Recruiting in Ed Tech: 6 Key Learnings from Seasoned Talent Leaders

By 2020, investment in education technology is expected to reach a whopping $252 billion. To grasp the market’s explosive growth, you don’t have to visit a classroom. Just chat with your relative who’s taking an online education course, your roommate who’s learning a new language on her phone, or your nephew who now uses a Chromebook in his kindergarten class. Everywhere we turn, we see education and technology merging.  

The teams behind these revolutionary technologies live and breathe a common mission: to make education more accessible worldwide. And by deliberately embedding that mission in their recruiting tactics, many ed tech recruiters perfectly embody that commitment. Each day, they both convey to candidates how their team is revolutionizing the education realm, and proactively recruit candidates from every educational background. Recently, we were lucky enough to talk to three talent leaders who do exactly that. Below, you’ll see how Duolingo Recruiter Jeesoo Sohn, Coursera Head of Talent Betty Tsan, and Quero Education Head of People Development Jonathan Prieto align their own recruiting strategies with the unique motivations and experiences of their candidates.

  • Channel your company mission in your recruiting approach

After recruiting at Coursera – a global platform that offers online college courses – for nearly 4 years, Betty has gathered that in ed tech, it’s essential to think flexibly about where a candidate might best fit in your organization. “Too often, we look at candidates and get bad tunnel vision,” she explains. “We can’t stick to titles and tasks they’ve executed before to inform us where they should be next. People may develop skills that can be very transferable to another part of the organization, and then excel.” 

As they strive to increase education accessibility, Coursera focuses on making opportunities within their company equally accessible. “We want to reflect the product we’re building,” she expounds. “We’re trying to create an ecosystem of continuous learning, beyond the degree.” In fact, her team has completely deleted degree requirements from their job descriptions to encourage candidates with non-traditional backgrounds to apply.

 At Quero Education, an online marketplace that connects students with colleges, that same openness to candidates from all disciplines is a core value. In Jonathan’s experience, you create the most powerful outcomes when you put the heads of multidisciplinary professionals together. “You see biologists working in sales, engineers in customer relations. It’s not ‘What did you study for this?’”, holds Jonathan. “It’s about the results you can add.” One’s education history is important, but there’s much more to every candidate than that. “I never finished higher education, but that never mattered here,” says Jonathan.

  1.  Show candidates that you’re doing work that really matters

Duolingo’s mission is to help anyone in the world learn a new language, no matter where or who they are. “We don’t want anyone to ever have to pay to learn a language,” Jeesoo explains. And she’s always proud to tell candidates about their success so far. “Here, you can actually say that what you’re working on that day is benefiting the world,” she continues. “When people email us and give us feedback on social media, we physically see the impact we’re having.” This clear insight into how you’re touching lives across the world is one of the joys of ed tech, and it’s on recruiters to share it with candidates.

Jonathan tells candidates that if they want to do work that truly matters, ed tech is the right industry to choose. “Technology comes and goes, and tomorrow there might be a new trend,” says Jonathan. “But when you help people, it sticks.” Similar to Duolingo, his team hears constant feedback from the students they help. Those emails and calls inspire his teammates to connect students with the college of their dreams.  

  1. Be people-driven through being data-driven

Jeesoo’s number one recruiting technique is to be hands-on and personal. To show candidates that they are cherished, she communicates regularly with them throughout their process. “I always give timely feedback to candidates about their status,” she explains. “I need to give them the best experience possible, and I use Lever to organize my pipeline so I can see where they are in my process at all times.” Lever also helps Jeesoo see the results of that improved communication. “When working in such a people-oriented field, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the quantitative, more data-driven aspect of things,” she explains. In Lever, she can compare offer acceptance rates year-to-year, for example, and dive into metrics like conversion rates to see where candidates are dropping out of the process.   

