Want to Find Great Edtech Talent? Look in Unusual Places

Opinion | Hiring & Recruiting

Want to Find Great Edtech Talent? Look in Unusual Places

By Allison Wyatt     Mar 10, 2018

Want to Find Great Edtech Talent? Look in Unusual Places

This article is part of the guide: EdSurge’s Guide to Landing a Job (or Finding the Perfect Candidate) .

Having trouble filling a senior role? Consider looking for someone from another industry outside of education.

Sure, hiring talent from organizations outside of education isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, nor a sure-fire cure for any challenge. But sector-switchers can be an indispensable asset to education organizations in pursuit of innovation, bringing sharp skills honed elsewhere. And with a fresher set of eyes on your challenges, a sector switcher’s biggest asset may actually be their limited education knowledge, which allows them to question, challenge, and often break through stale approaches that can come from only hiring from within or within education.

To find them, try these tactics:

1. Limited Time Offer: Fellowships

Fellowships bring in a cohort of people to address specific problems or needs, often people from outside the sector, for a few months or a few years. The most successful fellowships start with a clear definition of the challenge—and explain why a person from outside the sector might be valuable in solving it. From the Broad Residency’s two-year program that matches urban school systems with management talent to Education Pioneers’ summer and yearlong fellowships for younger leaders, these fellowships put new talent to work on a specific problem and provide them with group training.

Even with a short placement, fellows can make a big difference. “Not only is a year enough time to have a meaningful influence on a strategic initiative, the very existence of a 12-month deadline is one of the keys to our impact,” says James Weinberg, CEO of FUSE Corps, which pairs mid-career professionals from the private sector with government agencies. “A perpetually ticking clock motivates them to push through challenges, overcome obstacles, come up with creative solutions, and mobilize partners to achieve goals.”

2. Sourcing New Candidates Online

When Edgility works with organizations on hiring for any role, including recruiting for fellowships, we always start with a needs assessment. This is particularly important when considering sector-switchers. What are the most thorny problems you face, and how specifically could someone outside of education crack that challenge?

Once you identify your biggest barriers, then brainstorm the sectors, companies, and individuals that have effectively solved those types of problems. Trying to optimize the match between agencies and clients? Maybe someone who built Match.com or eHarmony would have insights. Working on getting people around more efficiently? Try Uber or a seasoned public transit planner.

Once the need and the potential direction have been uncovered, it’s time for some basic research, using tools like LinkedIn and Google. Figure out who works in these roles at relevant organizations, then reach out with an email or a phone call. You’ll get a surprisingly good response rate if you show you’ve done your homework by tailoring your message directly to the work they’ve been doing and addressing how it might be a match for your own organization and role.

3. Diversify, Diversify, Diversify

Too many of our education networks are insular and homogenous. In order to break out of our customary networks, we need to build new and more diverse ones that reflect the diversity of talent we wish to tap. “More than 80 percent of social networks are racially homogeneous, so if you’re tapping your professional colleagues, friends, and family members, chances are you’re going to yield a candidate pool that closely resembles your own background,” points out Leniece F. Brissett, founder of education recruiter Compass Talent Group. “Instead, develop deep relationships with organizations and institutions that cultivate talent of color that may be outside of your networks.”

To hire people who are different from you and your current team, you’ll need to find and talk to more people who are different from you. Sounds simple—and it can be, if you make the time and space for it. Invite people doing great work in other organizations or fields out to coffee to learn from them and get to know them. Go on a site visit to a school you respect but don’t know, and meet people who are different from you. Throw a dinner party with someone who speaks a different language from you. Start a book club and invite people you don't know well who are different from you.

Organizations like Camelback Ventures, Education Pioneers and Management Leadership for Tomorrow have already prioritized this, so tapping into these networks is also a good start.

Finders Keepers: Setting Sector-Switchers Up For Success

As with any other hire, finding and keeping sector switchers starts with being clear about what you need, and proactive about finding the right person.Ultimately, the only thing different about a sector-switcher’s job—at least for a permanent hire—ought to be the industry, at least when it comes to making a seamless transition. Everything else related to their role, types of skills used, and size or style of organization ought to be similar. (Because of their time-bound nature, fellowship roles often look radically different from the sector-switcher’s prior role, and the support of the fellowship provider can address this gap.)

However, a strong orientation or induction period is vital in bringing sector-switchers up to speed, with plenty of background information provided on the sector and the organization’s place in it, and ideally paired with site visits to meet with key colleagues and stakeholders and see them in action. Every new employee ought to have this benefit, but it’s especially critical for giving sector-switchers a strong start. For example, Foster America’s pre-service orientation includes not only interaction with others in the cohort and with leaders and experts in the field of child welfare, but also with foster care agency staff and even children and families.

With greater attention paid to finding, choosing, and keeping these unusual suspects, education organizations may well find their results shifting from ordinary to extraordinary.

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