Recruiting and then retaining exceptional talent is foundational to an organization’s success. Large companies have the benefit of designated human resource departments which are often segmented into units such as sourcing, screening, on-boarding, and training. Small educational service firms have less infrastructure and rarely have a designated human resource department.

Although small firms are less well equipped, they must ostensibly oversee the same functions. Generally, owner-operators, lead tutors, or administrative support staff wear multiple hats in order to cover the human resource process.

Having participated in this general-management style approach to human resources, I found it to be hit or miss with regard to candidate quality, professionalism, and sense of duty (at least in the context of recruiting top tutors). What I learned then is that a careful assessment of candidate intangibles (soft skills) was critical.

Here are some tips for assessing these intangibles:

  1. Have a baseline standard and stick to it. Typically, this involves test scores, degrees earned, and experience tutoring. If the minimum standards are not met, immediately generate a “regrets email.”
  2. If a candidate has the requisite background, dig more deeply into the experience piece. There are vast differences in experience levels. For example, a tutor who tutored a family member or worked at a drop-in center at a college or who tutors through a tutoring-market place is generally not as well-positioned as a tutor who trained with and worked for a local, regional, or national firm. The key is to ask specific open-ended questions about specific tutoring assignments.
  3. Review didactic vs. socratic experience. The majority of folks whom I have interviewed have accumulated a great many socratic contact hours. Said differently, they are Homework Help experts who go over lessons taught in high school but who generally don’t have to prepare much for the tutoring session. The student brings a book and her/his questions and the tutor dutifully answers some and asks some. In contrast, didactic specialists have material they prepare before a session, a plan for what will be covered during the session, and a homework assignment in mind for after the session.
  4. Be as realistic as possible when discussing the role. Discuss number of hours, days & times required, commute, parking, expense reimbursement etc. The goal is to create a mutually beneficial relationship built on trust and transparency. This should help with tutor retention.
  5. Professionalism. This is critical since the tutor is a representative of your brand. During the recruitment process, take note of response time between emails, meeting punctuality, comportment over the phone, and appearance in the interview.
  6. Cultural fit. A little more difficult to decipher but perhaps the most important quality needed for a successful hire; fitting in with the brand of your organization’s tutors can be easily overlooked — particularly when there is a tutor shortage. Questions designed to elicit degree of empathy, self-awareness, and authenticity work well. Here are a few standard questions to get you on your way:
  • “What would you say is your biggest weakness?” This is designed less to surface a weakness and more to help determine how forthcoming, self-aware, and honest the candidate is.
  • “What led you to this particular job-post?” Again, this is less about why they think your company is superior to the others and more about what the candidate says and how it is said. Look for a genuine answer.
  • “What are the top three things that have lead to your success as a tutor?” Listen for the “I-I-I” syndrome and contrast that with what a team player may say. One can learn a good deal from hearing a candidate recount his or her success.

Ultimately, good hiring practices are not difficult to implement and require little more than a bit of time and thoughtful preparation.

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