[New Rules] Job Candidates and Kindergarten Applications: What They Teach Us

Analogs and metaphors are helpful ways to communicate ideas as well as find experiences in one area that inform possible experiences in another. Albeit imperfect we can learn much from using these surrogate experiences .

It’s a proverbial "week after" in San FranciscoK-8th grade admissions scene: the week after private school admissions were announced and the week after the second round (most likely after a not-so-successful first round of applications) for public schools concluded .

While it’s not the same as interviewing for a job, there are elements of the SF kindergarten admissions process, particularly the private school side (the land of very high demand – with over 30% of San Francisco kids going to private schools – and tight supply) that can inform the job hunting world.

Here’s what I think translates to the job market  – take it all with a grain of salt:

  • In a sellers’ market – where you can pick and choose who you admit and who you don’t – little things still count. While the assumption is that you can get into the "right school" if you know the right people, it’s not always true. I know trustees who lobbied to get people admitted but because of the scarcity of spots at some schools, their efforts were all for naught. What did count is kids who were well adjusted and developmentally appropriate and who had parents who were politely assertive but not too pushy. Pushy parents probably torpedoed some kids chances just as overly push job applicants don’t help, but hurt themselves instead. For job candidates I think it means things like being prepared, doing your research, showing up on time, doing follow-ups and writing thank you notes – all little things that can give you some small edge that’s helpful.
  • Being qualified and coming from a quality experience still count. Kids from the "right" preschools are no shoe-ins for any K-8 spots but coming out of certain schools means you get noticed. Kids still need to be developmentally appropriate – and the other side of getting noticed is that if people are pushy it probably stands out. For job hunters it means that candidates coming out of the "right" school or with the "right" employers on their resume may get noticed, but they still need to prove themselves. Competent and understated comes to my mind as a good way of framing yourself if you’re that type of job candidate.
  • Elementary schools who choose to be choosy – high demand with low supply – apparently look for things beyond simply developmentally appropriate kids. An interesting personal narrative (why does this child and this school fit together) count, as does broad diversity (ethnic/racial/occupational background/etc.). It looks like many families with significant means are not simply interested in having their kids go to schools with kids just from other families like them: they’re looking for their kids to have classmates that span a broader, more diverse spectrum. I think some employers may get smarter and take the current environment to reshape their talent ranks: still well skilled but picking and choosing new hires based on what they fully bring to the table. Think President Obama’s cabinet: diverse and apparently well qualified.
  • The land of spin is alive and well in kindergarden admissions. Some aspiring schools who are not so diverse have figured out the diversity sells and talk up a good game. Some are actually shaping their admissions practices to be more diverse, while others just talk as if they are. And like Hillary Clinton with her accounts of Bosnian sniper fire, parents are just as susceptible to being spun as are voters. Job candidates should do the same as noted in the "Choose Me, Hire Me!" series posted on this blog: make sure you know the facts, not the spin, before you commit to a place.
  • Doing your homework still counts. Parents who had spent time figuring out the process and put some thought (some thought – not obsessive thought) seemed to do OK with their kids. And doing your homework helps – some parents had not spent some up front time before this decision week getting their intelligence in order and ended up scrambling at the last minute, adding an extra dash of stress into what is already a crazy scene. The translation for job candidates is the same: perform your due diligence on employers on a timely fashion but don’t go crazy over it – it’s still a numbers game and it may not be your number that gets called.

New Rules is an occasional set of writings focused on changes in norms, culture, or ways of navigating work and careers. More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the "About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc." sidebar or in the "Hire Me" topbar .