Just ask any founder or high school student: There are few things more competitive, stressful or fast-paced than building a company… or applying to college. As the co-founder of an educational consulting company, I find my days divided between two equally compelling – and perhaps unexpectedly parallel – worlds: the joys and challenges of startup life and college admissions. In my two roles, as college advisor and COO, the focus of my energy is different, but the core skill sets are the same. I often find myself weighing risks and rewards, making projections for the future (just of a different kind), and relying on both data and instinct as guides. But the parallels don’t stop there.
Yes, the college admissions process is far from a perfect system, but I’ve found that it actually has a lot to teach us about how to staff a startup:
Tests Matter, but They’re Not Everything
Whether or not you’re applying for a teaching position, if you’re looking to work at LogicPrep, you will be taking a test, if not a few of them. Testing has become an essential part of our hiring process. It allows us to target the specific criteria we’re seeking in new hires and assess their competency in the skill sets they’ll ultimately need to exercise as a member of our team. Ultimately, we need to make sure prospective employees will excel in our office – just as colleges need to know that their students will be able to manage the academic workload.
Though the SAT and ACT have their flaws, they do allow colleges to see students’ academic potential in action and assess them relative to other candidates. As in the college admissions process, it would be shortsighted to rely on testing alone when staffing a startup, but thoughtfully developed tests can be a valuable hiring tool.
Extracurriculars Bring About New Work Inspiration
With that in mind, at our office (and certainly at college admissions offices around the country), extracurriculars – or, in real world speak, outside interests – are an important part of who the candidate is. We seek out prospective hires who are drawn to our mission and share a common interest in education. However, our staff consists of individuals who moonlight as actors, dancers, standup comics and filmmakers. While this is most true of our part-time team members, many of our full-timers have interests that transcend the educational world, from environmental preservation to music to floral design. We’ve found that these outside passions often inform their approach to problem-solving and allow them to take on challenges with fresh insight.
Today, at top colleges around the country, it’s not enough to simply be a strong student. Similarly, we always consider what unique perspectives our staff members can contribute. And that often comes from their passions outside of work.
Cultural “Fit” Is Vital
“Fit” is a meaningful buzzword in the college admissions world: schools are looking for students who want them, and of course, students are encouraged to think about the environments in which they will thrive. Colleges have codified this by tracking students’ interest via campus visits, correspondence with admissions officers and other tools.
At LogicPrep, we agree that fit is not to be underrated. Like any college, we want to know that once our candidate is “accepted,” he or she will thrive in our office. For this reason, we’ve found that it’s important to pay careful attention to the questions prospective employees will ask in their interviews. The questions they ask are as important (if not more so) than the ones we, as interviewers, do. They reveal the candidate’s level of interest and engagement, as well as whether or not they’ve done their research.
In both college admissions and startup staffing, testing is important. But numbers only tell part of the story. They don’t reveal grit, drive or fit, which is why it’s so important to adopt a holistic evaluation approach. After all, college admissions and hiring are inherently human processes, and that’s the most challenging – and exciting – part of it all.
Lindsay Tanne is co-founder and COO of LogicPrep, an education company that helps families navigate the college admissions landscape.
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