opinion

Hiring in Edtech? Here's How to Do It Smarter and Faster

Even the hardest-working entrepreneurs will hit a wall in building and scaling their teams. They hire someone and then fire him a month later. They offer great pay, yet no candidate seems exciting. Hours spent searching on Linkedin seem to get nowhere.

As hiring strategists, we spend a lot of time thinking about what makes a great match between an employer and job seeker. Here are our tips on how to hire the edtech team you want.

1. Define the Role

It’s tempting to jump right into the search for great candidates. But if you don’t know exactly what they will do once hired, you’ll get nowhere fast. Role definition is the most important step you can take to ensure that you hire an amazing person who fits what your needs now—and as your company grows.

When we work with clients, we encourage them to first identify the most important company priorities that the new hire would need to embrace. Second, we ask about the qualities and experiences that would enable a candidate to achieve these company goals. Rather than create a random list of skills, ensure that you build a list of candidate attributes that are relevant to both the job and the company.

Do Now

List what this new person would do in a typical day during their first three or six months on the job. Then, identify the attributes that would enable someone to complete each task or activity successfully. Finally, prioritize this broader list of attributes. This list will drive the rest of your candidate search and evaluation process.

Pro Tip

We encourage our clients to use a framework called KSAs+M, which can be generally defined as follows:

  • Knowledge: the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject
  • Skills: the proficiencies developed through training or experience
  • Abilities: the qualities of being able to do something
  • Motivations: the general desire or willingness of someone to do something

By clarifying and defining candidate role attributes within this framework, you create a comprehensive evaluation process that offers structure to you and your interview team.

2. Write a Great Job Description

Your outreach plan starts with a great job description. The two most important goals:

  • To have dream candidates see this opportunity
  • To have them think this is their dream job

How do you do this?

Do Now

You want your ideal candidate to read the job description and say, “Wow! What an amazing opportunity for me!” With your ideal candidate in mind, write (or rewrite) your job description in a way that would make your him or her apply.

Pro Tip

At the beginning of your job description, highlight the kind of person you’re looking for—using casual language. For example, when we were looking for a business analyst for a media analytics company, we started our job description with a teaser like this:

You're the kind of person who:

  • Loves to learn—you sort of can't stop taking online courses or reading about new disciplines
  • Constantly consumes information (breaking news, technology developments, the works)
  • Builds complex spreadsheets to make your own life decisions

The conversational language lets prospective candidates gauge immediately whether this role speaks to them both personally and professionally.

3. Find Candidates and Start Conversations

You’ve defined what you’re looking for and everyone on your search team is on the same page. Now it's time to get those candidates rolling in.

If your role is a difficult one to fill—perhaps because it’s senior, or because the pool of active job-seekers in that field is small—incorporate active sourcing into your hiring process.

Active sourcing—proactively looking for exceptional candidates, even for roles that may not yet exist—is both important and complex. If you are going to devote some of your precious time to active sourcing, know where to the find the kind of candidates you need. Many of the specialized job sites listed below enable you to search for candidates according to specific attributes, narrowing your pool of relevant prospects considerably (and saving you lots of time!)

It’s important to remember that the best candidates are often being actively courted by other companies and recruiters. Stand out by sending them messages about why their specific experiences, skills, and passions would make them dream candidates for your company.

Do Now

Post your job! In addition to the usual job board suspects like Monster, LinkedIn, and Indeed, there are more specialized sites such as these:

  • EdSurge Job Board for education-related roles
  • Angel List for the start-up inclined; this site includes job posting and active sourcing
  • WhitetruffleStack OverflowGitHub Jobs for engineers and developers; these sites enable you to post your job, actively source and/or “match” with interested candidates
  • Kaggle for data science roles; this site features job posting and active sourcing

Pro Tip

Don’t overlook the power of group forums. Places like Reddit—which has a job posting board and a large, engaged audience—can be another great way to get the word out.

4. Organize your Inbound Applicants

Use an applicant tracking system. It allows candidates to learn about you and apply to join your team immediately, while simultaneously giving you an organized view into your pipeline of candidates.

Do Now

Pick an applicant tracker. We’re bullish about Workable because of its low cost, streamlined interface, and clear view of a candidate pipeline. You can also post your roles all over the Internet with one click.

Pro Tip

Choose a single person to be in charge of each role. This person ensures candidates move smoothly from stage to stage and reminds members of the hiring team to follow up or make decisions.

5. Evaluate Your Candidates

From phone screens to in-person interviews to references, you want to figure out the steps you’ll need for your hiring team to gather enough information to confidently extend an offer. This is your main chance to ensure you find a great person (and avoid pitfalls associated with biased hiring). How do you ensure you have a strong plan?

Do Now

Write out all of the interview and evaluation steps (derived from your KSAs) and include every touch point with a candidate. Determine who on the hiring team will be involved in each step and ask: Is there anyone else who would have to meet the candidate before we can make her an offer? Also, to ensure a fair and unbiased process, make sure that every person involved in the interview process asks questions based the same set of criteria derived from the KSA construct. Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to move ahead with confidence.

Pro Tip

Every step in the process should feel like progress to a candidate, allowing them to meet new people and learn more about your organization. If you could imagine extending an offer to a candidate without a step in the process (say a second in-person interview), then eliminate it and gift yourself that time.

Pro Tip

No one has ever gone on a great date that ended with someone saying, “I’ll get back to you in seven business days.” Follow up with candidates within a few days—even if you’re telling them “no”.

6. Make an Offer

Congratulations! You found the candidate who will take your team to the next level! Now it’s time to extend an offer she’ll accept.

Do Now

Send them an offer by email. There’s nothing like getting an official offer in writing; it demonstrates a thoughtful commitment of your company’s intent and gives the candidate a chance to think it over carefully. Include an opportunity to talk more (by phone or in-person), but don’t skip an official written offer.

Pro Tip

Get in front of compensation questions by asking candidates in the first interview about their expectations for salary, bonus and equity. If you’re engaged in that conversation and focused on finding a middle ground, you’ll be more open to creative compensation models (working remotely, time for child-care, higher equity and lower salary) and be in a position to grow your team with exceptional people.

David Osborne is the founder of Team Theory, where Michael Weyandt is a partner.

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