My first paper for the Harvard Extension course I'm taking in comparative education policy - I focused on the socio-economic inequalities in early childhood experiences that lead to differences in school readiness.
When hiring staff, can a resume and a cover letter really tell you how a person will be able to do the job?
No, the resume and cover letter may give you as the hiring manager a starting point, but I feel like it's best to try to get candidates to self-select based on their interest in your company and the specific position, and then to engage them in as much of a real-job experience as you can so that you can see how they perform, and they can also see how the company culture is and what would be expected of them. Remember that a job interview goes both ways - you're trying to find the best person for the job, and the applicant is trying to find the best job for their talents and interests.
So how do you get applicants to self-select? One way is to put some specific questions in the job description that the applicants have to answer in addition to just sending in their resume and cover letter. (Oh, and obviously tailoring their cover letter to your company and the position is another way that they self-select.) You can also do a first-round set of questions that you send to everyone who applies (see the email below sent automatically to the over 700 resumes we received for filling my administrative director position at Innovations Academy in 2009). Iridescent Learning also has a screening task for all of their positions, which is actually much more involved than just answering a few questions. Check out their blog post on why & how they screen. (On a slightly unrelated note, their stage #4 is very important to realize as your organization grows & scales - no one is perfect, we're all just people.)
After the initial self-selection, you'll have narrowed the field down, but you still want to meet applicants in person. If you still have quite a few interesting people, you may want to do a phone interview first, especially if a portion of their job consists of speaking on the phone (sales, customer service, etc). For the in-person interview, try to figure out a way to incorporate them into a few real company tasks that would be part of their job description. If someone is a teacher, have them teach a lesson. If someone is a retail sales associate, have them work the floor. If someone is a marketer, have them create a PR piece. When I was hiring my replacement at Innovations Academy, I had the top applicants come in to shadow me for an hour and also tour the school and sit in on a classroom (see the email below that I sent to help the applicants understand our hiring process).
Some may argue that creating a high barrier to entry will discourage qualified applicants, but I think that anyone who is interested enough in your company and the specific position that you're hiring for won't mind jumping through a few hoops and in fact will probably enjoy it because they're (in theory) doing work that they're excited about for a company that they want to spend time with. And that's what you want - remember you're not just interviewing to find someone who can do the job... You're interviewing to find someone who will create immense value for your company and who will have fun doing it! :-)
Email sent to the over 700 applicants for one position...
Thank you for responding to our Innovations Academy office/admin coordinator position Craigslist ad! We have had a ton of responses - too many to really read through all of the resumes and cover letters! So we're going to let you self-select if you are really truly interested in the position. Here is the link to our ad if you need to remind yourself of what job you applied for. http://sandiego.craigslist.org/csd/edu/951882513.html
At the end of this email, you will find some questions about you, the position, and your interest in the position. Please answer the questions thoroughly, using the style of writing, grammar, and punctuation that you would use on the job. Send the questions with your answers back to us by email, but change the subject line to say "YES, I am very interested in working at Innovations!"
The Current Admin Director
A few basic tips on your job search...
-Write something in the body of your email which shows that you actually read more than the title of the job posting. Hiring managers don't want to have to open your cover letter or resume.
-Do a little bit of research - say something about the company that interests you! Most companies want to hire someone who really wants to work at that specific company, not someone who just needs a job.
-If the job posting has specific requirements in the ad, make sure that you address all of the requirements in your email, cover letter, or resume. Don't leave the hiring manager wondering if you can do the job.
-Be sure that your resume and cover letter are in .doc or .pdf format - remember that not all computers can open .wps and .docx files!
Email Interview Questions: (There are no right or wrong answers - only answers that are true to you!)
1) What are some of the things that you enjoy about yourself? What hobbies/interests do you have?
2) Why are you interested in working at Innovations Academy?
3) Please describe your work/volunteer/life experiences with children ages 5-13 and parents. What do you like about these ages? What don't you like about these ages?
