Many edtech companies are eager to hire people with classroom experience. But for all of the aligned interests between teachers and edtech companies, the courtship is often awkward and unsatisfying. This breakdown can occur from the outset, when business-minded hiring managers and practice-minded teachers meet in initial interviews.
Interviews typically provide the most potent and compelling moments in any hiring process, yet most people never get explicit interview training—including hiring managers. What if edtech companies and teachers could have more positive and productive interview conversations? Here are some practical suggestions for edtech hiring managers. (Hint: These work in any industry!)
1. Talk about jargon, rather than with jargon.
Jargon isn’t necessarily bad—every industry develops unique language to describe specialized aspects of their work. Think about how much knowledge and experience is freighted in some of your most commonly used terms at work. You can learn a ton about teachers (or any candidate from another sector) by unpacking their jargon.
For example, a teacher’s résumé might list differentiation as a skill. It’s a widely used term that implies a tremendous amount of expertise and looks very different between instructional settings. According to Sara Coffin, Impact Manager at Schoolzilla and former elementary school teacher, differentiating her instruction required her “to do thorough and diverse assessments to figure out where my kids were, and modify my lesson plans to challenge all my students in plausible ways.” Breaking down jargon into regular language allows applicants to demonstrate more of their knowledge and experience, and helps hiring managers find the transferable business skills they need to see.
Further, Coffin describes the teaching style she aspired toward as no-nonsense nurturing, a common phrase for some teachers, but rather opaque if you’re not fluent in the jargon. She characterizes a no-nonsense nurturer as “someone who is very clear in their expectations for their students, has great management skills, and is also caring and has a lot of fun in their classroom.”
Daniel Jhin Yoo, founder of Goalbook and former special education teacher, points out that job titles themselves often contain jargon. “A hiring manager might see job titles on a teacher’s résumé like TOSA, Instructional Coach, Academic Dean—and even if that hiring manager has experience in a school system, they know that those titles can mean very different things,” says Yoo. “On the other side, if working in the school system has been your only professional experience and all of a sudden you’re hearing titles like Success Manager, Account Manager, Customer Support, Regional Director—then we need to educate candidates to what each of those roles are really about.”
2. Look for quality of experience.
As a hiring manager, you probably don’t want candidates who are simply interested in your general industry, but rather candidates who can articulate why your company is special. In the same way, it’s important to find and recognize the special qualities of each teacher’s experience. “Every teacher has a different day-to-day,” says Coffin. “It’s a really hard thing to get across to people who haven’t walked into my classroom.”
To that end, in interviews with former teachers, Yoo says he asks a lot of questions to find out if they were great educators. “We’re not looking for people who just had an experience at teaching. We want people who were really passionate about it and became excellent at it. We want to know if the person we’re talking to knows how to get good at something.”
There are many ways to explore quality of experience. One approach is to ask about failures, which can allow conversations to naturally turn toward a candidate’s lessons learned. Every good teacher has at least a few memories of mistakes on the job that are still wince-worthy even years later. Hiring managers should look for evidence that candidates are able to learn from their reflections. Another approach is to ask about the breadth of stakeholders that a teacher might have worked with. Did they develop productive relationships with parents, administrators and their peers? Good teachers are dynamic with more than just their students.
3. Help them shine.
I used to be an admission counselor at a selective liberal arts college. My job was to look for students who would thrive in our specific environment, and I came to realize that those students didn’t always give the best interview performances. The same concept applies to hiring.
“Teachers interviewing for edtech jobs may be suffering from the stereotype that teaching isn’t hard,” says Ned Lindau, Partnerships Lead at NoRedInk and a former teacher. “They may lack a certain confidence that their experiences and skills are valuable.” That can lead to an unsatisfying interview for both parties.
For the best interview, frame your questions around the aspects of their experience that will serve them well in your environment. For example: “You’ve had to be a great teacher, but you’ve also been able to manage and implement change across multiple classrooms, which is a whole different challenge,” says Yoo. “There are teachers who are able to do amazing things with the students they have everyday, but there’s another set of skills that educators develop in which they lead and have responsibility for the other adults who are at their school or district. So I try to find out about those responsibilities and find out what the person liked about them.”
Knowing where to look for those transferable skills is critical. “Project management is something we’ve found teachers to be really good at because it’s a lot like unit-planning,” says Lindau. “Working backward from a goal is second nature to many teachers. Teachers are also really good at disarming people and exploring solutions clearly.”