Reimagining Education For Work
Originally posted at https://www.mquinn.online/blog/reimagining-education-for-work
I have recently gone through a string of bad hires, a problem we as an organisation have rapidly learned from (set candidates homework people!). And as every hire hasn’t worked out I’ve looked back at their resume (CV for the English in the room) and wondered what did I miss? One of the main takeaways I have is that the resume is a sales document and is almost fully made up of unverifiable fluff. Fluff that we base hiring decisions on, fluff that we use to imagine if someone will be a good fit or will have the right skills. Resumes are a pain to make and a pain to receive and while there are some rules of thumb in creating one, if you really think about how a resume is supposed to be a document to pass a standard set of information between two parties, it is such a poor solution. Candidates make resumes because it’s expected. Hiring Managers read resumes because that’s what they get. Recruiters screen resumes because it’s easy to eliminate candidates. This system is an artefact of the industrial age and society failed to replace it with a better system in the information and personalization age. They are kind of like apis without documentation and every call is different for different users. I then also looked at the resumes of those who I didn’t hire. What was I missing? Did I skip over the best candidate? In this process I discovered a bias when reviewing. I judged those who listed tools that they can use — negatively. That’s right, if you listed word, excel, slack, asana etc in your resume I immediately thought — who is this child? I operate under the assumption that whomever I hire will have the figure-it-out-edness to learn any new tool or system required, but also that they will have a functional grasp of the basic tools that have built modern day businesses. “If you have never allowed yourself to figure out a VLOOKUP you are limiting yourself. It’s just not that hard, and the ROI of understanding functions like these is astronomical.” This assumption of mine has led to tears at least once in hiring. In interview one I have flagged that we use Airtable, Zapier, Google docs and Asana, and in interview two, the candidate has excitedly said “yeah I’ve been researching at those I’m so excited to start using them, I’ve started learning them, I only wish we used these at my old company”. Only to hire said candidate and have their aptitude stall, their “learning” never crystallise and their excuses pile up. “Well I’m not a developer”. I’m not a developer either but I am on the cusp of believing that every employee should have a practical grasp of Zapier and Airtable from marketing, to recruitment. A $1000 investment will reap 100X returns in time, productivity and information integrity savings. These tools may sound like techie niche tools — I can assure you they are not. I use Airtable in my personal life to organise and automate all sorts of tasks — here’s my (under construction) bucket list of things to visit/see in Colorado . I didn’t copy or past a single piece of data. Magic! At the stage before Airtable — let’s look at Google docs or documents in general. We had a candidate who we tried out, who’s resume looked strong, who’s experience was on point, who’s education appeared high enough, who couldn’t format a document. Let me add context before I look like a horrible person. This candidate did “format” their documents correctly. There were titles and subtitles, there were page numbers and there was a table of contents. What this candidate did was instead of having google docs auto format these things — they manually formatted the sizes, fonts and colours of all of them, they manually typed in the page numbers and manually updated the table of contents to keep the document in line. I honestly couldn’t believe it when I saw it. I was double clicking contents lines looking for a jump to that part of the document, a jump which never came. I gave this feedback clearly and directly to them and they said they preferred to do it their way. In a 16 page living document — I would estimate this was at least 3 hours of work, just in our trial period. That has a direct dollar value that cannot be ignored when they prefer to do it their way. This interaction also sets the tone for other areas — how inefficient is this person overall? Now as mentioned in the beginning — there are other hiring practises we have adopted to work around this, but for such a fundamental operation — should hiring be made up of work arounds? I take this whole experience as evidence of failure of our system. High school and college educated citizens not only lack work experience but essential work skills. I think it was Grant Cardone who said in his book the 10x rule “why don’t you take a class in school called how to be successful” What a novel and great idea. When I sit down and clear my mind and really think about hiring people for roles like the one we were filling above, I realise that ultimately I don’t care about graduating high school, a college degree or the age of a candidate. I mention age because the current system is a conveyor belt that you get on and off at certain ages. If you mess up your college exams or high school period, mistakes made at a certain age will plague your resume permanently. This is so useless to the world of work. For many roles in tech I want to see some of these things: figure-it-out-edness Grit Determination Accountability Growth Mindset