4) Please describe your work/volunteer/life experiences with managing an office. What is your style of organization? What system(s) do you use to keep track of what needs to be done?
5) We also have an office assistant who would be under your direction. Please describe your work/volunteer/life experience with supervising people. What do you like about managing people? What don't you like about managing people?
6) You realize on Friday around noon that you are not going to be able to finish your workload to an important deadline on Monday morning. What would you do?
7) Which part of the job description do you feel least confident about being able to do or handle?
8) As the school receptionist and the person who handles new applications, you will often have to "sell" the school. What are some of the selling points for our school? How do you feel personally about these aspects of our school?
9) How do you deal with change? Do you need to have your schedule laid out weeks in advance? Or do you like having new tasks come up at the last minute?
10) How will Innovations Academy benefit from hiring you as our new administrative coordinator?
Thank you for responding to these questions! I hope that they brought some insight into yourself and what you want out of a job. :-)
Email to the top 20 or so applicants who made it to the real-job experience stage of the interviewing process...
We have received over 700 resumes from our Craigslist ad, and over 250 responses to the questions. We have narrowed it down to the top 20 or so applicants, and you have made the cut! :-) (I feel like we're in American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance!)
We would like to invite you to be part of our interview process described below. I'm hoping that this process will be fun and enlightening for you, so that this can be a productive use of your time even if we don't end up offering you a job with our school. We are big on making sure that the people we hire want to work for us as much as we want them - so if at any point during this process, anything rubs you the wrong way or you start feeling like this might not be right for you, please self-select yourself out. We don't want someone in this position who is taking the job because they need the money - we want someone who is passionate about our school, our kids, and their job. :-)
Before I tell you about the interview process, let me tell you some more about the job so you know what you would be getting yourself into... (Some of these things may change as we are in the middle of re-delegating tasks to our whole administrative staff, but you should be prepared to do all of the following.)
-FIRST PERSON AT SCHOOL: Open up school before 7:30am, and deal with any "fires" that may come up before the directors arrive.
-ATTENDANCE: Make sure that teachers complete attendance, enter it into Zangle (District software), run reports, etc.
-ENROLLMENT: Ensure that all enrolled students have completed all forms, maintain enrollment database, maintain cumulative folders, etc.
-APPLICATIONS: Keep track of applications/waitlisted students, give tours, answer questions, etc.
-RECEPTIONIST: Answer the phone, answer emails, deal with walk-ins, and answer or direct all inquiries.
-SUPPLY CLERK: Order office supplies, school supplies, snacks, etc.
-NURSE: Put on band-aids, give out ice packs, call parents, etc -- also maintain immunization and health records for all students
-FIRE FIGHTER/COORDINATOR: Help with anything and everything that comes up around school, including talking with students, working with the Kroc Center, etc.
Ok, on to the interview process... We've found that doing the regular interview (interviewer and interviewee just talking with each other) is not often the best way to figure who is going to really be able to handle the job, so we are going to do a real-life, throw-you-into-the-pit interview process. :-)
We're asking you to come in for a two hour block sometime the week of Dec 15th-19th. During this interview block, you will spend about an hour with our kids in the classroom and about an hour with me. We'll talk, I'll give you some actual tasks to do, you'll see what happens in our classrooms, etc. We can't offer any financial compensation for this time, only children's smiles and maybe a band-aid and a granola bar!
Please let me know your top 3 choices from the following days and times (I'm going out of town for this weekend, so I probably will not get back to about when to come for sure until Sunday night or Monday morning):
Wednesday 8-10am, 10-12noon, 12-2pm
Thursday 8-10am, 10-12noon, 12-2pm
Friday 8-10am, 10-12noon, 12-2pm
Also please respond with your cell phone number (or the best number to reach you) so if I have to reschedule your appointment for some reason, I can get a hold of you.
Thank you so much!
