would or wouldn’t have valuable information for us on this topic?

After stumbling upon a few educators who weren’t too forthcoming about their hiring practices, we were motivated to think more broadly about our field interviews. When walking a few blocks, we came upon an Italian restaurant, dropped in, and asked to speak with the manager. We learned that the restaurant recently transitioned to use People Matters as a hiring tool because the software allows managers to drill down to help them fill specific needs. Principally, this helped the management determine whether candidates could multitask, a vital skill in the restaurant. The new tool also cut down on written paperwork as candidates could answer questions and complete nearly all forms online.

Training, too, is a crucial part of the hiring process, the restaurant manager said. It helps the manager assess whether the person can do the particular job he or she has been hired for. However, this window might reveal whether the person is better suited for another position in the restaurant.

Drawing Insights from Our Field Work

When we reconvened in the workshop room, Carla asked us to consider the three to five insights that our group found most interesting or surprising.

Our experience at the Italian restaurant prompted my team member to share this insight: How can we rethink our questions to really get to the heart of what we are looking for in candidates? (In the restaurant, it was about tailoring questions to probe candidates on whether they are good multitaskers.)

The two other members of our team relayed their experiences. They discovered a man sitting at the far end of a bench, reading, with his headphones on, essentially in his own cocoon. My team member realized that it’s crucial to give introverts a lot of physical and mental space so they feel comfortable. That sparked the insight: How can we have the interview process dance well with introverts?

When interviewing a Saudi Arabian woman wearing a hijab, the woman mentioned that her friend had asked her whether she would take off her hijab so that she wouldn’t face discrimination in hiring. She said no, because it’s a value she holds dear. People in the workshop room felt that that you want to hire people at your school who will stick to their principles.

Our combined interactions led us to this insight: Our process in schools can feel uncomfortable to the candidates and not really help them feel that they describe themselves well.

Flipping Assumptions on Their Head

At this point, we were asked to choose two to three assumptions and turn them around to assume the opposite.

First, we considered flipping the idea of the demonstration lesson.

  • What if the candidate evaluated a current teacher rather than the other way around?
  • What if the school leader asked the teacher to add in some less-than-ideal teaching practices and see whether the candidate would speak up about them?

Then, we thought of altering the interview process.

  • What if the candidate was asked to question the head of school before the head could ask questions of the candidate?
  • What if the candidate was asked about where on campus he or she would like to interview?
  • And how should the room be set up?

Finally, we considered the overall experience.

  • What if there were several candidates visiting campus on the same day?
  • What if the visit happened over two days so people could experience the area a bit?

We used this flipping to form the foundation for our prototype. Note that prototypes can take many forms: digital, visual, a skit, experiential with simulations.

See our prototype below.

Then, we got together with another team for feedback exchange. We noted the group had a very good initial screening device: Have the candidate answer on video the question about why he or she wants to work at their school.

All in all, the workshop was a creative, open-thinking experience about how to enrich and enliven the school hiring process.




02-25-2016 04:58 PM

Thanks so much, Matt and Carla. I learned so much in your session!

02-25-2016 09:58 AM

Thanks for attending the session yesterday, Ari, and for writing such a thoughtful summary! - Matt & Carla