[Tips for Job Candidates] The Kindergarten Open House

Analogues from which job candidates can learn exist almost everywhere. While sometimes the lessons don’t fully translate, you can glean tremendous insight from some situations that you can use when you’re in the hunt for a new job.

Last night’s open house for parents sponsored by my son’s grade school was one such situation. In the crazy kindergarten application process that exists in San Francisco – where 30% of kids go to private schools and supply grossly outstrips demand – the ways that applicant families can do well or do badly have lots of lessons for job candidates. [Note: I’ve got nada, zero, nil, nothing to do with anything in terms of who gets in to the grade school my son attends.]

Not unlike job hunting today – where lots of qualified applicants compete for the same job – it’s important for applicant families to be able to do the following things:

1. Make sure that the boxes that need to be checked are checked. While it can feel like endless bureaucracy, schools like employers have things that want to know or have acknowledged from applicants. If the school requires a tour, do the tour. If the school suggests attendance at a parent’s coffee, attend the coffee. For job candidates, if the employer asks you to fill out an application, fill it out: attaching a resume to a job application with a “see attached” works only for the most senior jobs – otherwise you’re showing that you’re too busy to care to do what everyone else is asked to do.

2. It helps to stand out from the crowd without being weird. My hunch is that applicant families in the K-8 hunt who do well that take the time to personalize their application narrative to speak to the particular school for which they’re applying (e.g. what about your family maps to the particular approach or DNA of the applicant school). The same applies to how they engage with school parents and staff –  authentically interested without being forced, genuine in their observations and curiosities. It’s a small thing but I’d tailor a cover note for a job if you have the chance. Not a dissertation but rather some words as to why you think there’s a fit. But being over the top (see #3 below) is best avoided – you preferably are noticed for the small but substantial differences that help separate you from the rest of the applicant pack.

3. Avoid screwing up. Things like coming in late for tours or meetings get you noticed, but not for the reasons you want. The same thing with pointed questions (something I’ve foolishly done) that are best done in private to people who don’t mind real engagement rather than some school administrators who don’t.

4. Have a game plan in mind. It’s great to have a school – or a job – that you think has just your name on it. But sometimes it’s not going to happen, so you should always have a viable Plan B and / or Plan C. It doesn’t mean being fickle or coy – it does mean being realistic and recognizing that you need to be working on multiple options simultaneously in case your #1 or #2 options don’t come to roost. For job candidates it means not just working one opportunity, but working as many as you can handle at the same time.

5. A kind word from someone creditable who knows you can’t hurt. For some, but not all schools, it may help to have a person drop a kind word or so for you. In the K-8 hunt it’s hard to know how much this really helps. But if someone knows your family well, and has a positive reputation at the school, it’s hard to imagine it hurts for someone to put in a thoughtful note expressing how you’d be a fit for the school. If they don’t know you, it’s probably not such a good idea. Just as in a job application, a positive word from someone in good standing at a company who knows you helps you get noticed: you still have to earn the job on your own skills and merits. Same story holds true in the kindergarten hunt.

5. Follow-up. As noted in a series posted earlier about job hunt basics (Choose Me, Hire Me!) following up as appropriate with a thank you note after an interview is common sense smart business.

There are a lot of ways to help things go right, just as there are a lot of ways to help things go wrong. In the kindergarten application process, just as in the job hunt, a little thoughtfulness goes a long ways to helping you reach your goals.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above.