The Current Admin Coordinator
Recently, I assisted with an event at the Tech Museum in San Jose and thoroughly enjoyed watching the young children climb on the big rocks and chase after a moving light on the ground , which were not explicit exhibits, but they captured the children's attention in a way that museum designers probably never imagined. I also had the chance to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and was impressed both with the variety of their exhibits, ranging from, of course, the actual marine animals in their habitats to climb-able, crawl-able, jump-able structures for the younger crowd, as well as with the quality & quantity of staff on hand, available to knowledgeably answer questions if asked, but otherwise standing back and letting the museum-goers enjoy and explore.
I had someone ask me how I could be for both accelerated learning *and* unschooling - aren't they antithetical to each other? However in my personal view of each philosophy, they dovetail quite nicely - because the underlying theme for me is that the learning is personalized and child/curiosity-led.
I don't want to hothouse my children - when I say that I would want accelerated learning for my (eventual) kids, I mean accelerated in reference to the pace at normal schools, which I think often holds children back from their true potential. If kids are excited about a topic and allowed to delve into it deeply, they'll learn much faster than we could ever imagine. If the motivation is there, the learning is accelerated. And even if there isn't a strong motivation, when you provide children with personalized instruction, scaffolding them from where they are to the next step up, they will learn more quickly than when sitting in a group being taught the same material as everyone else.
I don't want to give my children free rein over everything - when I say that I would want to (mostly) unschool my (eventual) kids, I mean that I want my kids to recognize that learning happens all the time, everywhere we are. Education is not just what happens in a school - we are all students of life! Our curiosity can lead us to discover so many wonderful ideas and learn more than traditional schooling could ever teach us. For more unschooling philosophy, I really like ZenHabits's Beginner's Guide to Unschooling.
Some proponents of accelerated learning want their kids to learn multiple foreign languages, read at a college level, be ahead in math and science, and compete as a chess grand master - and they'll recommend overscheduling and pushing the children to achieve that. I'd say that you can raise a child to have those skills even as a (mostly) unschooling family - although maybe not the grand master part unless your child truly enjoys chess. It's all about the environment! If you want a child who speaks multiple languages, then live in another country or have a family member / caregiver speak another language in the household. If you want a child who is reading above their grade level, then read challenging material with them. If you want a child who loves math and science, then do fun experiments and play number games with them. And if you want a child who plays chess, then make playing chess a part of your family's routine. Parents are there to expose their children to the different aspects of life, to provide a staging ground for inspiration to strike. http://www.lifelearningmagazine.com/1204/parental_role_in_unschooling.htm
"You don't have to know all the answers, you just need to know where to find them." - Albert Einstein
In this day and age of Google and smartphones, we have all the answers at our fingertips, but do we know how to find them, and what to do with them once we have found them? Content is becoming less important to remember, and the ability to understand and apply the knowledge is much more important.
My Quora response to "Are there any studies about how reading stories to your children affect their development of empathy?" - http://www.quora.com/Are-there-any-studies-about-how-reading-stories-to-young-children-affects-their-development-of-empathy/answer/Teresa-Gonczy
Reading fiction seems to increase empathy, possibly because of becoming emotionally engaged with characters, allowing the reader to experience different ways of being and different mental states. Neuroscience has shown that reading about a specific experience (smelling perfume, kicking a ball) can cause a reader's brain to fire similar neurons as actually doing the experience in real life. "And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters." from The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction
Most of the reading studies specifically on empathy have been done with adults.