Systems thinking Problem solving Mental modelling Ability to learn and unlearn tools, systems, information Excel Presentation & deck design Word document formatting Clear communication Basic maths Statistics and graphical analysis Bookkeeping/understanding cashflow, balance sheet & P&L Error free spelling Other tools (Zapier, Airtable, Webflow etc) And 2 key things here. Firstly, these aren’t a complete or necessarily accompanying list, and secondly each of these has several layers of difficulty/complexity. Am I Alone? Everyone I have shared this discussion with has ecstatically agreed. The candidate system is broken, resumes don’t surface the right information. There is a trend on tech twitter I have seen a few times where people have said — don’t send a resume, send a deck explaining why you want this job or send loom breaking down our product or write a report on what we’ll need to reach $100million ARR. I think these are primarily work arounds to help surface actual core skills needed for modern day tech work — along with a strong demonstration of passion, interest and muscle for the particular role/company. What does this mean? It’s been an interesting year (2020) to say the least, and this hiring experience has made me question the fabric of how we raise, educate and train people in the US. I think we can create a system that isn’t made up of work arounds, that trains people in the core skills required, that doesn’t require GEDs or college degrees, but still produces exceptional candidates. When we talk about diversity, we talk about pipeline, we talk about the candidate funnel. What if we’ve chosen the wrong limiters to the pipeline and this new system vastly opens the pipeline. I’d hire a 60 year old if I knew they could smash excel and zapier and would be accountable and would try solve problems before giving up. In the age of covid (everyone is remote), with tens of millions unemployed and a looming debt implosion this system could reshape the country and transform the economy for the better. We would be expanding work-from-home privilege to millions. If Lambda school has removed the degree requirement to become an engineer, those who don’t want to engineer should also be given a shot. A Solution It wouldn’t be a Matt Quinn post if I didn’t have a solution. Of course I have a solution. This is a problem space that I have thought about a lot for the past 5 years. Every resume I have written has been crammed full of stuff I want to demonstrate and I think I could remove a good amount of it with a solution I’m about to propose. That is to say — If you want to build this, let me know — I am also thinking of building this. I want there to be a new platform that does this: Has a curriculum for these skills and tools — we’ll call them blocks Allow hiring managers to submit curricula for blocks they want to hire for but don’t exist The curriculum is loosely timebases — people juggling jobs, or family or life challenges can pause and pick up. Teaches the block through a mix of interactive games/tools, videos and coursework — Quantic does a great job of this — take simple tests and lessons on your commute etc Categories of blocks have different levels/difficulties (beginner, moderate, expert) Earning a block is a pass/fail no GPAs or % scores The testing for a block will include real life coursework (that is probably judged by peers or volunteers) Coursework which passes can be used as a portfolio Coursework should be in the form of projects for real companies. Any student can take the test/exam without taking the course Any student can take the test/exam an unlimited number of times (probably be a fee after 5th attempt or something) The courses and tests are free Employers pay to verify a candidate has the blocks they state & to view coursework The blocks earned and projects on the portfolio form the new resume/CV Any student can take the test at any age regardless of educational background Employers pay the platform for privileged recruitment access Corporate sponsors or large employers audit the passing & judgement requirements to stop dilution. And then from all of this — accompanying your resume you would give someone a block sheet which shows which blocks you have. Just think about it — employers wouldn’t need to say X years experience in this or experience doing that. It could be — we need someone with these blocks and it would remove imposter syndrome or self restriction on applying for underprivileged groups. It’s almost what MOOCs were supposed to do, and what internal training could do — provide transferable bona fides for an entire population. Going To Market This vision is grand. It’s pretty huge actually. So where to start? I think you’d need buy-in from startups that are large enough to hire in decent volume, but are forward thinking enough to give up the obsession with degrees. Oddly on the flip side — maybe the federal government is the ideal employer. It would also need to be really easy to start earning blocks and taking on incrementally difficult projects (perhaps paid by a prospective employer because money is a big motivator) and very easy for employers to comparatively evaluate performance/achievement. You would also need to start with a very defined and painful set of skills that companies struggle to hire for. Is it excel/spreadsheets? Or is it deck design and presentation? Lastly you’d need some cash. This is a big problem, a big vision and big product to build, but it would have BIG impact. You’re gonna need a lot of cash.