Jonathan also knows that to improve candidate experience, he has to examine when and why they withdraw. But without an organized system in place, it was previously hard to dig into metrics. “We have days where we screen over 30 to 50 candidates,” he says. “When we weren’t documenting that activity, we couldn’t see which recruiting tactics were failing and which were winning candidates over.” Now that he can examine the analytics behind each hire, however, he has clear insight into what’s working. “Before Lever, we did everything manually, and it used to take an average of 90 days to fill a role,” he explains. “Now, hiring managers have embraced being involved in hiring, we can move candidates through our process easily, and we’ve cut our time to fill by 45 days.” This increased efficiency has helped the team scale more quickly than ever. Since purchasing Lever recruiting software 5 months ago, they’ve hired 79 new people – 43% of their current team.

  1. Stay attuned to candidates’ personal connection to education

In Betty’s experience, candidates often share – unprompted – stories about how education has significantly impacted their lives. “We talk to people who come from a long line of teachers or have been educators before, and others who had tougher challenges to overcome to get the necessary education. There are also people who had the most privileged background possible and just want to give back.” No matter what their trajectory, candidates are voluntarily candid about why education is so valuable to them. As a recruiter, you want to recognize that a candidate’s passion for your mission will push the boundaries of what they’re able to achieve, and subsequently what your company is able to achieve. 

Jeesoo has also noted that many candidates are interested in joining Duolingo because of their personal education journey. Therefore, it’s always helpful to understand why their own trajectory made them passionate about education technology. One of Jeesoo’s candidates met his spouse in a different country and didn’t know very much of her language. “He then discovered he could learn the language on Duolingo, and they started practicing together,” she gushes. “It became the way they bonded and communicated.” Jeesoo has noticed that these learning experiences often compel candidates to ultimately join Duolingo, and she emphasizes how Duolingo is giving thousands of others that same opportunity.

  1. Emphasize the flexibility within education tech

“In my experience, education institutions are seen as narrow-minded and formal,” admits Jonathan. “We explain that Quero Education is a startup; we’re agile and we do things differently.” Quero Education is on a mission to give students more options to pursue their goals, and Jonathan tells candidates that their internal team also has that freedom to grow. “You can expect to come to work in shorts, tshirts, and sandals,” he smiles. “We have yoga in the office, and we’re truly like one big family.” Jonathan believes that in fostering a close-knit yet open-minded community, he sets his team apart.

Similarly, Betty stresses that Coursera’s mission is centered around what their technology can enable. “We’re a tech startup that works on education,” says Betty. “We define ourselves as a tech company first.” Deep innovation, research, and iteration on its core platform is how they’re approaching worldwide education accessibility.

  1. Communicate just how sexy education is

On the one hand, ed tech companies are working to break out of the often stringent, bureaucratic education system. On the other hand, they are striving to step out of the shadow of well-known tech giants that easily attract candidates because they make life more entertaining. “We know ed tech can be seen as a less sexy area to work in, if the growth isn’t on an astronomical pace. The value proposition of learning on Coursera is often counter to many consumer web products out there; here, the learner is paying for a service to only put in more hard work on the platform.”

So how does Betty suggest your team fight the uphill battle? Carefully cultivate your employer brand, and talk about the impact someone can make in the ed tech space, she says. The bold ideas in solving education inequality can be very exciting. When you pair that with the power of technology and reach of the internet, you make education sexy.

 Jonathan has learned that education is undervalued. He’s noted that people don’t think there’s money in it, nor do they want to devote resources to improving it. “If you want to get paid, a good paycheck or be in the spotlight, you hardly ever go into education,” he laments. “You probably go to a trendy startup about apps or software or hardware.” Still, there’s a way to convey the value of your work to candidates. Every magazine or tech conference may be mentioning the names of tech giants right now, but the students whose lives you change will remember your impact forever. You are powerfully, irreversibly altering their life trajectory.

Thank you to Jonathan, Betty and Jeesoo for giving us a lens into recruiting in the ed tech realm. We were heartened to learn about your commitment to aligning your recruiting strategies with your candidates’ diverse backgrounds.

Recently, we picked the brains of another stellar group of recruiters. Want to know what it takes to recruit successfully in the health tech industry? Take a look at their top 5 hiring strategies here.