* Bal & Veltkamp experiments showed that if readers are emotionally transported by the story, they tend to show more empathy after reading - How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An Experimental Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation
* Dan Johnson's experiments have shown similar results - Transportation into a story increases empathy, prosocial behavior, and perceptual bias toward fearful expressions
* Mar & Oatley did a correlational study showing the more fiction a person reads, the better they are at perceiving emotion in the eyes and picking up on social cues, even when they controlled for personality openness and other characteristics - Page on Ucla
One study by Mar et al done with children involves an aspect of empathy called theory-of-mind, or the ability to understand that different people can have different preferences and perspectives. For example, one type of theory-of-mind experiment involves a child and an experimenter with two bowls between them - one of cookies (or similar food that the child enjoys) and one of broccoli (or similar food that the child does not like as much). The experiment looks at whether the child will give cookies or broccoli to the experimenter after the experimenter has shown that they prefer broccoli over cookies - namely, can the child understand that another person has different preferences, that the other person has a different type of mind? Before 18 months old, babies typically give the experimenter cookies, showing that they did not have developed much theory-of-mind yet, Starting around 2 years old, many toddlers have started to understand others' states of mind better, and will often give broccoli to the experimenter. Theory-of-mind continues to develop throughout childhood (and even into adulthood).
What Mar, Tackett, & Moore found was that even after controlling for age, gender, vocabulary, and parental income, preschoolers's exposure to storybooks predicted their theory-of-mind abilities. Page on Www
So while there are not an abundance of studies on reading & empathy in young children, the studies in adults and the one study with preschoolers do seem to suggest that reading fiction, including storybooks, enhances empathy development in children.
An interesting aspect to look at in further studies would be the influence of the parent/adult's interaction with the child during the reading of the story. Is it just the story itself that enhances empathy? Or is empathy also enhanced by the parent talking with the child about the characters, helping to explain how the characters feel and why they react the way they do in the story. Dr. Mar conjectures that parent-child conversations about different mental states may help with the development of theory-of-mind.
If you are looking to increase empathy in your child, this webpage Teaching Your Child Empathy has some tips and advice, including reading! (Plus more empathy in children study references at the bottom of that webpage)
I am starting to look for a position based in the Bay Area where I can make a difference in the education of children, preferably ages 0-6, in a non-traditional setting (non-profit, social enterprise, foundation, etc) for a larger population (the San Francisco region, California, or even nationally). I want to use research-based methods and possibly be involved in testing and collecting data on new instructional ideas, but my skills and interests are best suited for the actual organizational management & implementation side of the equation, rather than the writing and analyzing numbers side. I see the need both for cognitive development (early language learning, STEAM, etc) as well as for non-cognitive development (empathy, executive functioning skills, creativity, etc).
I thrive when I can do both strategy and operations, both big picture planning and day-to-day running (part of the reason why I've owned several businesses). I like a mix of customer service and higher level coordinating - organizing all the moving parts behind the scenes and also some in-person interaction - making people (especially kids!) smile. I need a variety of tasks and responsibilities, multiple projects moving forward at the same time. I want the ability to make decisions quickly and start new initiatives without bureaucracy or committee meetings. I enjoy traveling, both region-wide and nation-wide, and would be happy with a position that included some driving to different sites, flying for conferences, etc.
I love working with other passionate, positive, intelligent people in a collaborative environment that values productivity and allows employees to work when & where is best for them (although of course, teachers need to be with the students for classes, brick&mortar businesses need to be staffed during their open hours, and events need people to run them). I take personal responsibility and will do what it takes to get the job done, and I expect my co-workers to do the same, but I also want work-life balance and I encourage switching shifts or trading tasks so that everyone can provide value to the company, gain personal value from their employment, and still enjoy their family, hobbies, and free time. http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130730145657-5799319-unlimited-vacation-days-treat-employees-like-adults
Possible Job Titles: Educational Coordinator, Director of Education, Administrative Director, Program Director, Director of Programming, Project Coordinator, Executive Director, Chief Program Officer, Regional Education Leader
** While seeking a full-time position, I am still available for event coordination, short-term projects, speaking engagements, and consulting gigs - as well as babysitting / nannying, tutoring / teaching, and coaching. :-)
My thoughts on education, cognitive science, early childhood, organization management, non-profits, and whatever else I happen to be thinking about! :-)